The Indiana Pacers look to put a tumultuous 2020-21 season in their rearview mirror on Wednesday when they open the 2021-22 campaign in Charlotte against the Hornets.
Nate Bjorkgren’s lone season as the Pacers’ coach ended with a 34-38 record and a defeat in the play-in tournament. Bjorkgren was fired in June and replaced by Rick Carlisle, who will begin his second coaching stint with Indiana.
Carlisle was the Pacers’ coach from 2003-07, and he compiled a 181-147 record over those four seasons. He has an 836-689 record in 19 seasons as head coach of the Pacers, Detroit Pistons and Dallas Mavericks — with his teams qualifying for the playoffs in 14 of those campaigns.
Carlisle said his new team has been fine-tuning a few facets of its game during training camp.
“We talked a lot about defense, we talked about playing together and finding joy and helping each other get great shots,” Carlisle said. “Empowering each other with touches, and things like that. … It’s been pretty consistent since the beginning.”
Unfortunately for Indiana, last season’s failures were underscored by a number of health situations, and this season is starting off in much the same manner. T.J. Warren is plagued by a foot injury and Caris LeVert is dealing with a stress fracture in his back that will sideline him for at least the first four regular-season games.
Malcolm Brogdon was counted among the walking wounded with an ailing shoulder, however he assured reporters that he’d be playing in Wednesday’s season opener.
“You could tell the seriousness since we’ve finished the last preseason game, the seriousness that we’re approaching every day with going into our first game in Charlotte.” said Brogdon, who reportedly agreed to a two-year, $45 million extension on Monday that will keep him with Indiana through the 2024-25 season.
“It’s a good team, a team (against which we recorded) our last win last season, so I’m sure we left a bad taste in their mouth. I’m sure they are going to come out hungry, so we’ll come out hungrier.”
Brogdon is heading into his third season with the Pacers since leaving the Milwaukee Bucks in 2019 in a sign-and-trade deal. He averaged a team-leading 21.2 points to go along with 5.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds last season.
Two-time All-Star center Domantas Sabonis averaged 20.3 points to go along with club-best totals in rebounds (12.0) and assists (6.7).
While Indiana missed the playoffs for the first time in six years last season, Charlotte also participated in the play-in tournament and has aspirations of ending its five-year playoff drought in 2021-22.
The Hornets are banking on the youth movement takes another step forward, with LaMelo Ball looking to build off his NBA Rookie of the Year performance. Ball averaged 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds to go along with team-best totals in assists (6.1) and steals (1.6).
Terry Rozier, who averaged a team-best 20.4 points per game, signed a four-year, $97 million extension in the offseason. He’ll look to provide a powerful 1-2 punch with fellow veteran Gordon Hayward, who is recovering from a bout with COVID-19.
“I feel much better now than I did, that’s for sure,” Hayward said. “The last two days have been really good as far as getting some cardio back and getting my wind back, just something I’m going to have to work through here the first couple of weeks.”
–Field Level Media