It’s now been over a month since the Pacers last played basketball.
On Tuesday, March 10, the blue and gold fell to the Boston Celtics in a hard-fought match by a final score of 114-111. Victor Oladipo had his best game since returning from injury, wracking up 27 points with a barrage of buckets in the fourth quarter.
One day later, however, NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended the league’s season with the impending Coronavirus safety threat. Since then, basketball fans have been limited to watching classic game reruns and virtual H-O-R-S-E in hopes of filling the void by a season that was halted three quarters of the way through.
While it was far from the excitement of a live game, Tuesday afternoon’s virtual press conference with Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard did provide a healthy helping of hoops-centric talk, as Pritchard spoke with media via Zoom for more than 40 minutes. On the topic of finishing the 2019-20 NBA season, Pritchard said he’s putting his trust in commissioner Adam Silver.
“As far as playing in front of fans and all that, we’re really listening to the commissioner,” Pritchard says. “Give him a lot of credit. He came out very quickly and said no games, and I think we’re all watching his lead. We have a lot of confidence in his lead.”
In addition to speculation on the league’s potential continuation, however, Pritchard also spoke on several questions pertaining strictly to the Pacers and their well-being. See a rundown of these topics below.
PLAYERS AND THE VIRUS
To this point, no Pacers player has tested positive for COVID-19. As for their protocol with testing players, Pritchard says the organization reached a decision early on.
“Dr. Samuels has said that he didn’t want to test unless there were symptoms,” he says. “There are a couple reasons for that, but the biggest reason is we’d feel like it was a wasted test.”
He continues, “Early on in the process, there was a lack of tests, so we got together and said, ‘We will test if we have symptoms.’ For one day, we thought we were about to test one player, and I’m not going to say who that was. But the next day, he felt great, so we decided not to and saved that test for our community.”
As more tests become available to the community, Pritchard says the organization will change its current stance.
“When these tests get to a point where everyone has them and they’re easily accessible, I think it’ll be very important for all of us to get tested to see if we have the antibodies,” he says. “That will be critical.”
DAY-TO-DAY PLAYER REGIMENT
In speaking on the challenges that come with keeping a player in game shape while quarantining, Pritchard pointed out the obvious. “The way you stay in game shape is you play games,” he says. Nevertheless, Pritchard said the Pacers staff has been doing all they can virtually.
“Our strength and conditioning staff is in daily contact,” he says. "They’ve given them programs. They’re checking in on them every day.”
Pritchard added that certain players have been able to find a gym to work out in under isolation, while others have not.
“I think one of the things that’s been the most challenging is getting a gym and being the only person in that gym,” he says. “I know a couple players that have found gyms. They’re going in by themselves super late at night, getting in their workout and then getting out of there, and I applaud that.”
On the topic of mental health, Pritchard said he and his staff have made an effort to comfort players in these strange times too.
“The first week to two weeks was as intense a two weeks as I’ve ever had in terms of just gauging where each player was mentally,” he says. “I think Chad Buchanan, Kelly, Peter and Dr. Carr did a phenomenal job of staying in touch and really understanding where that player was emotionally because I don’t know if I was prepared to understand what the players were going through. Because you have this regiment and then it’s gone.”
SPECIFIC PLAYER INJURY UPDATES
Prior to the NBA season being suspended, the blue and gold did have some players dealing with injuries. One of the team’s most immediate concerns was Malcolm Brogdon, who was week-to-week with a left leg injury. According to Pritchard, this injury is no more.
“Malcolm says he’s 100% and ready to go,” Pritchard says. “He just wants to get out there. He was so looking forward to him and Victor playing and getting some games in before the playoffs.”
Since suffering a severe left knee injury on Feb. 23, Jeremy Lamb has also continued in his recovery process.
“He is walking,” Pritchard says. “It looks good. He’s on target. He’s working with Josh six days a week right now. We feel good about that, but it’s going to be a long process.”
Prior to the NBA’s suspension, the Pacers had also been limiting the minutes of Victor Oladipo as part of his overall recovery. When asked what this might look like if the season starts up again, Pritchard said the blue and gold would continue forward with the same amount of caution they always have.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations around ramping him up in a couple weeks of training camp, and then not throwing him out there and having him play a big amount of minutes,” Pritchard says. “I think we can adjust as we go, but there could be some limitations.”
A TEAM THAT’S STILL HUNGRY
After winning 8 of their final 11 games prior to the NBA’s suspension, the Pacers looked poised to make some noise in the playoffs. In Pritchard’s eyes, this final push was going to be quite fun to watch.
“I felt like you had three ‘seasons,’” he says. “Victor being out in the beginning, and watching this team come together. That was an amazing experience for that team. And then, [there was] Victor coming back, and there being some challenges around that. But there was also going to be a third ‘season’ in my mind, and that was coming out in the end when everybody was clicking.”
“You put this team with everybody healthy…we’re not afraid,” he continues. “They [the opponent] might not be afraid of us, but we’re not afraid of them.”
In particular, Pritchard mentioned one individual player that was really looking forward to the postseason.
“I was talking to T.J. Warren in a text today, and he hasn’t been in the playoffs,” Pritchard says. “He’s truly salivating at the opportunity to get out there and play and compete in the playoffs. That’s what these guys live for.”