Ten Takeaways from the Pacers' 2021-22 Schedule
The 2021-22 NBA schedule is officially here. The Indiana Pacers will tip off next season exactly two months from today as the NBA season returns to its traditional format after a year and a half of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That return to normalcy means the Blue & Gold are slated to play 82 games for the first time since the 2018-19 season, 41 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and 41 on the road. They will play all their divisional rivals four times, all Western Conference teams twice, and the remaining Eastern Conference teams three or four times.
While attendance has been limited across most arenas since the start of the pandemic, we saw the return of capacity crowds during the playoffs and the hope is for that to continue into next season. Since Pacers fans will have greater opportunities to see their team play in-person this season, we thought we'd highlight several notable games and other takeaways from Indiana's 2021-22 schedule.
1. Rivalry Renewed for Opening Night
For whatever reason, the Pacers have tended to open the season at home in recent years. Bankers Life Fieldhouse has hosted the Blue & Gold's first regular season game for the last five seasons and seven of the last eight. That's not the case this year, however, as Indiana tips off the 2021-22 campaign with a two-game road trip, visiting Charlotte on Oct. 20 and Washington two nights later.
A perk of starting the season on the road is that it allows for Opening Night at the Fieldhouse to fall on a Saturday night. And the Pacers draw a fun opponent for their first home game of the year.
Indiana will host Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat on Oct. 23 for its first home game of the season. The Pacers and Heat have met four times in the playoffs over the last decade, most recently in the first round of the 2019 postseason in the Disney World bubble. The cores of both teams from that last playoff battle remain intact heading into this season and the two coaches also have history, as Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle led the Dallas Mavericks over Erik Spoelstra's Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.
Though he likely will not be in uniform, former Pacers guard Victor Oladipo could also make his return to The Fieldhouse for this game. A two-time All-Star, Oladipo was originally traded to Houston in the deal that brought Caris LeVert to Indiana in January, but the Rockets later moved him to Miami ahead of the trade deadline. Oladipo underwent season-ending knee surgery in May and his availability for the start of the season is unknown, but he could travel with the Heat for their early-season visit to his former city.
2. Early Visit from the Defending Champs
The Pacers' first homestand is certainly not lacking in storylines. Two nights after the Heat come to town, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks will visit Indiana on Oct. 25.
The Bucks captured their first championship in 50 years in July, reeling off four straight wins in the Finals after falling behind 2-0 against Phoenix. Antetokounmpo was brilliant in the series despite playing through a knee injury he sustained in the Eastern Conference Finals. The two-time league MVP averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.8 blocks in the Finals, scoring 50 points in the title-clinching victory.
Milwaukee's title defense will include an early-season visit to The Fieldhouse. The Pacers have had their hands full with the Bucks in recent years, dropping 9 of 11 contests against their Central Division rivals over the past three seasons. An early-season victory over the defending champs would be a major statement about the Pacers' staying power in the 2021-22 Eastern Conference race.
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3. Thanksgiving Weekend Extravaganza
Pacers fans will be treated to a trio of enticing home games over Thanksgiving weekend this season, as Indiana will host the last three NBA champions over a five-day span.
The fun tips off the night before Turkey Day on Wednesday, Oct. 24, when LeBron James and the Lakers make their only regular season visit to Indianapolis. The 2020 NBA champions made a major splash over the offseason, adding former MVP Russell Westbrook to form the league's latest "Big Three" alongside James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers' veteran core also now includes former All-Stars Carmelo Anthony, Marc Gasol, and Dwight Howard.
Then, the Blue & Gold will once again have an 8:00 PM home game on the Friday night following Thanksgiving, the traditional follow-up to the Circle of Lights tree lighting ceremony on Monument Circle earlier that evening. This year, the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors will be in town on Friday, Nov. 26 for the middle game of a three-game homestand.
The long weekend of hoops wraps up on Sunday, Nov. 28, when Antetokounmpo and the Bucks return for their second and final visit to Indianapolis in the regular season.
4. Home for the Holidays
The Pacers will be home for all but a handful of nights from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. Indiana has just four one-game road trips between Nov. 23 and Jan. 1. Ten of the Blue & Gold's 13 games in the month of December will be at The Fieldhouse.
There are plenty of exciting matchups over that span, which includes a season-high six-game homestand from Dec. 1-13.
