Pacers Looking Forward to Homestand

Dec. 3, 2017 - With a six-game homestand starting on Monday against the New York Knicks, the Pacers explained their mentality entering the stretch of games.

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Pacers Looking Forward to Homestand

Dec. 3, 2017 - With a six-game homestand starting on Monday against the New York Knicks, the Pacers explained their mentality entering the stretch of games.
Dec 3, 2017  |  01:42

Homestand Offers Rare Opportunity

by Mark Montieth Writer

Practice ended, Victor Oladipo was seated on the sideline of a practice court at St. Vincent Center on Sunday when the conversation turned to the NBA standings.

"I don't even know who's first, second, third, four, fifth," he said. "Just go out there and play and try to win every game we play."

"Do you know the Pacers' record?" he was asked.

"Honestly no. I don't have a clue."

Do you know your scoring average?

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"I honestly don't know that either. I don't anything about numbers, I just know if we win or lose. I know we lost the last game and we need to win on Monday. All that other stuff, I can't control none of that, but I can control my approach every day.

"Living in the moment they call that, right?"

Yes, they do. It's the standard approach for an NBA player over the course of an 82-game season, where moments change constantly and sometimes drastically. So, take it one game at a time, don't look too far ahead and don't get too high or low over any one game. Veteran point guard Darren Collison also claimed not to know the opponent following Monday's game against New York.

Still, the Pacers are about to embark on a series of moments that likely will have a huge influence on their postseason fate, both whether they experience it and what condition they'll arrive in if they do. Heading into Sunday's NBA games, they were percentage points behind the eighth and final position in the Eastern Conference, part of a cluster of 10 teams with a .500 record or better.

For now, Orlando, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Atlanta and Chicago appear doomed. Boston holds a comfortable lead, Cleveland is rolling, and Toronto is its usual good-but-not-great self. From there it grows increasingly murky, with seven teams within three games of one another, seemingly destined to jostle for the remaining five positions down to the end of the regular season on April 11.

That's why the six-game homestand that awaits the Pacers looms so large. Say what you want about playing one game at a time and not looking too far ahead, the Pacers probably need to win the vast majority of these next six games if they are to make the playoffs.

In fact, they probably need to win the majority of their remaining games this month. They play 10 of the next 14 at home, with three of the road games – at Brooklyn, Atlanta and Chicago – against losing teams.

The Pacers' schedules of the past few years have been most forgiving at the end of the season, allowing them to make a push toward the playoffs. Last season, they won their final five games to make it. Two years ago, they won six of their final seven to make it. Three years ago, they won six in a row to put themselves in position to make it, only to lose the final game in Memphis, a day after winning a double-overtime game over Washington.

The template for this season's schedule is vastly different. They play six of their final eight games on the road, so the forgiving portion of their schedule is now. Merry Christmas, and take the gifts when you can.

"There's a lot of opportunity here to build on what we've already done," Thad Young said.

The Pacers are 12-11, ahead of most season projections, and have built that record with surprising road success. They're 6-7 away from home, but just 6-4 at The Fieldhouse, which obviously doesn't contain any guarantees. Of the 10 remaining home games this month, five are against teams with winning records as of now. They'll almost certainly have to win more than five of them, however, to reach the playoffs.

"We've got to make this a special building," coach Nate McMillan said.

McMillan can't recall at will a homestand of six games or more in his playing or coaching career. They're rare for any franchise. The Pacers haven't had one since January of 2007, when they split a six-game run on their way to a 35-47 record. They played seven in a row at home the previous season, winning six on their way to a 41-41 record that gained admittance to the playoffs.

One would have to go back to their time in the American Basketball Association to find longer stretches of home or road games. They played eight consecutive games at home in their inaugural season, 1967-68, winning five on their way to a 38-40 record and snuck into the postseason.

They played 10 consecutive road games the following season, broken into two segments. They went West for three in a row, then had a five-day break before playing seven more on the road. During that interruption, Bob Leonard was hired as the head coach.

They had nine straight home games in the 1969-70 season, and won seven on their way to a 59-25 record.

The lesson in all this, not surprisingly, is that homestands have great influence on a season's outcome no matter when they occur during the season, and must be exploited.

"It's definitely a big opportunity," Lance Stephenson said. "I figure when we play at home we play way better."

That's debatable, given the statistical breakdowns. The Pacers have averaged 2.1 more points and shot slightly better on the road than at home this season, and their record indicates it's nearly a push. Home is blatantly better for Stephenson, though. He averages 11.6 points at home and 5.3 on the road, hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers at home and 17 percent on the road.

"I love being home, I love sleeping in my bed, I love waking up to my family," he said. "That's why I'm always in a good mood when I'm playing at home."

That brings up another challenge of the home stand: complacency. The Pacers will have all the comforts of home for the next two weeks before their next road game at Brooklyn on Dec. 17 - no flights, no buses and no hotels, all amid the pleasures of the holiday season. Despite their uncertain playoff status, they'll need to maintain an edge to extract maximum joy from it.

"I don't think this team knows how to be complacent," Oladipo said. "Our backs are against the wall every game. We've got to bring it every night, no matter where we're at."

But especially now. The next series of moments are too crucial to squander.

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