While it will be the first time that the Indiana Pacers will play overseas on Thursday, when they play the Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena in London, coach Nate McMillan has fond memories of his time in the English capital.
McMillian was an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski at the London 2012 Olympics when the USA won their second straight gold medal and even though this is a business trip, the 52-year-old wants his team to feel relaxed, even going as far as inviting the players families to the UK, something that not many coaches have done over the years.
McMillan spoke after his team’s 121-109 home win against the Brooklyn Nets about his trip to London this week. The Pacers [19-18] play the Knicks tonight [Saturday] before boarding a flight across the Atlantic.
Obviously you’re up to a 50 percent win loss record after last night’s game. Is there any worry that a trip across the pond would hinder the flow the team have right now or do you think it’s a good opportunity for the team to build?
Well we have to play the schedule and it is a good opportunity. We focus on one game at a time. We were able to get back to 500 last night and I think our team are really starting to build our chemistry and continuity within our group. We were also able to go out and win on the road last night in Detroit who are a very tough team who we’ve had some success with this season. We needed to play a solid team last night to win and we hadn’t had a three game winning streak all season and got that last night. It’s starting to feel like the team are coming together.
You’re not the first team from Indianapolis to make the trip across to London with the Colts having played at Wembley. Have you spoken to any coaches or staff from there to get any tips of how to prepare?
No, I have not. I was over there in 2012 with the Olympic team when we won Gold so I have pretty good experience of being there. It was an exciting time and our guys are looking forward to that. We’ll be able to travel with our families. The Pacer’s organisation is excited that the NBA has chosen us to represent the NBA over there. We’re looking forward to it and it should be a good game against Denver.
It might be a bit of an exhibition feel to the game as it’s the only game in London. Are you worried that might influence or affect your team? And obviously, the bottom line is you want to get the job done.
No, not at all. Both teams know that this is a regular season game and there’s not going to be an exhibition atmosphere. The players will be focused on playing and winning the game so you’re going to see the best from both teams. It’s an important game: we only see Denver twice a year and this is the first time this season so there’s a lot on the line. The focus will be there on the players and the NBA know the focus will be there and it’s a big game, that’s why they’ve scheduled a regular season game as opposed to an exhibition game. Our guys will be ready to play and we hope we will continue to be healthy and all our guys will be ok to play.
With the exception of Paul George, the rest of the team have struggled in the fourth quarter: what do you think the reason for this is?
Paul George is a part of the team so it’s not the rest of the team. There have been some games where we have not executed well as a group down the stretch and I think it’s happened on both ends of the floor. We’ve had some breakdowns where we haven’t covered or haven’t finished plays or didn’t rebound the ball. In offense we’ve had some times where we didn’t effectively go down the stretch. When we have been able to execute effectively as we did last night, defending, rebounding the ball and Paul made some big shots for us down the stretch, we’ve been able to win games. He’s the guy we’re going to put the ball in the hands of and make decisions as he’s done a good job with that this season. The team as a group have had some breakdowns so we will continue to work on that and get better. We will continue to build trust, chemistry and continuity we’ve talked about and then we should be able to win more games.
Myles Turner has obviously become a big part of your team since being drafted. What do you think he has to do to become one of the NBA’s elite?
He continues to work hard every day. He’s a second year player who’s been given an NBA team and he has to learn how to play the centre spot in the NBA which is a very challenging job. It’s behind the point guard which is probably one of the most difficult positions on the floor to learn to play. The NBA game has really changed in how the centre has to play – they’re playing more on the perimeter. I’d say five years ago they were playing in the post and now they’re playing more on the three-point line and the offence end of the floor. Centres are now shooting threes and Miles has the ability to spread the floor and shoot the three. He is just a young guy that continues to grow each and every game. Offensively he’s one of the top shooters in the game right now and he will continue to get better. Defensively he’s still learning how to guard the basket, rebound the ball and anchor the defence. I think as he grows and puts on a little weight I think he has the potential to be an all-star one day.
How have you adjusted your coaching methods to the new-look Pacers you have now?
Most of our group was together last year with Frank Vogel. Dan Burke had been with him the entire time he was there and Popeye Jones came the same year I was here. Billy Bayno was an assistant I had with me when I was coaching in Portland so we’re all very familiar with each other and we trust each other’s knowledge of the game. Dan Burke is the coach who really handles our defence and Billy Bayno and Popeye Jones work on both sides of the ball so we have an experienced group here that have been coaching for a long time and have coached with a lot of good coaches in their time. I really feel like I have strong staff.
In regards to Jeff Teague, he’s a phenomenal player, what sort of impact is he having on the team at the moment?
I think when you’re in transition and you’re coming into a new group there’s a filling out process and you need to get comfortable with the environment, where you are and what’s expected of you. You have to fit your game into the style of play to your new coaching staff and your team mates. I don’t think Jeff has ever played with a guy like Paul George who brings something a little different to the floor. At Atlanta Jeff pretty much created for his team and here in Indiana Paul George can create opportunities for Jeff. So they have to get comfortable with each other. It’s the same with Myles Turner. With Jeff he’s the quarter-back, the anchor: the guy who decides how we’re going to play on the offence and defence and he has to get familiar with the floor. I thought earlier Jeff was fine to adapt to his own team mates and I think you can now see he’s starting to get more comfortable.
Apart from coming to London to play the game, what are you most looking forward to in London?
The opportunity to travel over and represent the NBA. It’s an important game for both groups. It’s the NBA at its best: it’s not an exhibition game -the players will be playing hard to win the game. It’s not a vacation for the teams travelling to London. It’s a regular season game and it’s important. We need to continue to win to try and separate ourselves here in the East. We’re looking forward to the game, coming over and hopefully winning the game.
What are your thoughts on Danilo Gallinari and how have you prepared to negate the threat that he brings?
He’s a tough player and we’ve had some challenges guarding him – he plays a three and a four and he’s a big guy that can flat out score. I think we have to provide a defence that makes him work for everything he gets and not allow him to get off easily. We will just make him work to see the ball and make him guard.
Al Jefferson has been effective this season: is there anything in particular you’ve told him coming off the bench to play at such a high level?
When we signed him this summer he knew that Myles Turner would be playing the starting position and that he would be coming off the bench. It was a great pick up for us that we were able to sign him as a back-up. He’s shown that he has been able to deliver in the offence and has been very productive in opening up the perimeter. We were thrilled to death to sign him knowing that he would accept the role of coming off the bench. He and Myles have worked really well together in practice and mentoring from Al with Myles. Their games are very different: Myles is more of a perimeter centre and Al plays in the paint. They’ve both been really great for us.
What does Kevin Seraphin bring to the line-up?
Well we’ve only just started playing him in the last three/four games. We felt that with the energy and physicality he brought to the ball we had to give him some minutes. We really worked him at the power-forward spot so he could get on the floor. Both he and Al are playing together, the four and the five, they’re both very physical and play in the paint: they’re book ends that can spread and free up shooters. We’re excited to have him as well on the roster and he’s done some good things this season to deserve the right to be on the floor.
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