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Injuries continue to prevent Pacers from building chemistry

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With Brogdon doubtful and Oladipo, Warren, McDermott, and Sampson all questionable, the injury report keeps on keeping on during the most crucial portion of the season.

Chicago Bulls v Indiana Pacers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Malcolm Brogdon is doubtful for tomorrow’s road game against the Chicago Bulls with a sore left hip, the team announced Thursday.

Brogdon sustained the injury during the second quarter of Wednesday’s game against the Bucks and quickly exited for the locker-room after playing just 11 minutes and abruptly pulling up on a drive in semi-transition while noticeably grimacing.

Having previously missed 14 combined games due to back soreness, a dislocated finger, a sore hamstring, strep throat, and a concussion, the 27-year-old point guard hasn’t exactly had the best luck with injuries and illness in his first season with the Pacers. In this instance, however, his timing arguably couldn’t be worse. Not only are the Bulls finally getting healthy with Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen all recently returning to action, but Indiana is already down by Jeremy Lamb (torn ACL, meniscus) and could also be without Victor Oladipo (right knee soreness) and T.J. Warren (sore left leg) in the starting lineup.

When last the Pacers were forced to play the Bulls without Brogdon on January 10, they pivoted to T.J. McConnell at point and brought Aaron Holiday off the bench, which once again might be necessary so as to have a steady hand at the helm against Chicago’s blitzing defensive system while also not playing small at both positions against Tomáš Satoranský and Denzel Valentine (assuming Zach LaVine remains sidelined with his quad injury).

In that match-up, with the way the Bulls were trapping the ball and refusing to load to the screener from the weak-side, Myles Turner feasted at and around the free throw line in the absence of Domantas Sabonis, scoring a season-high 27 points on 55.6 percent shooting to go with three assists.

Even so, if the Pacers are going to be depleted in the back-court, it would certainly help if both Warren and Sampson (yep, the list goes on — sore right hip) were available. Granted, the absence of Carter’s paint presence opened up the rim more than usual in January, but having those two on hand to crash baseline kept the offense moving in 4-on-3 situations, like so:

Mixing in Sampson at the four also gives the Pacers the flexibility needed to play Justin Holiday up a position at the wing or Edmond Sumner (since Doug McDermott is also questionable with a sore right foot) at the two, which will be vital if Oladipo and Brogdon are both out. Otherwise, they might have to dust-off some double-big minutes with Goga Bitadze or T.J. Leaf and cross their fingers that Markkanen doesn’t heat up from three.

Rotation decisions aside, this latest rash of injuries puts yet another hold on the starting lineup’s ability to jell ahead of the playoffs. On the season, Indiana’s first unit with Brogdon and Oladipo joined by Warren, Turner, and Sabonis has only logged 86 minutes of action together, a number which at times sheds light on the on-court product, especially when the ball sticks to one side of the floor or the shot-clock starts ticking into single digits as a result of the left hand appearing unaware of what the right hand is doing.

With only 20 games remaining, the Pacers enter tonight’s slate of games tied for fifth-place in the Eastern Conference. If the Sixers get healthy before the Pacers do and manage to even up the regular season-series on their home floor on March 14, then the tiebreaker will come down to in-conference record. As of today, Philly has two more wins and one less loss against the East with 11 left to play and only four against current playoff teams compared to eight of 12 for Indiana, which means taking care of business against the Bulls, though it isn’t as high-profile of a match-up as next Tuesday’s against Boston (when Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward might both be sidelined), could end up having a significant impact in the race for home-court advantage.

That said, if next-man up continues to be the theme of this season with injuries derailing their ability to build chemistry against better opponents, then whether they open the playoffs at home or on the road will arguably be the least of their concerns.