When the Indiana Pacers take the court Saturday for the first time in months, Malcolm Brogdon will be surrounded by guards. The former Virginia star, who’s healthy after battling injuries and COVID-19 in recent months, is ready to play in the NBA’s bubble in Orlando.
Unfortunately for Brogdon, the Pacers will at least initially be without forward Domantas Sabonis, who left the bubble to seek treatment on a foot injury. Sabonis averaged 18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game prior to the restart. He’s an elite big man.
Without him, the Pacers lack proven production in the post. Expect Indiana to roll out a smaller starting lineup.
Brogdon wants to look on the bright side of playing small ball.
“You send so many ball handlers on the floor, it’s actually gonna be super beneficial for us,” Brogdon said in media session Monday.
One potential positive of playing small ball is that Victor Oladipo may return Saturday. He’s only suited up 13 times this season due to injury, but he’s competed in recent scrimmages. Official word on Oladipo’s status is expected Saturday before the game.
The star wing and Brogdon haven’t been on the floor at the same time much this season, which makes chemistry between the two a work in progress.
“Time on the floor, I think is the key,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said Monday. “We can’t speed that up.”
Luckily for Indiana, it’s not in danger of dropping out of playoff contention in the eight seeding games before the postseason. The Pacers currently hold an 8.5-game lead over the seventh-place Nets.
The eight games can be used to build chemistry ahead of the postseason without too much concern about slipping in the standings. If the Pacers need to go small the rest of the way, they’ll need to adjust to playing consistently with a smaller starting lineup. The eight games give the team a trial run at a new-look starting five.
“The more we play together, the better we’ll be,” Brogdon said.
Indiana’s restart begins Saturday with a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. That matchup immediately puts Indiana’s size to the test.
Myles Turner may draw the assignment of guarding Joel Embiid, one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. Stopping Embiid with a lack of depth in the post makes Saturday’s matchup daunting.
On the other hand, a lineup featuring Brogdon and Oladipo brings versatility to the floor, and the 76ers could be challenged by Indiana’s athletic lineup with numbers distributors and ball handlers.
With a deficit in the post, Indiana needs to win games by leaning on superb guard play.
When healthy, Brogdon performs like one of the best point guards in the league. He’s averaged 16.3 points, 7.1 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in his first season as a Pacer. He’ll be asked to carry the load for the next few weeks.
The restart also means no fans, as the rest of the season will be played inside the Orlando “bubble.” Despite the absence of screaming supporters, Brogdon says the scrimmages felt like games and the NBA has done well with the setup “considering the circumstances.”
It’s been a tumultuous season for Brogdon, and this adds another chapter to an unusual year.
He joined Indiana after three productive seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. He wanted to play a larger role, and he’s performed well as the primary point guard for the Pacers. His first season in Indiana started strong, but he missed time throughout the season due to an array of injuries.
Now, he’s finishing up his first season during a pandemic.
“Playing on a new team, adjusting to everybody, having a few injuries pop up and then the season being canceled and having to restart in a bubble, I don’t think there will ever be another season like this,” Brogdon said. “Hopefully not. This season has definitely been a lot.”
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