SMITH: Pacers season preview

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Another NBA season is upon us, and the Indiana Pacers are ready to tip things off one week from today at home against the Detroit Pistons.  There are lots of new faces on this team, but the mission is the same: Play Pacers basketball, and shock the world. 

Myles Turner will be the only returning starter from last season’s opening night.  Thad Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Darren Collison are elsewhere, while Victor Oladipo is still out with injury.  But despite the changes, this is a talented Pacers team, and one the fans will enjoy watching.

Here are five things to watch for this season:

• Domantas “Beast in the making” Sabonis — The 23-year-old power forward averaged 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season, and he was coming off the bench.  His “per 36-minutes” totals were 20.4 points and 13.4 rebounds.  This year, he’s getting a chance to start alongside Myles Turner.   Look for Sabonis to challenge the 20 and 10 monster numbers that he’s capable of producing.  An All-Star appearance is a possibility in this contract-year as well.

• Home-Court Heroes — The Pacers have put together a winning record on their home court for 30 consecutive seasons.  That’s the longest active streak in the NBA.  The all-time record is 34 straight, set by the Phoenix Suns.  The Pacers should have no problem reaching 31 straight this season as they close in on that all-time mark.  Fans should make it out to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season. This team will play hard and will make the fans proud.  

• Malcolm Brogdon —  They say big-named free agents don’t come to Indiana.  Malcolm Brogdon may not be a huge name, but he’s absolutely a huge talent, and he chose the Indiana Pacers in free agency.  Pacers Assistant Coach Dan Burke said this about Brogdon: “He’s the best leader I’ve seen since Reggie Miller.  He gets after it every day, and he wants to win every drill.”  Now that, is some high praise.  Brogdon is the perfect fit for the Pacers on and off the court.  He’s here to lead, with or without Victor Oladipo on the court.  He put up 15 points and 14 assists in the first preseason game, and you can expect big things from the Pacers point guard for years to come.

• T.J. Warren getting buckets —  One of three T.J.’s on the team, this T.J. is out to prove he can play on a good team. He played for the Suns the last few years, so it’s hard to tell what will translate and what won’t.  But Warren had a .549 effective field-goal percentage last season. From Nov. 8  — Jan. 9, Warren averaged 20.3 points per game on 50 percent shooting in those two months.  He’s going to be a weapon for the blue and gold. 

He’s only 26 years old.  He was acquired for very little.  And as we’ve already seen, this guy can get buckets.  He may not show much emotion on the court.  But fans won’t care about that as much if he’s putting the ball in the hole.

• Nate McMillan’s lineup decisions —  McMillan has done a great job in his tenure with the Pacers. His players love him, and he knows how to coach defense.  This season, it appears he has more offensive weapons. That also means he has more decisions to make.  McMillan’s decisions will be something to watch all season long.  If he pushes the right buttons, this team could make a lot of noise.  They have the players to play big, small, slow, or fast.  But the in-game adjustments will need to be on point to maximize their potential.

Prediction for the season —  49 wins and a No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girl’s basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.

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