Domantas Sabonis set to return for Pacers against SixersAkeem Glaspie, Indianapolis StarPublished 3:35 p.m. ET March 9, 2019 | Updated 2:10 p.m. ET March 10, 2019
UPDATE: The Indiana Pacers reported that Domantas Sabonis would play Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tyreke Evans is out with a respiratory infection.
Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis participated in practice Saturday is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Sabonis missed the past five games with an ankle injury. The status of 76ers’ big man Joel Embiid (knee) is also uncertain, but Sabonis’ return would be a big boost for the Pacers’ frontcourt.
“I feel better,” Sabonis said. “Today was my first practice with the team. (The ankle) didn’t feel too bad. I woke up this morning and it was less sore. Hopefully it stays that way tomorrow.”
Feb 25, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) passes the ball against Detroit Pistons center Zaza Pachulia (27) and forward Thon Maker (7) during the second quarter at Little Caesars Arena. (Photo: , Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
Sabonis did some one-on-one drills during practice Wednesday before putting in a full practice Saturday. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate said his rehab focused on mobilization and stretching the ankle. He added the time off helped him refresh mentally.
If the third-year big returns to action against the 76ers, he’ll immediately improve Indiana’s rebounding numbers.
With Sabonis on the court, the Pacers have a 52 percent rebounding rate. Without Sabonis that number drops to 48 percent. The former Gonzaga center’s presence is felt even more on the offensive end. With Sabonis, Indiana has a 30.1 percent offensive rebounding rate. Without him, that number plummets to 24.4 percent.
“We want (Sabonis) back, but we don’t want him to come back if he’s not ready to go and risk coming out and re-aggravating or tweaking it,” coach Nate McMillan said. “We know he’s not going to get to 100 percent, but we want him to feel comfortable coming back. We certainly know that we need him.”
If Embiid, Philly’s All-Star center, does play, he’ll draw multiple bodies to the paint every time he touches the ball. A healthy Sabonis along with Myles Turner and Kyle O’Quinn give the Pacers multiple bigs to throw at Embiid.
Pacers coach Nate McMillan on Domantas Sabonis’ status against Philly Akeem Glaspie, IndyStar
Offensively, the Pacers must deal with Philly’s superior length at all positions on the floor. The addition of Jimmy Butler gives Philly an elite perimeter defender. The Sixers added former L.A. Clippers forward Tobias Harris at the trade deadline, giving them another versatile defender, allowing them to switch everything, similar to the defensive scheme Indiana struggled with in its 117-98 loss to Milwaukee on Thursday.
McMillan said the focus of Saturday’s practice was ball movement. By keeping the ball moving, the offense forces the defense to scramble and can better generate open shots.
McMillan added that strong ball movement also creates scoring opportunities for their secondary options. In their last meeting with Philadelphia, both Victor Oladipo (6-of-20 for 15 points) and Bogdanovic (3-of-11 for nine points) struggled to find their groove. If the Pacers can create open looks, players like Wesley Matthews and Doug McDermott could make the 76ers pay from deep.
“They’re a tough matchup for everybody,” Bogdanovic said. “They have a defense with a lot of length, they can switch everything and it’s going to be a big challenge for us. We worked today in practice and if we move the ball and stick to our game plan we’ll be fine.”