The Indiana Pacers' best player won't participate in the NBA's restart in Florida later this month.
The 2019-20 season is set to resume at Walt Disney World Resort, where 22 teams will play eight seeding games before a normal four-round playoffs with eight teams in each conference is played.
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The Pacers are one of the nine Eastern Conference teams participating in the restart, and in an interview with Shams Charania of The Athletic, Oladipo explained his decision not to go to Orlando.
“I really want to play, and as a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart,” Oladipo said, per Charania. “I feel like I’m at a great place in my rehab and getting closer and closer to 100 percent. With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing. I have to be smart and this decision hasn’t been easy, but I truly believe continuing on the course I’m on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me.”
The Celtics and Pacers are not scheduled to play each other in the seeding games phase, which begins July 30. So, how could Oladipo's absence impact Boston? Let's break it down.
The Celtics will enter the restart as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 43-21 record. The Pacers are 39-26 and 4.5 games behind the C's. Indiana played well without Oladipo this season, but it's hard to envision a scenario where it doesn't fall to the No. 6 seed during the eight seeding games format. The Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers are tied for the No. 5 seed, and a healthy Sixers team bolstered by the return of All-Star point guard Ben Simmons should finish ahead of Indiana going into the playoffs. The Miami Heat are fourth in the East standings and have a two-game lead on the Pacers. Unless the Heat collapse, they should be able to hold the No. 4 seed.
Therefore, it's very possible we could see a Celtics vs. Pacers first-round series in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup. In fact, most projection models have the Celtics and Pacers squaring off in Round 1.
The Celtics and Pacers played in the first round last season and Boston swept Indiana in four games. It wouldn't be surprising if the same scenario unfolded in 2020. The Celtics are a deeper and more talented team. They are actually the only club with three players averaging 20 or more points per game. The Pacers have zero players averaging 20-plus points. Boston also ranks higher than Indiana in points scored per, points allowed per game, rebounds per game, steals per game and blocks per game. The Pacers, when Oladipo is unavailable, don't have a go-to scorer who can create his own shot late in games. In the last game the Celtics played before COVID-19 halted the season, they beat the Pacers 114-111 in Indiana. The Pacers nearly pulled off the win late, and Oladipo scored 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting (5-for-7 from 3-point range).
In the overall playoff picture, it's so important for the Celtics to at least finish with the No. 3 seed. This could set up the easiest possible path to the NBA Finals. The Celtics wouldn't have to play the first-place Milwaukee Bucks until the conference finals if they finished as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed. A path to the conference finals that includes a Pacers team without Oladipo in the first round and a tough-but-winnable second-round matchup against the Toronto Raptors is a favorable one for Boston. It's a much better route than having to play the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1 in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup and then see the Bucks in Round 2.