It’s a question that has haunted NBA thinkers since time immemorial: What in God’s name are the Indiana Pacers doing? Solidly locked into the category of “average Eastern Conference playoff team”, they’re burning through coaches, handing out free agent contracts like candy, and still trying to make this Myles Turner/Damontas Sabonis duo work. But maybe it won’t be the same old-same old Pacers when Milwaukee comes to town tonight. Rick Carlisle is good coach, Caris LeVert might have some impactful upside left in him just yet, and rookie Chris Duarte holds out some upside having been selected 13th overall. The banged up Bucks offer a test for Indiana’s early aspirations, and equally, the Pacers offer another puzzle for Milwaukee to solve.
Where We’re At
Milwaukee’s got a big (big!) win, a big (big big!) loss, and a grind-it-out victory under their belt so far this young season. Injuries continue to be a point of emphasis in trying to evaluate the team’s ceiling, though Jrue Holiday’s return to the starting lineup against the Spurs gave Milwaukee a steady offensive boost when most needed against a tough Spurs team. Giannis Antetokounmpo is logging center minutes early, a situation which is forcing his hand a bit as he figures out the ideal balance between battering ram who may get the occasional charge called against him and finesse guy who focuses on dishing to others. Elsewhere on the roster, George Hill looked passable against the Spurs, Jordan Nwora continues to be madly in love with his shot, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo is getting a steady diet of backup center minutes. Part of being a champion is finding ways to win against tough odds, so at least the Bucks are getting plenty of chances to work on critical execution early.
For Indiana it’s been a slower start with two narrow misses as they sit 1-2 going into this one. They lost both games by one point each, though rectified the situation by getting one over the Miami Heat on Saturday. It’s a little too early to tell what style the Pacers will adopt under Carlisle, though if Rick’s time in Dallas is any indication we can expect an extremely slow-paced approach (the Mavs have regularly been 20th or below in league pace). Old friend Malcolm Brogdon signed a 2-year, $45 million extension and has average 42.0 minutes played per game this season (alongside 24.7 points, .410/.238/1.000 splits, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.7 assists). Sabonis is logging 41.7 minutes a game, and rookie Duarte sits just beneath the 40 minute mark at 39.7 mpg. Carlisle is clearly a believer in that age-old mantra, “you can rest when you’re dead”.
Injuries for Milwaukee: Jrue Holiday DOUBTFUL (ankle sprain), Bobby Portis QUESTIONABLE (hamstring), Brook Lopez OUT (back soreness), Donte DiVincenzo OUT (ankle), Semi Ojeleye OUT (calf)
Injuries for Indiana: Caris LeVert OUT (undisclosed), TJ Warren OUT (left foot), Kelan Martin OUT
Player to Watch
Bit of a cop out, but I’m nominating Giannis here. Small-ball Giannis lineups are always fun in theory and often have excellent advanced stats to back them up, so seeing how he adjusts his approach to being the lead big from the jump is of interest to me. Against the Spurs he seemed a little stuck in neutral thanks in part to a bevy of fouls committed attempting to fill the Lopez role on defense and the size of Jakob Pöltl prevented an all-out attack on offense. Can he find ways to be effective in a new role on both ends of the floor against the Pacers’ big men?
You’re asking for a second cop out? If Bobby Portis is back, erase everything I wrote above and I choose Bobby instead.
Update: Jrue has now been listed as doubtful; if he can’t go, George Hill likely gets the start
Game 4: Against Indiana, Milwaukee will...
This poll is closed
Win big (10 or more points)
Win close (9 or fewer points)
Lose close (9 or fewer points)
Lose big (10 or fewer points)