Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner has surged in recent weeks.
Lately, Indiana Pacers big man Myles Turner has been a different player. A better player. A more physical player. The kind of player the Pacers have been waiting for.
The transformation for Turner began during the All-Star break, when he did some soul searching. Victor Oladipo played in the All-Star game for the first time. Pacers backup center Domantas Sabonis was also part of All-Star festivities, playing for Team World in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Turner was elated for his teammates, but he also saw something wrong with this picture, because he wasn’t part of it. Though he puts team success first, Turner would love to be an All-Star. He also wants to be considered one of the game’s rising stars, but in the first half of the season, Turner’s play did not match his potential.
So Turner had a meeting with Turner. He decided to play more aggressively during the rest of the season, more determined to expand his offense by scoring in the low post, rather than just relying on his outside shooting.
The results have been eye-opening. Turner has 10 double-doubles this season, and seven of them have come since Jan 31st, including three in the past six games. Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, Turner (25 points, six rebounds) was the Pacers’ best player, helping them overcome a tough shooting night by Oladipo (11 points, 4 for 21 from the field) during a 101-98 victory.
Turner always insisted he had a low-post game, but he has clearly gained more confidence applying it. In Tuesday night’s matchup against Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid, Turner showed a willingness to mix it up inside at both ends, and he made 9 of his 12 shots. Turner’s 6-foot-11 height and high release on his shot make him a difficult cover, even though he still needs more strength to become even better in the low post. But by changing his approach, Turner has seen significant improvement.
“My team needs me,” said Turner. “That’s what it is. The All-Star break was good for me, to kind of take a look at myself, where we are in the standings. I know I need to step up my play.”
The Pacers (40-28) are No. 3 in the Eastern Conference with just 14 games left in the regular season, making a statement with back-to-back road wins against Boston (Sunday) and Philadelphia.
“When you’re on the road, you have to be able to do that, you have to be able to respond,” said Turner. “Teams are going to make runs. Basketball is a game of runs. The fact that we responded so well bodes well for us going into the playoffs, going into this run.”
Turner is one of the few people who can legitimately say he is not surprised by the Pacers’ success.
“I called that back in training camp,” said Turner. “Everybody looked at me like I was crazy. I said we were going to be a top four team (in the East). I just saw the way things were coming together during training camp. I knew about Domas, the way he played, when nobody else really did. I played against him in college, I know how good he was. I saw the way Vic was playing. Bojan (Bogdanovic), he’s a hell of a shooter and he does more than just shoot. Lance (Stephenson) brings a whole different energy. Thad (Young) is a utility player. I can go down the list, but I saw stuff coming together.”
With Sabonis spraining his left ankle Tuesday night, Turner’s presence becomes even more important. Leaving the Pacers’ locker room on crutches, Sabonis did not look as if he would be ready to play in the immediate future. That could mean more playing time for both Al Jefferson and Trevor Booker, and the Pacers will be more reliant on Turner to continue his strong play.
“Next man up, that’s the mentality you have to have,” said Turner. “It sucks seeing him go down, but Al was ready, Trevor Booker really stepped up.”
But in recent Pacers games, nobody has stepped up more than Turner.
Three things to know about Toronto Raptors (50-17) at Pacers, 7 p.m. Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse:
1. Toronto has the top record in the Eastern Conference, riding a nine-game winning streak. All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan (23.6 points per game) leads five Raptors averaging in double figures.
2. The Pacers have split two games with Toronto, with the home team winning both. Indiana will visit Toronto on April 6.
3. The Raptors have won at least 50 games for three straight seasons. But this team represents Toronto’s best chance to reach the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history.
Follow IndyStar sports writer Clifton Brown on Twitter @CliftonGBrown