Pacers eager for first preseason game to see exactly what they have

By 12:30 pm on Tuesday, players were hustling off the court. It was a travel day, and a new routine would be started by most of the roster.

Several Pacers had media responsibilities that wouldn’t last more than a few minutes each. At 12:35, Nate McMillan spoke for about five minutes and clearly was ready for a new way to evaluate his newly-constructed team.

Albeit just in exhibition play, McMillan said more than a half dozen times that he was excited to see his team against “someone in another uniform.”

It’s a shortened preseason with just four games, both by choice and because the NBA moved up the regular season. Game No. 1 is on Oct. 18, rather than one of the last few days of the Halloween month. Teams are responsible to setup their own preseason schedules.

Over the next week, they play in Milwaukee (Oct. 4), in Cleveland (Oct. 6), and in Detroit (Oct. 9) before concluding exhibiton play on Tuesday against a team from Israel. Just four tune-up games, down from six last season and seven games in both 2014 and 2015. (Two will be televised.)

“It’s time for us to play game,” said McMillan, who begins his second season as Pacers head coach. “We’ve been going at it hard here for the last six or seven days. We’ll see where we are after (Wednesday’s) game.”

[Pacers annual FanJam set for Oct. 15]

More than most seasons, the Pacers truly need the preseason. Of the 20 players in training camp, just six return from last season — and that includes Lance Stephenson, who re-signed with the franchise for the final month of the season. Therefore, their primary roster will consist of nine new faces.

After a week together, name tags are likely no longer necessary.

“This is what the preseason is all about, taking a look at different combinations and looking at some guys in different spots,” he said. “The focus is coming out and playing aggressive basketball and seeing where we are. … Just as the players are excited to play, as a coach I’m excited to get out there and see what I have to work with.”

Nate McMillan enters his second season as Pacers head coach.

Here’s what you can expect in terms of lineups and rotations:

The starting five — Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thad Young, and Myles Turner — has been known for nearly a month. Young and Turner are the only two returning starters.

The second unit, for now, consists of Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson, Damien Wilkins, rookie T.J. Leaf, and Domantas Sabonis.

With Glenn Robinson III out for eight weeks due to a high ankle sprain, Wilkins is slotted in with the second unit, and both Stephenson and Leaf will play some at the three, too.

Edmond Sumner (ACL rehab) and Trey McKinney-Jones (shoulder) are also out.

For some teams, the preseason can be about playing the core just a short while, then evaluating the bench and fringe guys. That’s not the case for the Pacers, though. So McMillan plans to play the first two units, plus perhaps another guy or two. That’s 10 to 12 guys with 17 players available.

“Very ready,” said Joseph, a 6-3, 193-pound guard. “We’ve been conditioning, we’ve been running like crazy, we’ve been running over our plays, we’ve been scrimmaging against each other, but some added competition from other teams would be nice right about now.”

[Daily observations from Pacers training camp]

Unlike during the regular season, the Pacers won’t spend much time prepping for what their opponents will do. They’ll watch some film on last year’s Bucks team, but this is primarily about them and what they are trying to do.

Run a lot. Out-work every opponent. Shoot the ball well. Grow together.


“I’m surprised how competitive the group is,” Turner said after nearly a dozen practices. “Everybody is out here really hungry, just ready to compete every day. It’s a rejuvenating feeling walking into such a great facility like this and everybody’s ready to go from the jump. It’s refreshing.”

Two of the Pacers’ preseason games will be televised locally on FOX Sports Indiana, including Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee (8:00 pm ET). It also will mark the debut of the team’s brand new Nike uniforms.

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