McMillan on the Pacers’ defense: ‘We got to get a lot better’

The Pacers have allowed 108.3 points per game through three preseason games.

The Pacers have allowed 108.3 points per game through three preseason games.

Halfway through the six-game preseason schedule, observers may see Indiana’s 111 points per game, which is behind only Houston and Oklahoma City. They may see 47 percent shooting, good for fifth in the league. Or, they may point out 106.78 possessions per 48 minutes (3rd), nearly eight more possessions than its season average last year (98.99).

Pacers head Nate McMillan, meanwhile, sees a defense that needs work.

“We got to get a lot better,” he said after practice on Monday.

On Tuesday, he plans to use a Gatorade towel for one drill. Players will have a towel around their neck and must hold on to either end. That’s how they will have to guard.

The Towel Drill requires players to guard without using their hands, as coach McMillan is tired of seeing his players reach or slap down at the ball while defending.

“That’s an automatic call in this league now,” he said.

“Fouling is a problem that we’re having right now. Way too many out of position plays, where we’re not moving our feet, staying in front of the ball, and we’re getting beat to the basket and we’re reaching.”

In Saturday’s loss at Chicago, Indiana allowed 121 points and 42 free throw attempts. They made 33 of them. In their previous preseason battle against Chicago — a Pacers win — the Bulls attempted 33 free throws. And in the Pacers’ first exhibition game, New Orleans was 26-for-33.

“We have to do a better job of working to move our feet and to contest straight-up, without putting teams to the free throw line,” McMillan continued. “Way too much reaching in the last couple of games.

“We can’t establish that tempo if we’re trying to run out of the net or we are allowing teams to get to the free throw line.”

Now entering the third week of training camp, offense has received the most attention. But defense hasn’t been forgotten; they have worked on it since day one with this group. Every offensive drill they have worked on is also a defensive drill — and vice versa.

The Pacers were known for their defense the last six years, ranking in the top 10 of field goal percentage defense. The best barometer is defensive efficiency and last season they finished third (100.2). They ranked sixth in 2014-15 without Paul George, their best defender, and were no. 1 in both 2012-13 and 2013-14 when they reached the conference finals.

Unlike last season, when defense was put on the back burner to focus on the idea of implementing a quicker, more uptempo offense, McMillan’s first move was to make sure the guys realized how much defense matters here.

Coach McMillan has driven his points home in a simplistic form during practices.

Coach McMillan has driven his points home in a simplistic form during practices.

“Day one is on defense,” McMillan said back on Sept. 27.

“We want to focus on defending the ball, rebounding the ball. We were one of the top defensive teams last year. We want to make sure we bring that to the floor this season. We’ve been talking about pace and style of play; it starts with the defensive end of the floor. You got to make sure that you guard, you rebound that ball before you can run with the ball.”

Being a small team will require the five players on the court to work together to play team defense with a lot of help off of the ball. With smaller guards, coach is instructing his guys to be prepared to be posted up on, which means help defense is even more important and he obviously doesn’t want them to bail out the offensive player with a foul.

Playing some zone is an option, but McMillan says they’re “not a zone team. Yet.”

How much of drop off will there be defensively? We won’t know until at least the first month of the season. Anything outside of the top 10, or top 15 won’t sit well — especially with defensive guru Dan Burke, now in his 20th season with the franchise.

Injury Updates:

  • Paul George woke up with a sore throat and the chills so he missed practice and went to the doctor. The team is “hopeful” that he will return on Tuesday, and then play in Evansville on Wednesday.
  • C.J. Miles is dealing with soreness in his left knee. The team has limited his practice time, according to McMillan, but he was able to get through it. Since he hasn’t played in the last two exhibition games, they’d like to give him some playing time on Wednesday.
  • Myles Turner was fully cleared of the concussion protocol last week and he played 15 minutes on Saturday. He is feeling just fine but remains on a minutes restriction as he continues to build back up his endurance.

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