Pacers’ push for another playoff berth continues vs. Thunder

NBA Basketball

The Indiana Pacers are trying to find their footing to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to build toward the future with a young, inexperienced core.

Heading into Wednesday night’s game in Indianapolis, both Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren and his Thunder counterpart Mark Daigneault are trying to find the right combination for success, even if success looks different for each team.

For Bjorkgren, that means turning around his team’s fortunes amid a three-game losing streak that has Indiana in the play-in mix but also close to missing the postseason.

In Monday’s 109-94 loss to San Antonio to begin a three-game homestand, the Pacers (26-31) were without three key players — two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis, interior defensive stalwart Myles Turner and key reserve Jeremy Lamb.

Turner’s injury is the most severe, as he’s out indefinitely with a partial tear in the plantar plate in his right foot. Turner missed Monday’s game and has played in just one of Indiana’s past eight contests.

Sabonis missed Monday’s game with a sore lower back and Lamb missed with a sore left knee.

Another interior presence, Goga Bitadze, who started Monday in place of Turner, left that game with a sprained left ankle, forcing Bjorkgren to get creative.

“We’ve got to find different ways to defend,” Bjorkgren said. “No matter if you play big or you play small, you’ve got to find different ways to defend constantly because teams change (and) lineups on the floor change.

“We’ve just got to keep digging in, we’ve got to keep grinding, we’ve got to keep fighting.”

If Indiana is to make a push late this season, it needs to be successful this week. Wednesday’s game is the first of three games in a row against teams at least 18 games below .500.

In his first season as head coach of the Thunder (20-38), Daigneault has used 25 different starting lineups.

He used another new starting lineup in Monday’s loss at Washington, which extended Oklahoma City’s losing streak to 11.

Moses Brown, who only moved into the rotation in mid-March after being called up from a G League stint, has been the Thunder’s most consistent presence in the starting five recently, starting the team’s past 14 games.

While Oklahoma City also has dealt with plenty of injuries, a lot of Daigneault’s maneuvering has been more about experimentation and research — knowing which players do well together and using them in various ways.

“The other thing it does is it stress-tests our environment and our culture and it stress-tests our system,” Daigneault said. “We’re trying to build something that’s pliable and flexible.”

The latest revolution has been from Darius Bazley, who is coming off 26 points Monday against the Wizards, a performance Daigneault said was as much about Bazley’s progress as the necessity of missing players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort.

“He’s really starting to understand how athletic and strong he is and gaining a lot of confidence in that,” Daigneault said of Bazley. “We’re just lighting the fuse on it.”

Wednesday’s game will be the first of two meetings between the teams this season. The finale will be May 1 in Oklahoma City.

–Field Level Media

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