Pacers Begin Their Own March Madness
March 1, 2011
There is March madness, and there is this.
Eighteen games in 30 days, 11 on the road. Six sets of back-to-backs. A stretch that brings 10 of 13 on the road, including three road trips of three games apiece.
Never in 34 NBA seasons have the Pacers played more games in a month. Only twice before have they faced as many. Once was March 2006. The other was in April 1999, when the schedule was compressed by the lockout.
"It's a brutal month of March," said Frank Vogel.
"Not happy about it, obviously," said Danny Granger.
It begins tonight with a home game against Golden State, a game taking on must-win overtones, rare in March.
When it ends, the Pacers will not only have burgeoning frequent-flyer accounts, they will have a much clearer vision of the playoff picture. At 26-32, they are clinging to eighth in the East, one-half game ahead of Charlotte (26-33).
The Bobcats have 15 games this month, eight on the road, and just three sets of back-to-backs. Like the Pacers, they face five opponents currently at .500 or better.
Some (including me) thought the Bobcats were waving the white flag on the playoff race by dealing away Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline but their play since has offered no evidence of pending surrender.
"It's going to be a tough stretch for us, a lot of road games against some good teams," said Granger. "It's definitely going to be a challenge."
It also is an opportunity. Teams can strengthen their bond on the road. Adverse circumstances can bring a team together. Roy Hibbert, for one, is not about to enter March with his head down.
"We come into practice every day and get prepared," he said. "I feel that even if we have a tough schedule, this is what we do and we've got to make the best of it."
In truth, the team is fairly well set up to ride out this storm. Vogel has done a nice job distributing the minutes, so much so that only twice in 14 games has any player posted more than 40 – and that was when Granger and Hibbert barely exceeded that number in the overtime loss to Detroit.
The challenge will be continuing to implement changes to the defensive schemes while keeping the offense tight with virtually no practice time.
"The fact we're playing nobody more than 36 minutes regularly and most guys under 30 minutes regularly, I think that is going to carry us through the month of March," Vogel said. "That and we've really got to focus in on film sessions and learn off the basketball court and grow and improve off the basketball court.
"Every time we would normally have an off day we're going to have a mental sharpening day, we're going to rest their legs, get in the film room, learn and grow that way."
In like a lion. Out like a lion.
Time to roar.
Now that would be big.