Record Not Reflecting Talent

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by Mark Montieth |

October 15, 2013

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Preseason games theoretically matter about as much as the office of Vice President of the United States, which, according to one of the occupants, was “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”

The Pacers, therefore, don't feel much dismay over their 0-3 record in exhibition play. They were a 49-win team last season and are improved on paper this season, so why worry about games that don't count? Especially games played on nearly the opposite side of the planet?

“You always want to win every game, but they're preseason games, we're working on things, experimenting with combinations, so (we're) not that bothered with it,” coach Frank Vogel said following Tuesday's practice, the team's first since returning all red-eyed and mushy-tailed from its trip to The Philippines and Taiwan.

The next game – against Dallas at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday – isn't shaping up like Armageddon, either. Neither Paul George, who missed Tuesday's practice with a fever reported by Vogel to be 104 degrees, nor Roy Hibbert, who will be rested, will play, so the outcome can't be taken too seriously. Their absence, at least, will allow Vogel to take a closer look at some of the newcomers, who are still becoming acquainted with the system and one another. Vogel said he won't treat the preseason games as serious rehearsals until the final two, at Atlanta and Dallas.

Still, it seems there should be valid reason for some hints of concern. If not now, sometime soon. The Pacers are regarded as an elite team, one with at least an outside shot at winning the championship, but so far haven't at all resembled one over a significant stretch of time. Sure, they are breaking in new players, bringing back former starter Danny Granger, experimenting with lineups and strategies, and traveling across the world, but that's nothing unusual. Their first two opponents, Chicago and Houston (twice), outplayed them despite undergoing transitions at least as significant. The Bulls are re-introducing Derrick Rose, who sat out last season while recovering from knee surgery, and the Rockets are breaking in Dwight Howard, the summer's biggest free agent acquisition.

The Pacers have lost their three games by an average of 11.7 points, and haven't looked particularly impressive in any of them. They have been outrebounded by an average of 11.7, given up an average of 20 fastbreak points and shot just 39 percent from the field.

The curious thing about those numbers is that last season the Pacers led the NBA in transition defense “by a mile,” according to Vogel, and were the best rebounding team as well. For them to suddenly struggle in those areas suggests complacency, which at least is a better problem than incompetence at this stage of the non-season.

At least one player expresses some concern, though.

“It doesn't matter if we win or lose, but what's important is that we're playing the wrong way and we're making mistakes we don't want to make,” newcomer Luis Scola said. “You might play the right way and end up losing – we're playing some good teams – but the mistakes are (a problem).

“This was one of the best teams in the NBA last year, and we didn't play that way the first three games. We have to get back to that.”

Truth is, the preseason is some sort of indicator of the regular season, although hardly a flawless one. Since joining the NBA in 1976, the Pacers have had 10 losing preseason records, lockout seasons excluded. They went on to have winning regular season records just three times, with the 2003-04 season a blatant exception. Then, the Pacers were 3-5 in the preseason but went on to win a franchise-record 61 games. They have had two winning seasons (out of five) after going 4-4 in the preseason. On the other hand, a winning preseason record doesn't guarantee anything. They have had eight winning records, nine losing records and four .500 records after finishing the preseason with a winning record.

This preseason promises to be an odd one, regardless of its outcome. The Pacers just played two games, including a “home game,” on the other side of the planet. They're still feeling the jet lag from that excursion, and face four more road games following Wednesday's game. Just how the NBA determined the Pacers would burn two road games in The Philippines and Taiwan, rather than Houston, is a mystery to Vogel. He obviously would prefer less time spent traveling and recovering and more time spent practicing, but the league had spoken.

“We're just trying to have a no-excuse mentality,” he said. “There's a business of building a winner and nothing can get in our way of that.”

The bottom line is that these Pacers have more talent and maturity than most in the franchise's NBA history. For now, they'll have to ignore their record, historical trends and their travel agent, and roll with that.

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