INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers head into the new year trying to recapture that spark it had in November and early December.
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The question is how long will the Pacers have to do it without their spark plug.
Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Saturday that leading scorer Victor Oladipo will likely miss his third consecutive game with a sore right knee when Indiana (19-17) hosts Minnesota (22-14) on Sunday. Lance Stephenson has been starting in Oladipo’s place.
The Pacers have lost three in a row.
“We’ve lost that sense of urgency,” said McMillan, whose team lost to Chicago 119-107 on Friday night. “We’re giving up big quarters defensively. Teams are really coming out and just jumping on us. We have to get stops so we can rebound the ball and we can establish a tempo. Right now, we’re not defending well at all.”
The Bulls were 18 of 39 from 3-point range in Friday’s win.
McMillan said when the Pacers were playing well earlier in the season, they were establishing the tempo.
“We have to challenge our guys to get better,” McMillan said. “This is a part of the growth of this team. We were playing well in the month of November and the first part of December.”
Now other teams are raising their level of play, McMillan said.
Minnesota also is dealing with the recent loss of a key starter. Jeff Teague is out indefinitely with a sprained left knee. Teague, who spent last season with the Pacers, was injured when Denver’s Gary Harris fell onto Teague’s lower leg during a loose-ball battle late in the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s overtime victory on Wednesday.
Tyus Jones is taking over the starting spot.
“As always, whatever the team needs me to do, I’ll be ready to do so,” Jones told the Timberwolves website. “I’m hoping Jeff’s all right, I never want to see anyone go down with an injury. It’s this next one up and I’m ready to step in and help this team either way.”
Jones had six points and five steals in a 102-96 loss at Milwaukee on Thursday night.
“The challenge (for Jones) will be defensively,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “You’re going against starters. You don’t replace a guy like Jeff with one guy. You have to do it with your team. Tyus has different strengths than Jeff, and Jeff is one of the best point guards.”
The Timberwolves, who had a five-game winning streak snapped, blew a 20-point lead in the third quarter. Jimmy Butler said the team might have been tired after three games in four nights.
“We’re all human,” Butler said to ESPN. “You can get tired, but my thing is we just can’t have that many mental lapses. We should have never been in that position to begin with. We have to continually be better at building upon leads, instead of giving them up.”
This is the first game of a back-to-back for the Timberwolves, who host the Los Angeles Lakers on New Year’s Day.
The Pacers shot a team-record 66.7 percent in a 130-107 victory over the host Timberwolves on Oct. 24.