The Indiana Pacers hope that Victor Oladipo can make his season debut early in the new year.
The New Orleans Pelicans hope that Zion Williamson can make his NBA debut early in the new year.
Neither team has set a target date for their marquee players to return, but in the meantime, both teams are putting together strong finishes to 2019 as they prepare to meet Saturday night in New Orleans.
Even without Oladipo, an All-Star who underwent surgery to repair a ruptured right quad tendon last January, Indiana is 21-11 and has won six of eight even after a 113-112 loss at Miami on Friday.
One of the keys to Indiana’s success in Oladipo’s absence has been its ball-sharing, which has led to balanced scoring.
Six Pacers have double-figure scoring averages. and a seventh is a fraction of a point below that. As a team, they rank eighth in the NBA in assists per game, and three of their six 30-assist games have come in the past six contests.
“We have guys who can get in the paint at any given moment and make plays for each other,” forward T.J. Warren told the team’s official website.
Opponents have been using more zone defense against Indiana recently, but that hasn’t slowed down the Pacers’ offense.
“Teams use it to disrupt,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “The league has gone to pick-and-roll, and teams tend to try to defend the pick-and-roll by going zone and covering that action. We’re getting good looks and we’re knocking down shots against zones.”
The Pacers made 14 of 31 3-pointers against the Heat, but Miami made 16 of 38. The Heat had a 56-34 rebounding advantage, including a 14-2 edge on the offensive boards.
The Pelicans have been sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference all season, but they just returned home from a road trip on which they went 3-1. They finished the trip with a 112-100 victory at Denver on Christmas night.
The recent return of veteran center Derrick Favors didn’t generate nearly the attention that Williamson will get when he returns from arthroscopic knee surgery, but Favors’ presence has made a difference.
“He has been really instrumental since we got him back,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “He’s been the guy that’s been kind of the consistency in what we’ve done defensively.”
Favors had 13 rebounds, eight points, eight assists, three blocks and one steal as New Orleans ended the Nuggets’ seven-game winning streak.
“He’s huge,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. “You can’t really see how much of an impact he has. We ask him to do a lot, but he’s doing it. Smart player, he knows how to play the game — always making great decisions.”
A victory would be the Pelicans’ first at home since Nov. 19, and a fourth win in five games would match their best stretch of the season.
“It was huge for us,” New Orleans guard Josh Hart said of the road trip. “We definitely would have liked to come out 4-0, but it was good, and we beat some good teams. It was great bonding.”
While the Pacers are completing a set of back-to-back games, the Pelicans are starting one, as they will host the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
–Field Level Media