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Let's Play Three: Pacers Head to Philly

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 6, 2013, 12:49 AM

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Historically, playing three games in three nights is nothing new for the Pacers, and hasn't been the death march it might appear to be.

The current Pacers, however, are more interested in current events, and Wednesday's game in Philadelphia figures to be quite an event for their aching bodies. They followed Monday's victory over Chicago with another win over Atlanta on Tuesday, then grabbed something to eat from the buffet line in the hallway outside their locker room and headed for the airport. They'll sleep in at their hotel in Philly, meet at 4 p.m. and then go do it all over again.

Pacers Back-to-Back-to-Back Games Photo Gallery »

Nobody was complaining about it following the 114-103 win over the Hawks, although George Hill had let his true feelings be known after a recent practice.

“It sucks,” he said, before going on to present a stiff upper lip.

Blame Mother Nature and the league office for this anomaly. It once was fairly common to play three games in three nights, but David Stern put an end to the practice when he took over as NBA commissioner in 1984. It was unfair to players and fans alike, he thought. The lockout schedules of 1999 and last season required games in triplicate, but this one was forced by the Dec. 26 snowstorm that convinced league officials to postpone the game against Chicago.

The Pacers will have the honor of being the only NBA team to do so this season, hardly a coveted distinction. The scheduling change actually did the Bulls a favor, removing a back-to-back set and adding none. Not so for the Pacers, who have had enough trouble winning road games as it is. They're 10-16 on the road, the seventh-worst road record in the Eastern Conference.

“This tells us where we're at,” said Paul George, who led the Pacers with 29 points in their 114-103 win over Atlanta. “Not only because it's our third game in a row, but we struggle on the road. If we can win (this game) we know we're getting better.”

The first road trip in franchise history, in October of 1967, was a back-to-back-to-back set. And it was a whopper. It opened in Louisville on a Friday night against the Kentucky Colonels, resumed in New Orleans on Saturday night against the Buccaneers and ended in Dallas on Sunday afternoon against the Chaparrals. That, in the days of commercial airline travel.

The Pacers won all three, partly because the franchise was better managed than the other ABA teams in that inaugural season, with a more structured training camp. They got off to an 11-2 start, but finished 38-40. They played 10 three-game sets that season, as well as four in a row amid a stretch of 10 games in 13 days in December.

They played two three-game sets in 1999, losing the third game in each one. Last season, though, they won the final game in both of their three-game sets. In fact, they scored a season-high 125 points in the last game of the second back-to-back-to-back, at Milwaukee.

So, suck it up fellas. And don't put in for overtime.

Coach Frank Vogel was able to find a few extra minutes of rest for his starters against the Hawks. Roy Hibbert played 30 minutes, as he did on Monday, but the other four starters played from two to five fewer minutes. The bench could be more important than ever tonight, and that could be troublesome. The Pacers rank 29th in the NBA in bench scoring at 25.7 points per game, and shoots just 39 percent from the field. It was outscored 39-29 on Tuesday, and 39-18 by the Bulls.

That's why Vogel will try to maintain his normal substitution pattern while keeping an eye out for early fatigue.

“We'll feel it,” said David West, who produced another busy stat line on Tuesday with 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and five steals, which matched his career high. “We'll just have to dig through. Tonight wasn't too tough of a game as far as the physical toll. We did a good job managing the physicality. We were able to semi-stay fresh. Maybe that's to our advantage.”

The triple-whammy is a challenge for the coaching staff as well, which has to prepare and present a scouting report under a rushed circumstance. Vogel, however, is determined to downplay it so that it doesn't become a built-in excuse.

“The game day from the time you wake up is no different from the back-to-back you play 20 times every year,” he said. “We have confidence this isn't going to be any dramatic thing; we have to go win a game.”

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