After returning home from a winless road trip in which they barely cracked scoring a point per possession, Nate McMillan is reportedly considering the possibility of resting some players over the final nine games of the season.
“We do have some guys who haven’t missed a game this season,” McMillan told Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth. “Part of that is what we saw from our guys (on the road trip), that drop-off in the second half. It’s not that they’re not trying to give the effort, but mentally you’re fried.
”We have nine games to go and you have to manage that.”
Good on them for putting health on par with jockeying for seeding, but the decision to do so (if they do indeed do so) feels more reactionary than proactive — and it’s a delayed reaction at that.
From short shots and step-too-slow rotations to unforced turnovers, the same signs of fatigue that were evident against the Warriors on Thursday night were detectable the game prior in Los Angeles on the second night of a back-to-back, if not sooner.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Cory Joseph have appeared in 73 of 73 games this season, and each of them exhibited symptoms of heavy legs during the west coast swing. Bogdanovic shot 14 percent from three, Young went 1-for-8 from the floor against the Trail Blazers, and Joseph finished the trip with more turnovers (4) than made field goals (3). Meanwhile, the team as a whole coughed up 23 turnovers against the Clippers and repeatedly found themselves laboring to finish stops with defensive rebounds.
If the Pacers had resigned themselves right then and there in the aftermath of that loss to circle the game versus the Warriors for rest, the players which they opted to sit would’ve been set up to play a stretch of just one game (today’s matinee against a Nuggets team playing their third game in four days and their fourth game of a four-game east coast road trip) in seven days.
Instead, unless they target this afternoon’s game against Denver (as has been floated) or perhaps Wednesday’s rematch with Oklahoma City, any scheduled rest days will come during a more condensed portion of the schedule against Eastern Conference team(s).
And, here’s the thing: In the event that the Pacers end up splitting the regular season series with Boston, the tiebreaker will be conference record and both teams are currently separated by mere percentage points in that particular category.
As such, trying to toe the line between watching the standings and ensuring the team is at full energy headed into the playoffs is going to be a difficult balancing act, one which could eventually be tipped by a question of which is worse: opening the playoffs on the road, or opening the playoffs tired?
The Celtics have compiled a 6-1 record against the Bucks, Raptors, Sixers, and Pacers at home, compared to 1-5 away from TD Garden. But they’ve also been forthright about their intention to make sure they’re at their best for the postseason:
“I think the bottom line is we want to focus on playing as well as we can and competing together as well as we can. Where that stuff sorts itself out, it will,” Brad Stevens told Chris Forsberg of NBC Boston of the standings earlier this month. “There will be times, obviously, in the next 16 games where we will choose to rest Al [Horford], choose to do some of that stuff. But that’s no different than we would have planned five months ago regardless of seeding and circumstance. Ultimately, it doesn’t change our approach at all, the standings being what they are.”
That much proved out last night, when they opted to sit Horford against the Hornets in a game that would’ve allowed them to move into fourth-place and instead resulted in them blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead.
Taken altogether, what this means for the Pacers is that homecourt advantage might not be as much of an advantage if their opponent is decidedly fresher, especially when taking into account the increased defensive attention that Bojan Bogdanovic has started receiving of late in the wake of Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury.
Checkout this possession against the Nuggets, for instance.
As soon as Domantas Sabonis springs the well-rounded sharpshooter free from the corner with a wide pindown screen, notice how Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley, and Paul Millsap converge around Bogdanovic to impede his curl.
The logic here is simple. The 29-year-old forward has grown increasingly comfortable with putting the ball on the floor and scoring at a variety of depths, but he hasn’t shown much of an appetite for attempting to throw lobs, pocket passes, or one-handed whips to the pindown screener. This in turn allows the big to stay higher up the floor without having to be quite as wary about his man slipping to the rim for an easy basket.
Still, even while encircled by three defenders, Bogdanovic responds by throwing this kick-out pass masquerading as a fake shot to Thaddeus Young before relocating and ultimately spotting-up for a missed three:
Bogdanovic isn’t just averaging slightly more minutes since Oladipo went down, he’s playing harder minutes while carrying a larger offensive load.
If the Croatian National Team star is going to be expected to hit tough shots like that in the playoffs, whether exploding off screens, banging against smaller defenders in the post, or attacking mismatches from the perimeter, he can’t be too worn out to be effective.
Every game matters at this point of the season, but some matter a little more than others and those coming on the fourth game of a four-game road trip against the reigning champs probably shouldn’t have been counted among the more.