One team is still searching to find its way without its All-Star core from recent years while the other appears to be doing just fine as it waits for the return of its biggest star.
The Indiana Pacers enter Wednesday night’s road meeting with the Oklahoma City Thunder more than keeping their heads above water as they wait for the return of Victor Oladipo, the All-Star guard who hasn’t played since last January’s right knee surgery.
Oladipo recently has spent time with the Pacers’ G-League team and is closing in on a return to Indianapolis.
But his hasn’t been the only injury that Indiana has struggled with this season.
Two other regulars are expected to miss Wednesday’s game. Small forward JaKarr Sampson was ruled out Tuesday for his eighth consecutive game with back soreness. Point guard Edmond Sumner hasn’t played since late October due to a hand injury, though like Oladipo he’s nearing a return.
But even with Oladipo out, Indiana has been more than competitive.
Since starting the season 0-3, Indiana is 13-4 — including winning six of the last seven and doing it without a solidified star.
“I feel like when a lot of people got injured, a lot of guys had a chance to step up and get playing time, and I think we saw what we had, and I think it made us a better team,” Jeremy Lamb told the Indianapolis Star after Monday’s win in Memphis. “You don’t always see that when you’re going through it, but now we see it’s made us better.”
That was on display in that win, where seven Pacers scored in double figures with none scoring more than 19 points.
After leading the league in offensive rebounding for the past five seasons, including last year when they averaged 12.6 per game, the Thunder enter Wednesday night last in the NBA in the category with 7.8.
To be sure, the departures of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant in the offseason play a significant role in that drop-off.
But Steven Adams a year ago averaged 4.9 offensive rebounds per game. So far this season he’s at about half that rate (2.7).
With a reworked roster, Billy Donovan has prioritized defense over hunting extra offensive possessions on the boards this year.
“We’re better when we can get our defense set and the offense can see five peoples’ chests in front of them,” Donovan told reporters recently.
Still, though, Oklahoma City has played better of late, winning three of its last four though the Thunder are just 1-7 against opponents that entered Tuesday’s action better than .500.
The game is the final matchup between the teams this season.
They met Nov. 12 in Indianapolis, with the Pacers taking control in the third quarter in a 111-85 win behind a combined 43 points from T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon.
–Field Level Media