Roughly 53 weeks after suffering a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right knee, Victor Oladipo is set to make his season debut Wednesday night as his Indiana Pacers host the Chicago Bulls.
Indiana remained afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the All-Star's absence, and the team expects a raucous response from its fans as the Pacers now take aim at postseason seeding with their best player in tow.
"Obviously a Wednesday night is not going to be as strong as a Saturday night in general, so we'll be pushing close to a sellout for a Wednesday night," Pacers senior vice president/chief sales and marketing officer Todd Taylor told the Indianapolis Star. "It's a very strong indicator for his return."
Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Wednesday that Oladipo will be on a minutes restriction through the All-Star break. But he declined to reveal how many minutes Oladipo will play against the Bulls.
Oladipo pledges to be patient but he is eager to recapture the form that made him a two-time All-Star.
"There is no doubt in my mind that I'm going to better than I was," Oladipo said. "I'm not saying that will be tomorrow night but it is going to happen. That is just my belief in myself. Honestly, I don't care what anybody else thinks or how long it takes or the criticisms that come with it. I don't care. That's part of life."
A team accustomed to injuries is simply eager to return some scoring punch.
Through 47 games, the Pacers already have used more starting lineups (11) and lost more player games to injury than during all of the 2018-19 season.
Indiana was shorthanded again in Sunday's 139-129 loss at Portland. Starting shooting guard Malcolm Brogdon missed his second successive game in the concussion protocol after he was elbowed during a Jan. 22 win at Phoenix. Center Myles Turner was sidelined due to illness.
After concluding a 3-2 road trip, the Pacers will play seven of their next eight at home.
"We came in trying to go 4-1 on this road trip," Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb said. "I thought we fought and we gave it our all. Obviously, we are down a couple of men but our mindset is always next man up."
Wednesday marks the start of a three-game road trip for Chicago, which rallied from an 11-point, fourth quarter deficit to edge the visiting San Antonio Spurs 110-109 on Monday night. The Bulls earned consecutive victories for the first time since Dec. 18-21.
Chicago guard Zach LaVine scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of go-ahead free throws with 2.1 seconds to play. LaVine shot 4-for-8 from the field in the fourth quarter to register his 15th consecutive 20-point game.
"Just had to settle in," LaVine said. "I'm always confident. My teammates kept telling me, ‘You're going to help us win this game.' All I needed to see was one go in, and I think that's how you turn a bad game into a good one."
LaVine said reserve guard Denzel Valentine "was the biggest reason we won."
Valentine provided an early jolt and a steady hand while matching a season high with 16 points.
Bulls guard Kris Dunn leads the league with 30 multi-steal games. Chicago is 5-1 when center Luke Kornet scores in double figures.
Indiana has earned seven straight regular-season victories against Chicago -- including two this season -- and claimed 10 of the teams' last 11 meetings overall. The Bulls last won in Bankers Life Fieldhouse 98-96 on March 29, 2016.
--Field Level Media
For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.