Home-friendly schedule presents opportunity for the Pacers to move up the standings

I enjoy breaking down the Pacers schedule — or any local teams’  for that matter — when it is released. I’m talking that night. I’m sure to highlight opening night, if they play on Holidays, the number of national television appearances, big road trips, great home games, and matchups against former Pacers and hometown guys.

The one other big one is how they conclude the season. And for the Pacers, this year’s schedule presents them with a great opportunity to move up in the standings.

From the first of January through Sunday, March 13th, the Pacers played 20 of 34 (58.8 percent) of games away from home. January was especially difficult with nine of 15 on the road.

But now the Pacers are in the midst of a five-game homestand in playing 11 of their final 16 games in the comforts of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

See Also: Ty Lawson “hopeful” to return Thursday

“It’s a big opportunity but you can’t take anything for granted,” coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday. “Teams that are out of it will come in and play carefree; teams that are in it are going to play with their lives on the line. Toronto and Oklahoma City coming in here, they both have a lot at stake so they’re going to bring a great effort and a great performance and we’ve got to rise to the occasion.”

Last season with Paul George sidelined for all but six games, the Pacers narrowly missed out on the playoffs. They lost Game No. 82 in Memphis and thus did not participate in postseason competition.

Currently at 36-31, the Pacers are seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, two and half games ahead of Detroit and just three games out of third place Miami (39-28). Off on Wednesday, they benefitted from Boston, Chicago and Detroit all losing.

Cleveland, whose odds at William Hill’s online betting website to win the Eastern Conference are 4 to 11, and Toronto (13 to 2) undoubtedly will be the top two teams and Miami, winners in 10 of their last 14 games, is playing like the No. 3 seed. After that, who knows how it’ll all unfold.

Paul George and the Pacers look to take full advantage of the opportunity in front of them. [Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Paul George and the Pacers look to take full advantage of the opportunity in front of them. [Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

“Potential,” Paul George said in response to what he sees with eight of nine games at home. “A lot of potential for us to go forth.

“We got a chance to move up. Nothing is really set in stone. We’re still right there.”

The Pacers began this closing stretch (and five-game homestand) with a 103-98 win over the Boston Celtics, who they coughed up a road win to back in January. Remember that one, where the Pacers led 94-91 with two minutes to play … and then were outscored 12-0 to end the game. That’s one of several losses that, no matter where the Pacers finish, they’ll remember and regret.

(The good news is that with the win, they own the season tiebreaker with Boston.)

George and the rest of the team are frequently paying attention to the standings. There is a whiteboard in their locker room area that is updated each day.

[Shayne Whittington re-assigned to the Mad Ants after 24 hours]

The Pacers are 20-11 at home this season and have strung together two good ones — against perennial power San Antonio last week followed by Boston on Tuesday.

“We’ve still yet to put fear in teams when they come on this court,” George admitted. “That’s what we have to do.”

Away from Indianapolis, they are 16-20, which is why this stretch is even more important. Priority number one is obviously to quality for the postseason, followed by avoiding the seventh and eighth seeds in the East. That would result in unfavorable matchups against either Cleveland or Toronto, who the Pacers host Thursday night.

If the Pacers can go on a run here and pile up wins, they could make a late push to be in that 4/5 game … and I’ll take their chances from there.

Pacers 2015-16 schedule

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