Five-game road trip may be exactly what the Pacers need

Coach McMillan has a conversation with his leader on the floor, Jeff Teague. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Road trips bring teams closer together. They give players, coaches, and staff members an opportunity to be around each other for an extended amount of time. Forced to, really.

The Pacers departed Tuesday morning on what will be an 11-day road trip through five cities: Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, and Dallas. Finally, a month into the season, they have a trip that will last more than three days.

Of their first 18 regular-season games, 12 were at home. Therefore the only “extended” time that they were away from home, away from their families, and just down the hall from one another, came on a two-game road trip on Oct. 27, 28, and 29. Games two and three of the season.

The Pacers have won their last two games to even their record at 9-9. Winning at three games on this trip would be great. But coming together and getting closer as a team is the most important aspect of this business trip, especially with six new faces on the squad.

“I think it’s going to do us well for having that chance off the court to hang with guys,” said veteran point guard Jeff Teague. “Here, a lot of guys go home with their family. You don’t see them until practice time and after that you don’t hear from them. Having to be with each other, I think it’s going to build a little character with this team and probably a closer bond, and hopefully it shows on the court.”

As a broadcaster traveling with a team, I know first-hand about this. At home games, I show up two hours before games and then leave shortly after. On the road, I’m in airports, killing time during layovers, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner with this same group. That’s when I really have a chance to get to know the new players on the team.

There are three new coaches with my group. Without road trips, it’s not easy finding time to truly get to know them. And a better relationship away from the court leads to a better understanding of what they’re trying to do and questions to ask them during pre-game, halftime, and post-game interviews.

“Hopefully we all get together, hang, and enjoy each other’s company,” Teague added.

That may have started with a trip to Nike headquarters, like so many of them try to do during their annual visit through Portland.

LISTEN: Podcast with former Pacers TV sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam, who’s now with the Trail Blazers

This trip is a bit unusual because after Wednesday’s game in Portland, they’ll have three days between games. They don’t play again until Sunday evening against the Clippers in Los Angeles — a team they just beat, and has lost three consecutive games after winning 14 of their first 16 games.

“Even though we did some good things certainly the last couple of games, we’re going to have to be even better when you go on the road,” coach Nate McMillan said. “And we’re going to have limit our mistakes and be even tighter as a team, as a group out on the road because it’s tough to win.”

Wednesday is a homecoming of sorts for McMillan, who was the Trail Blazers’ head coach from 2005-2012. He has fond memories of his time there, and coaching in what was then the Rose Garden.

The Pacers will be without Paul George (sore left ankle), C.J. Miles (sore left knee), and Kevin Seraphin (sore left knee) against the Trail Blazers, and then they will be re-evaluated. If George and Seraphin are available for Sunday’s game, they will have had 10 days between their last game. That’s adequate rest for an injury ahead of a very difficult stretch.

Paul George may be dealing with an injury, but his teammates say he's still having an impact. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Paul George may be dealing with an injury, but his teammates say he’s still having an impact. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Next week, it’s five games in seven nights.

See Also: Seraphin’s workload remains limited

Coach McMillan admitted after Sunday’s win 21-point victory over the Clippers — a game in which they held LA to 70 points, 40 below their season average — that he still wasn’t exactly sure what he had in this team.

“No. No. We’re still working to establish who we are. What we’ve seen the last two games is part of what I think we can be.”

And then…

“I think it’s going to even take more time when Paul and C.J. Miles get back into the rotation, where we have to build chemistry with each other, with that group being back on the floor.”

However, a big step forward can be taken in that department over the next 10 days. Hang out in the hotel, at a restaurant, maybe spend an afternoon off all together. It’s the little things like that that can pay dividends during a long 82-game season.

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