Central Division counterparts Cleveland and Indiana seek their first win of the 2019-2020 season Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
The host Cavaliers (0-1) dropped their opening-night contest to the Orlando Magic 94-85 in the regular-season debut of first-year coach John Beilein. Beilein accepted Cleveland’s coaching vacancy in May after a lengthy career in the college ranks, most notably his 12 seasons at the University of Michigan.
Beilein’s Michigan tenure included two runs to the NCAA National Championship Game, running a highly efficient offensive style, but in his NBA debut, his Cavaliers struggled to score.
“Every time we play a game, we’re going to learn exponentially how to get better,” Beilein told reporters after the opener. “We’ve got to get more possessions. We’ve got to be able to get up the floor.”
It was a similar opening-night story for Indiana (0-1). The Pacers didn’t suffer through any one quarter quite as offensively anemic as Cleveland’s 17-point second against Orlando, but a dry spell of more than three minutes in the fourth doomed them against Detroit.
“Offensively, we didn’t really have a flow,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said in his postgame press conference. “The pressure bothered us. There were times we just looked out of synch, and I thought that was due to the pressure.”
A lack of bench production hindered both Cleveland and Indiana their first times out. The Pacers got just 16 points from their reserves. The Cavs got 21.
Should Saturday’s contest go a similar route, Indiana’s primary concern becomes defending dribble-drive penetration. McMillan said the Pacers’ inability to contain Derrick Rose’s slashing, particularly in the first half, plagued his team.
Beilein’s offense has long built off attacking from the perimeter with two ball-handlers instead of a designated point guard. Second-year guard Collin Sexton and rookie Darius Garland manned much of the responsibilities in the opener while veteran Jordan Clarkson played almost 19 minutes and shot a dismal 2-of-12 from the floor in that time.
Forcing misses from the perimeter players is one step for Indiana; keeping the Cavs off the boards on those misses is next. The Pacers were outrebounded 45-36 in the opener, with Andre Drummond accounting for 23 of those. Cleveland comes in with a similarly skilled rebounder in Kevin Love. He grabbed 18 against Orlando, although just one was on the offensive end.
Love and Tristan Thompson match up with the Indiana frontcourt of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis notched 27 points and 13 rebounds on Wednesday, building off a promising 2018-19.
A breakout star a season ago, Turner finished with 25 points and nine rebounds in the opener.
Marquee offseason acquisition Malcolm Brogdon also impressed in the opener, dishing out 11 assists to go with his 22 points. The former Milwaukee Buck figures to handle much of the scoring responsibility from the perimeter with All-Star Victor Oladipo still rehabbing a quadriceps injury.
McMillan said “no timetable” exists for Oladipo’s return, and he will be re-evaluated in a month.
“I’m just taking my time, my sweet time,” Oladipo told reporters this week about his return to action. “I’m talking as slow as possible.”
–Field Level Media