LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After a fifth straight exit in the first round of the playoffs — including a second straight sweep and a third in the past four years, thanks to a 99-87 loss to the Miami Heat on Monday — Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner said he’s fed up with being immediately sent home from the playoffs.
“At some point, you have to get over the hump, man,” Turner said. “Five years of being in the playoffs, five first-round exits. So me, personally, I take that s— personally. You gotta find a way.”
Indiana found itself in a similar position this year against Miami to where it was last year against the Boston Celtics: trying to compete in the first round without one of its key players. Last year, Victor Oladipo was out because of a torn quad tendon. This year, Domantas Sabonis missed the team’s playoff run after being diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, and the Pacers were without key reserve Jeremy Lamb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in February.
Because of those injuries, the Pacers got to see their projected starting lineup entering the season — Malcolm Brogdon, Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Sabonis and Turner — for exactly 86 minutes this season, something coach Nate McMillan lamented when asked about his team’s quick exit from the playoffs Monday.
“We need to get full strength,” McMillan said. “We haven’t seen this particular team full strength for more than five, six games. When Victor came back, we had a couple guys with those injuries, so our starting lineup with Victor being in the lineup and Malcolm and Warren and Domas and Myles, we haven’t seen that combination … I don’t have the number of games, but I know it’s not more than 10 games.
“We haven’t seen the combination with Lamb and us just being a fully healthy team because we’ve had so many injuries. So that’s the thing: to get ourselves healthy next season, and hopefully, we can stay healthy and see this team work together.”
McMillan said he anticipates that the Pacers will begin next season at full strength — including Oladipo, who is now more than 18 months removed from the quad tendon tear he suffered on Jan. 29, 2019, in Toronto.
“It’s always a challenge coming back from an injury and trying to get your rhythm and, as Victor has tried to do, fit in with a team,” McMillan said. “He hasn’t spent a lot of time on the floor with our starters, playing in the backcourt with Malcolm, playing with Warren. He knows Domas, but the combination of all those guys together, we were winning games, and part of that is Victor doesn’t want to come in and try to take over. He tried to fit himself into the group that we had.
“But all of that next season will start from training camp. These guys, hopefully starting out healthy and working together and learning each other’s tendencies and hopefully establishing a style of play together. This was his first time coming back. … I think next year he will be stronger, more confident and better than he was in this restart.”
Oladipo, who returned to the court one year after he suffered the injury, didn’t look like the player he was before the injury at any point during the regular season, seeding games or the four games against Miami.
The 28-year-old said he thought he was beginning to get into a rhythm, but he still has work to do to strengthen his knee and quad in the aftermath of the injury.
“I felt like game-in and game-out, I was slowly but surely building a rhythm, obviously, of the game,” he said. “But I have to continue to building the strength and trust in my quad. I’m close, but I’m not there yet. I’ve just got to keep working, and I’m looking forward to putting in the work.”
One thing he wasn’t willing to commit to was talking about an extension on his contract with the Pacers. Oladipo will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021 — one of many stars who can potentially hit the market next summer or whenever the following offseason lands on the calendar — but he said that isn’t something he’s focused on at the moment.
“At the end of the day, it would be hard to gauge right now,” Oladipo said of how the uncertainty about the team and himself would factor into possible negotiations. “Like I said to begin with, I’m not really worried about that right now. I don’t have to make any decisions right now or even think about that right now.
“At the end of the day, I know what I need to focus on, what I need to do to make sure my knee gets stronger and better and what I need to do to get better as a person and a player. I learned a lot from this year, and I learned a lot from this series, so I just got to continue to keep working.”