Media Day Notebook: Pacers Face Condensed Preseason

NBA training camps have been shortened to three weeks of practice and four preseason games this year, to allow the regular season schedule to be aired out. Teams will contend with fewer back-to-back sets and instances in which they play five games in a week, or four games in five nights.

The Pacers’ players and coaching staff welcome that, but wouldn’t mind having a longer training camp this particular season. With so much roster turnover and so many young players, the need for game experience and chemistry experiments has never been greater.

“It would be great to have a 20-game (schedule),” team president Kevin Pritchard said. “But we want to get to playing (real) games.”

Given a choice, coach Nate McMillan would vote for a six-game preseason schedule.

“We’re never happy,” he said, smiling. “Eight (games) was a bit much. Four seems like, ‘Wow, that’s quick.'”

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McMillan will adjust his approach to the exhibition games, playing his first two units heavy minutes in the first three games.

“You’re really trying to get a rotation in your first three games,” he said. “I would say 11 through 15, I don’t know how many minutes they’re going to get. But I would say the first 10, we’re going to be looking at rotations a lot faster than we have.”

Regardless of the preseason schedule, McMillan welcomes the absence of an overseas trip. Last season, the Pacers played in London in January. The travel and time zone adjustment for that trip required a break before and after the game, making it the only one they played over an eight-day period. That in turn compressed the rest of the schedule.

“Last year’s schedule was brutal,” McMillan said. “We didn’t really have any days off, didn’t really have practice time. We had to give guys days off (in practice), when you had games the next day and the days you did have practice you had to go light.”

Conditioning to be Tested

As is his habit, McMillan will put his players through a conditioning test in the evening practice on Tuesday.

It consists of running five lengths of the court, four times. Each position has a time that must be met, with guards expected to be faster than centers. If a player exceeds the cut-off time, those seconds can be banked for future runs, or make up for not meeting the time in previous runs.

McMillan sent out a letter to each player in July, reminding him of the expectation.

“You should pass that test, but if you haven’t done much (over the summer) you don’t pass,” McMillan said. “It just shows us you haven’t done much and we’ve got to get you where you need to be.

“I expect everyone to do well.”

That includes Al Jefferson, who did not pass last season’s test but has slimmed down considerably since then. Jefferson has dropped about 40 pounds from his weight this time last year, and about 20 pounds from the end of last season.

“He looks better,” McMillan said. “We’ll see about the running.”

The 32-year-old Jefferson is noticeably slimmer, which has inspired plenty of jokes from teammates.

“A lot of guys said my head is bigger than my body now,” he said.

Leaf Recovering

First-round draft pick T.J. Leaf suffered a slight knee injury in the pre-camp workouts, but is said to be close to fully recovered and is available for practice on Tuesday.

The 20-year-old said he’s added seven pounds of muscle since he was drafted and “definitely” feels much stronger. He was encouraged by what he experienced in the scrimmages he experienced before and after his injury.

“I think I fit right in,” he said. “I’ve played basketball my whole life and played it at a pretty high level. It’s just basketball at the end of the day. It’s a little faster, everyone’s a little stronger, the shot clock is shorter, but it’s just playing basketball.”

Leaf, who is living with his brother and sister-in-law (who acts as his personal chef) has surprised some observers with his athleticism.

“He’s good,” Glenn Robinson III said. “He had a play the other day in open gym, it was an alley-oop and he kind of cocked it back and swirled it. I didn’t know he was that athletic. He can step outside and shoot and I’ve seen him get rough down there a couple times in the paint.”

Job Openings Available

While many teams go into camp with 15 players signed to guaranteed contracts, Pritchard has left two roster spots available. The purpose is to provide opportunities for emerging players without a guaranteed contract and the flexibility to add a veteran who might become available.

“I’m going in with a clean slate,” he said.

“Camps get overloaded at this time. As there’s waving, we watch that wire really closely. But it has to meet up with our timeline, too.”

Pritchard said Ben Moore, a non-drafted forward out of Southern Methodist, has particularly impressed in the pre-camp workouts.

“Ben has impressed everybody in this gym; we think he can be an NBA player,” Pritchard said. “He’s a defender first, but if he improves his shooting he can be a Bruce Bowen-type guy.”

Bowen was undrafted out of Cal State-Fullerton in 1993, but eventually established himself with San Antonio. He played on three championship teams and was voted first- or second-team all-defense eight times.

Pritchard also singled out Jarrod Uthoff, whose signing became official on Monday. Uthoff, who played collegiately at Iowa, played briefly for Dallas last season, and excelled for the Pacers’ Developmen League team in Fort Wayne.

Pritchard added that second-round draft pick Edmond Sumner a 6-6 guard, should be ready to play in December or January, and will then go to Fort Wayne. The Pacers’ other second-round pick, Ike Anigbogu, also is recovering from an injury suffered in his only season at UCLA. His timetable is uncertain, but he is expected to be available at some point in the season.


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