Despite battling rookie mistakes in Charlotte and recurrent foul trouble, the Georgian big man has provided quality depth behind both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, averaging 6.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks while shooting 48 percent overall and 37 percent from three.
For the team at-large, Bitadze joins Edmond Sumner (right hand fracture), Jeremy Lamb (left ankle sprain), Victor Oladipo (knee surgery) and Myles Turner (right ankle sprain) as the latest bullet point on a lengthy injury report that refuses to chill.
On the season, with Lamb having previously missed two games with a hip pointer and Sabonis only just now returning from a calf injury, the Pacers have been pressed into playing five different starting lineups over the span of eight games. Meanwhile, Sabonis, Turner, and Bitadze have only logged action in the same game twice. In one of those games, Bitadze battled knee soreness, and in the other, Turner left with the ankle injury that has continued to sideline him for the past eight days.
For his part, Nate McMillan has been flexible with which buttons he’s been willing to press against which match-ups while managing the unending cycle of bumps and bruises. Against Cleveland’s size, he gave T.J. Leaf the start and then quickly pivoted to a diet of minutes with Justin Holiday at the four mixed with simultaneous playing time for Bitadze and Sabonis. Jakarr Sampson’s energy got the nod alongside Bitadze versus Chicago and Charlotte. And, last night, Alize Johnson’s gritty defense was given a chance in place of Leaf off the bench with Sabonis back in action.
With Andre Drummond having averaged 25 points and 20 rebounds in his prior two games versus the Pacers this season, being early and on-time with tags so that Sabonis can drop deep and stay in position to box-out will be imperative for whichever of the options gets the nod to start at four, pending Turner’s availability.
If Myles were to return after going through his pregame workout yesterday without a noticeable limp, then the onus will be back on Sabonis to bump the roller and release with enough leeway to recover out to the three-point line. In that event, and unless their minutes are heavily staggered in the absence of Bitadze, Leaf could once again be in-line to see time at the five, which to this point has produced a plus-minus of minus-1 over 78 possessions, per PBP stats.
From Detroit’s side, the team announced that Derrick Rose, who wreaked havoc for the Pacers in the season opener, is still listed as day-to-day with a hamstring injury. Additionally, Blake Griffin has begun a “return to game action progression” after being cleared to rejoin all basketball-related activities, which sounds somewhat ambiguous as to his actual return to play, though Rod Beard of The Detroit Press suggests it could be “in the coming days.”
As for Bitadze, according to the league’s concussion policy, a player who is diagnosed with a concussion is not eligible to return to any type of basketball activity that day or the day after and must be symptom free and evaluated by a physician before and while progressing through several steps of increasing exertion – from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills.