It was the best of days, it was the worst of days...or something like that.
With apologies to the original Chuck D, the Pacers revealed a great surprise on Wednesday afternoon with the news that Victor Oladipo planned to return to action against the Bulls on Jan. 29. Well, actually Victor revealed the news which seemed to surprise the Pacers who then cobbled together a social media video announcement from Vic and set up media availability prior to the team’s game against the Heat.
Nate McMillan found out about Vic like the rest of us and it appeared that way for the players considering their play against the Heat. Hard to determine if Vic’s news was a distraction but the ‘worst of days’ portion of the Pacers day was certainly the 122-108 drubbing at the hands ot Miami.
The whole night seemed out of sync for the Pacers starting with McMillan’s pregame media session. McMillan had so few answers regarding Vic’s return that he requested reporters focus on the game against the Heat and save their questions for Vic who was speaking at 6:30 pm.
A 6:30 pm press conference before a 7pm tip? Not ideal, especially when Vic arrived closer to 6:40 pm than 6:30 pm. Oladipo delivered the goods, though as he opened up a bit on his rough journey back to where he can declare Jan. 29th as his return date. He was emotional after Jay Graves asked a simple question about what he had learned about himself.
“I learned a lot about myself during this process. I learned to value myself and what value I bring, not only to myself and my immediate family, but to people in this state, the value I bring to my friends and my extended family, just people in general. When I play, I’ve been playing for the norms, playing for my God first and foremost, playing for my family and my friends, but I’ve learned over the last 12 months that it’s bigger than that. I’m playing for something way bigger than that, and for people I might not even know. The way I play, going out there and putting on that jersey, not only affects me and my family, but it affects a lot of people, and I never really would have understood that if I didn’t get hurt.”
Hearing Vic talk about his value with free agency not far down the road was a bit alarming although he wasn’t talking about dollars and cents yesterday, but instead the value of the bond he’s created with the franchise and its fans. You find out who your true friends are when your at your lowest points and the reaction Vic received from the Pacers and their fans throughout his rehab strengthened that bond. Let’s just hope that bond can survive the next round of contract negotiations.
As for the game that tipped of minutes after Vic’s show on the dais, the Pacers simply weren’t in sync all night against the Heat team that was firing on all cylinders with quality shooters threatening around the perimeter while Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler attacked the paint to continually force the Pacers defense to scramble toward an open man ready to score.
The Pacers were unable to counter the Heat’s offensive efficiency all night. Far too often, a two-dribble, no-assist, pull-up jumper was the end result. Hustle as they might, the Pacers couldn’t find any flow to their game which ended with a 14-point deficit but played more like a 25-point loss.
The only excitement came with Butler and T.J. Warren started scrapping and Warren earned an early exit by clapping in Butler’s face after drawing an offensive foul. Butler also earned an early exit by blowing a kiss to Warren but the refs either didn’t see it or didn’t care so he stayed in the game.
The Pacers are now 1-3 without Malcolm Brogdon after he left early in the win over Philly. Prior to the game, McMillan mentioned Brogdon was close to returning. With seven of their next nine on the road before welcoming Vic back to the rotation, let’s hope that is true because the Pacers need Brogdon’s steady hand to get back on track so they can really enjoy the boost Vic plans to give upon his return.
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