The best number, Nate McMillan believes, would prefer six. Not eight, as it used to be, and not four, as it is now.
Six preseason games would be enough to enable the Pacers’ starters to conduct enough chemistry experiments to find a workable formula and enough to establish a bench rotation, but not so many as to induce boredom and complacency.
The Pacers play on Wednesday in Milwaukee, kicking off the NBA’s new compressed preseason schedule that will allow the 82-game regular season to be aired out somewhat and reduce back-to-back sets. They’ll follow with a game in Cleveland on Friday, in Detroit on Monday and at home against the Israeli national team on Tuesday.
That will leave eight days before the regular season begins with a home game against Brooklyn on Oct. 18.
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While he might prefer a slightly longer preseason schedule given his roster’s newness and youthfulness, McMillan likes the break between practice games and real games.
“We always want to try to get preseason games over and give ourselves some time after that last game in case we have injuries,” he said following Monday’s practice at St. Vincent Center. “It’s almost like we’ll have another training camp before going into opening night.
“That schedule was set like that for a reason, to work on some things, and if we do have some injuries gives ourselves some time to recover.”
McMillan has a healthy roster of rotation players other than Glenn Robinson III, the projected backup forward who suffered a badly-sprained ankle last week. Undrafted rookie Trey McKinney-Jones is not available, nor are rookie second-round draft picks Ike Anigbogu and Edmond Sumner, all of whom are recovering from injuries. Anigbogu, however, participated in a scrimmage for the first time on Monday.
McMillan has stayed with the anticipated starting lineup of Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanvic, Thad Young and Myles Turner throughout camp. He said Monday his second unit will consist of point guard Cory Joseph, shooting guard Lance Stephenson, forward T.J. Leaf and center Domantas Sabonis. Damien Wilkins will fill in for Robinson, although Stephenson, Leaf and Alex Poythress could get minutes there as well.
Al Jefferson, the 13-year veteran center, is missing from that list, but the coaches have been pleased with him in camp so far. He reported 40 pounds lighter than this time last season, and has kept his weight down. He took it upon himself to run lengths of the court following Monday’s workout while other players were shooting or heading for the showers.
McMillan plans to treat at least three of the four preseason games as regular season affairs, with the first 10 players getting all or nearly all the minutes. He conducted a sweat-soaked run-through scrimmage on Monday, and was generally pleased with the performance and effort.
He had given the players Sunday off, their first free day since camp began last Tuesday.
“I thought they responded,” he said. “It was good to see we can take a day off and then come in and get their work in.”
He thought they grew fatigued early in the scrimmage, however, and ran a conditioning drill afterward. He’ll conduct no more two-a-day sessions, and have a two-hour workout on Tuesday before leaving for Milwaukee.
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