Pacers put win streak on the line as Paul George returns with OKC
When the Pacers traded Paul George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, many fans wondered two things: did Indiana get enough in exchange for their former All-Star? And, when does Paul George make his return to Indiana?
With the Pacers on a four-game win streak and sitting at 16-11, thanks in large part to the emergence of Oladipo and Sabobis, their consistent contribution is proving to be more valuable than many anticipated when the deal was made. And as for question number two, that’s Wednesday night.
“We know that there’s a lot of hype to this game with the trade that was made this summer, but it is another game for us and for us, the focus is defending home court,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said Tuesday following practice.
That home court crowd has gained exponential strength on the heels of the Pacers win streak. Pair that with Oladipo earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors thanks to a 30.8 point, 7 rebound and 4.3 assist average of the past four games, and it’s easy to see why the Indiana University product is rapidly replacing Paul George as the face of the franchise. Earlier in the week, Oladipo said he was getting tired of comparisons to George, but Tuesday he told Indy Sports Central that he understands the anticipation being built up by those outside the organization.
“I’m looking forward to every game, every game I play, I am looking forward to playing,” Oladipo said. “Just another game for us, and a game we have to go out and defend home court. Obviously you guys and maybe a little bit of the fans are going to blow it up, which is fine, but we have to go out there and play Pacers basketball and execute and defend home court and try to get a win. ”
“Just another game we gotta win,” said Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, who was drafted by the Pacers in 2010 in the same class as George. “It’s going to be great, Paul coming back. It’s going to be different playing against him on the Pacers floor, but my goal right now is to get as many wins as possible.”
Many of the guys who shared the locker room with PG during his Indiana tenure say they’re looking forward to facing their former teammate, however his presence brings up some difficulty when suiting up. Forward Thaddeus Young most often plays in George’s signature Nike shoe, the PG1, however, he will opt for different shoes on Wednesday, just as he did when the Pacers played the Thunder in Oklahoma City earlier this season.
“I’m probably going to wear Kobe’s tomorrow,” Young said with a hearty laugh. “He asked me that last game, ‘Why didn’t you wear the PGs,’ and I was like, ‘Come on man, you know what’s up.’ I’m probably going to wear the Kobe’s tomorrow, and go back to my PG1s after that.”
When asked how he thought George, who is averaging 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game, would be received by fans at the Fieldhouse, McMillan said, “I don’t know. I’m sure there will be some people that support and some people that won’t. But he was a heck of a player in my time that he spent here and in the time I spent with him, but that’s always the case when you have situations like this.”
“When you leave a place, you have some supporters and some people that are a little bitter about situations, depending on how you exit,” McMillan added.
The Pacers tip off against the Thunder (12-14) at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be nationally-televised on ESPN. This marks the fifth game in a six-game homestand for the Pacers, who will host the Pistons on Friday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.