Tj Leaf, Lance Stephenson, Ike Anigbogu
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10 Key Games from the Pacers' 2017-18 Schedule

by Greg Rappaport Writer

With the release of the 2017-18 schedule, we decided to hone in on 10 games that immediately jump off the page. After two consecutive seasons reaching the playoffs, the Pacers enter the new year with a rebuilt roster, but as Myles Turner recently said on a radio show, the expectation is still the postseason.

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With new threads, a new court, a new practice facility, and fresh faces, take a look at some of the marquee games for the Pacers during the 2017-18 season.

December 13, 2017, 7:00 PM: Pacers vs. Thunder

No reason to dance around it, Paul George's return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse will be one of the most anticipated moments of the upcoming season. After signaling to the Pacers' front office that he no longer wanted to be part of Indiana's future plans, the Pacers sent George to Oklahoma City in exchange for IU-product Victor Oladipo and second-year player Domantas Sabonis.

The trade triggered an acceleration of Myles Turner's development as a player, with the third-year center now taking a leading role on the new-look Pacers. The first time in which George tries to drive the paint against Turner at the Fieldhouse figures to be a highlight of the season to come. The Pacers will face the Thunder on the road during the fifth game of the season on October 25th at 8:00 PM, but the home game for Indiana will likely be the one that draws the most attention.

The December matchup has intense interest far beyond Indiana and will be aired on ESPN as one of the Pacers' three nationally televised games.

November 1, 2017, 7:00 PM: Pacers at Cavaliers

Although there has been a roster overhaul over the offseason, those who were on the Pacers group that got swept at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are likely still looking for a way to get the taste out of their mouths.

While a sweep is a sweep, the margin of victory for the series was just 16 points, tying the smallest margin for a four-game sweep in NBA history, indicative of just how close the series was.

On the first day of November, the Pacers will have their first chance to get back at their Central Division foe. Adding to the challenge, Indiana will be on the second night of a back-to-back for its first meeting with Cleveland.

March 19, 2018, 7:00 PM: Pacers vs. Lakers

When most people think of the 2016-17 UCLA Bruins, second-overall pick Lonzo Ball tends to be the first name that comes up. But on that team, it was TJ Leaf who led the Bruins in scoring with 16.3 points per game, and Ike Anigbogu who provided defense and energy off the bench.

Come March, Anigbogu and Leaf will square off against Ball in front of a Pacers crowd, as the former teammates get to compete on opposite sides of the ball.

November 24, 2017, 8:00 PM: Pacers vs. Raptors

If the Cavs were the spoiler of last season, it was the Raptors who played the same role two seasons ago, eliminating the Pacers in seven games. Indiana is a completely remade team from the group that fell in 2015-16, but the feelings of a young rivalry remain.

The Raptors, who won 51 games last season, added Pacers swingman CJ Miles over the offseason, while the Pacers gained the services of Raptors guard Cory Joseph.

Add to the mix a bit of a skirmish that ensued following a last-second layup from Lance Stephenson at the end of a comfortable Pacers win, and the rematch between the teams takes on a new dimension. Their first game against each other falls the day after Thanksgiving.

April 5, 2018, 7:00 PM: Pacers vs. Warriors

Who doesn't want a shot at the best? When the defending-champion Golden State Warriors come to Indiana, the Pacers will get to give their best attempt at taking down Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.

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Last season, the Pacers' two games against Golden State didn't go as planned, with Indiana dropping both contests by a combined 73 points. In one of the games, Thompson hung 60 points on the Pacers in just 29 minutes of action.

The game will also feature David West's third return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse since leaving in free agency in the summer of 2015.

October 18, 2017, 7:00 PM: Pacers vs. Nets (Opening Night Presented by Kroger)

For Opening Night Presented by Kroger, Indiana gets a chance to start off on the right foot, facing the Brooklyn Nets, owners of the NBA's worst record last season. The game will be Indiana fans' first chance to see the new Nike threads in a regular season game, with the new roster sporting a fresh look.

Following their first game, the Pacers will face the Portland Trail Blazers before embarking on a three-game road trip (Miami, Minnesota, and Oklahoma City), giving the matchup with the Nets an added level of importance.

November 25, 2017, 8:00 PM: Pacers vs. Celtics

When Boston comes to town, it may feel like a bit of a northwest Indianapolis reunion. For fans of Butler and Zionsville, Brad Stevens' games as head coach of the Celtics have always been a good chance for fans to see the local product in action. But over the offseason, the Celtics landed one of the prizes of free agency, luring Gordon Hayward from Utah.

Hayward, who went to high school in Brownsburg and played for Stevens at Butler, lifts a Celtics team that won the East last season after winning 53 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In addition to Hayward, the Celtics also drafted Duke forward Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick, making a good team even more dangerous.

October 24, 2017, 8:00 PM: Pacers at Timberwolves

With the offseason additions of Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague, the T-Wolves look ready to finally break through in the Western Conference. Minnesota's win over the Pacers last season at Bankers Life Fieldhouse had a tinge of controversy, with Ricky Rubio earning three foul shots on a contested foul that helped the Timberwolves take a late lead and eventually win.

But after a frenzied offseason, Rubio is out and Teague is in, teaming up with Butler, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns to make one of the best cores in the NBA on paper. But as they say, the game isn't played on paper, and come October, Indiana will get its first shot at the rebuilt Wolves in what should be a compelling matchup.

November 12, 2017, 6:00 PM: Pacers vs. Rockets

Last season, the Pacers managed to go 2-0 against the 55-win Rockets. But this year, Houston has reloaded in a big way, adding Chris Paul to play alongside James Harden.

The sign-and-trade deal was one of the first big moves of the offseason, which signified the start of Western Conference teams gearing up to compete with the Warriors. The Rockets not only solidified their backcourt with Paul, but also added PJ Tucker to the mix, giving Houston a hard-nosed defense to match what should be another elite offensive unit.

February 3, 2018, 7:00 PM: Pacers vs. 76ers

The 76ers road towards relevancy in the NBA has been a long one since their multi-year rebuild began. But in February, Pacers fans at the Fieldhouse will get their first look at a team with two players who have a legitimate shot at being the Rookie of the Year.

With Ben Simmons entering the season healthy alongside this year's first overall pick Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia sports one of the most interesting and youth-filled teams in the league. Even with the services of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor, the 76ers also made a splash in free agency, signing veterans JJ Redick and Amir Johnson.

The moves, which included a trade to move into the top spot to select Fultz, seem to indicate that Philly's rebuild is nearing its end.

Even the group last year gave the Pacers some trouble, at one point splitting a back-to-back with Indiana in which both games went to overtime.


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