First Impressions from the 2019-20 Pacers Schedule

The NBA's regular season schedule was released on Monday, and at first glance...

Well, let's hold on a minute. First impressions of the Pacers' schedule cannot be viewed with anything resembling 20/20 vision, even those games in the year 2020. The on-paper NBA schedule you see in August likely won't jibe with the schedule that plays out in real time.

There's no way of knowing now, for example, whether an opponent's star player will be injured when it comes to town, or if two of your starters will be missing when you play a weak opponent, or when a bad travel experience will impact a team's performance. The Pacers defeated champion-in-waiting Toronto last January when Kawhi Leonard did not play. But Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending injury in that game and they lost their next four before regaining their bearings.

Nobody could have made valid predictions of those games in August.

First impressions are all we have at the moment, however, so here are a few of the Pacers' schedule.

1. It's easier early than late. From the opener on Oct. 23 through Nov. 29, the Pacers play 11 home games and seven road games. Ten of those 18 are against teams that did not finish with a winning record last season and another is against Oklahoma City, which lost Russell Westbrook and Paul George. In fact, eight of the Pacers' first nine games are against teams with non-winning records last season.

The question remains, is that good or bad given the likelihood Oladipo will not be available early in the season? It can be argued either way. The Pacers' odds of winning games without Oladipo are obviously better against weaker opponents. But it could be argued they are better off playing without him against better opponents who will be difficult to beat regardless and have him to help avoid losing to the weaker opponents.

Regardless, a good start seems imperative — a challenge for any team playing with three new starters.

2. For every downhill path in a schedule, there's bound to be a winding stretch of rough road. For the Pacers, that comes from Nov. 30 to Dec. 28 when they play nine road games and six home games, as well as from Jan. 4 through Jan. 26, when they play nine of 12 on the road. That second stretch concludes with a five-game road trip against Denver, Utah, Phoenix, Golden State, and Portland — four teams fully expected to make the playoffs and another (Phoenix) that should be improved from last season.

3. Time was, it was nearly an annual tradition for the Pacers to conclude their season with a soft schedule that either enhanced their odds of qualifying for the playoffs or provided momentum heading into the postseason. That wasn't the case last season, when they lost seven of their final eight games in March, six of which were played on the road. It won't likely be the case this season either. They play six of their final 10 games on the road. Five of the 10 (at Clippers, at Lakers, Brooklyn, at Boston, and San Antonio) are against likely playoff teams.

In other words, the Pacers need to take advantage of every game they are "supposed" to win prior to that.

4. The Pacers won't play on Thanksgiving or Christmas, or for that matter Halloween or Easter. But thanks to Aaron and Justin, every game qualifies as a Holiday game for them.

5. It would be presumptuous to mark certain games as notable for featuring a star player, because fans' interest in players from opposing teams varies wildly. (Not to mention the fact we can't predict when a player might be injured.) Some fans might not care about seeing LeBron James, others might be wildly excited for when Romeo Langford and Carsen Edwards come to town with Boston (Dec. 11 and March 10) and some will make it a point to see Zion Williamson (Feb. 8). There will be plenty of ex-Pacers around the league to see as well, including four from last season's team.

6.The Pacers have only 11 back-to-back sets, thanks to the league's decision to shorten the schedule of games that don't count and stretch out the schedule of games that do. They had sometimes played more than 20 back-to-backs in seasons past. They had 14 sets last season.

7.They have the oddity of three five-game road trips. The weirdest one takes them from East to West to East to West — Cleveland, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Dallas. They haven't had that many trips of five games or more since the 1983-84 season, when they had two six-game trips and a five-gamer.

8. They will play 41 home games and 41 road games. Ultimately, that is all that really matters at the moment.

Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.