The Indiana Pacers were plenty short-handed when they faced the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 21 in Indianapolis.
Still, the Pacers managed to escape with a win to help buoy their postseason hopes.
Headed into Saturday’s return engagement with the Thunder, this time in Oklahoma City, the Pacers could be without the biggest key to that earlier win.
Malcolm Brogdon, who had 29 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in Indiana’s 122-116 win over the Thunder, left after the first quarter of the Pacers’ Thursday loss to the Brooklyn Nets due to a sore right hamstring.
Indiana wasn’t done with just the loss of Brogdon, also losing JaKarr Sampson (head) and Edmond Sumner (left knee) later in the game.
In the first meeting with Oklahoma City, the Pacers didn’t have a player taller than 6-foot-7 available, thanks to injuries to Domantas Sabonis (back) and Goga Bitadze (ankle) to go with long-term injuries to T.J. Warren (foot) and Myles Turner (foot).
Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren hopes to have reinforcements soon but said his team can’t afford to lean on the excuse of being banged up.
“It’s a challenge,” Bjorkgren said. “The list has gotten longer but like I keep saying, there are capable guys on this team that can play very good basketball.
“There are guys on this team that can contribute in many different ways on the defensive end and offensive end. Just got to keep sticking together and playing as hard as you can out there.”
Bjorkgren said Sabonis and Bitadze are close to returning, as is Jeremy Lamb (knee). Sabonis has missed the past six games while Bitadze has missed five straight. Lamb has also missed six straight, though he was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.
The Pacers (29-33) come into Saturday’s game in ninth place in the Eastern Conference trying to snap a two-game losing streak.
In the earlier meeting with the Pacers, the Thunder used a franchise-record-tying 76 points in the paint to stay in the game until the closing seconds.
But since winning that paint battle by 24 — thanks in large part to Indiana’s depleted size — the Thunder have struggled in the paint.
Over its past four games, Oklahoma City (21-42) has been outscored in the paint by 9.5 points per game.
The Thunder are coming off a 109-95 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday that featured another big shift in the rotation for Thunder coach Mark Daigneault with the addition of 26-year-old Argentinian forward Gabriel Deck.
Deck, who played 14:35 in his NBA debut despite not having practiced with the Thunder, figures to see his role expand in the last nine games of the regular season.
“What’s helpful is that he’s played for a long time at a high level in a lot of basketball situations, so he really understands the game, and the game is a universal language,” Daigneault said. “I think he’s gonna be fine in terms of understanding what’s going on.”
Daigneault figures to continue to experiment with different combinations, though he said reserve forward Kenrich Williams would return to the rotation against the Pacers after being a healthy scratch Thursday.
“We gotta take a look at some of these guys,” Daigneault said. “There’s no games in the offseason.”
Oklahoma City has lost 18 of its last 20.
–Field Level Media