Several of the NBA's best point guards will visit Indiana in December, including Trae Young and the Hawks (Dec. 1), Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (Dec. 10), and Steph Curry and the Warriors (Dec. 13). The Heat return for their second visit of the season on Dec. 3, while Cade Cunningham, the top overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, will be in town with the Pistons on Dec. 16.
December will culminate with a New Year's Eve matchup against the Chicago Bulls in a traditional 3:00 PM time slot. The Bulls retooled their roster over the offseason, acquiring DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in sign-and-trade deals, forming a formidable backcourt trio with Zach LaVine, who was a first-time All-Star last season.
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5. Nets' Big Three Visits in 2022
The Pacers' first home game of the new year will be against the Brooklyn Nets, one of the favorites to take home the title entering the season. Injuries prevented the All-NBA trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden from logging many minutes together last season, but Brooklyn still managed to take the eventual champion Bucks to overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Although Milwaukee won the title, it's hard to argue that any team in the East will have a higher profile this season than Brooklyn, with three of the league's top scorers sharing the floor for their first full season together. Pacers fans will have just one chance to see the Nets in person in the regular season, as they make their lone visit to The Fieldhouse on Jan. 5.
It will also be another chance for Caris LeVert to go up against his former team. LeVert scored a Pacers career-high 36 points in his last game against Brooklyn on April 29.
6. Tracking the Road Trips
The Pacers have a few substantial road trips scheduled for the upcoming season, the longest being a five-game Western Conference trip from Jan. 17-24. That trip will actually begin with an afternoon game against former Pacer Paul George and the Clippers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 17). The team will get to remain in Los Angeles for two more days before taking on the Lakers on Jan. 19, then will visit Golden State (Jan. 20), Phoenix (Jan. 22), and New Orleans (Jan. 24) before returning home.
The Blue & Gold also have two four-game road trips. Indiana's other trip out West will take place in early November and includes stops in Portland (Nov. 5), Sacramento (Nov. 7), Denver (Nov. 10), and Utah (Nov. 11). The other four-game trip features a pair of games in Orlando on Feb. 28 and March 2 before continuing on to Detroit (March 4) and Washington (March 6).
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7. Carlisle Returns to Dallas
Rick Carlisle is back with the Pacers for a second stint as head coach, but he had a memorable stint with the Mavericks in between. Carlisle coached Dallas for 13 seasons, winning 555 games and leading the team to nine postseason appearances, including the 2011 NBA championship.
The Pacers are set to visit Dallas on the second half of a back-to-back on Jan. 29. Carlisle will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from Mavericks fans in his return. Pacers players will want to do their part to try to get Carlisle yet another win at the American Airlines Center.
8. Limited National TV Appearances
Pacers fans will likely feel slighted to see that Indiana initially has just one game scheduled to air on national televison on basic cable — their Dec. 21 game visit to Miami, which will air on TNT. Four more contests will be broadcast on NBA TV (the home opener against the Heat, Nov. 20 against New Orleans, at Cleveland on Jan. 2 and at the Knicks on Jan. 4).
The Pacers also had just one game picked for national broadcast on basic cable prior to the 2017-18 season (they had two games initially slated for NBA TV that season). That team used the lack of attention as a motivational tool and wound up winning 48 games and pushing the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cavs to seven games in the playoffs.
It's worth noting that if the Pacers play well next season they could add additional national television games. The league makes updates to the national broadcast schedule throughout the year, particularly in the second half of the season when they like to highlight matchups with playoff implications.
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9. Home Finale Against Embiid and the Sixers
Indiana's final home game of the regular season will come on April 5 against Philadelphia. The last home game of the season is traditionally Fan Appreciation Night and this particular matchup offers a stern test heading into the postseason (the Pacers and Sixers will actually meet again on Philadelphia on April 9 before the Blue & Gold wrap up the regular season in Brooklyn on April 10).
With all the attention surrounding the Bucks and Nets, it's easy to forget that Philadelphia actually had the best record in the East last season. Sixers center Joel Embiid has wreaked havoc on the league and the Pacers in particular in recent years. The four-time All-Star has averaged 28 points and 12.6 rebounds while attempting nearly 10 free throws per game in his career against Indiana.
10. Fewer Back-to-Backs, Longer Stretches for Rest
With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the start to the 2020-21 season and teams being subjected to multiple postponements, last season's schedule was rather hectic. The Pacers played 17 back-to-backs over the course of last year's 72-game schedule.
With the schedule returning to its traditional length and time frame this year, the Blue & Gold will have more opportunities for rest. Indiana is scheduled to play just 14 back-to-backs over an 82-game schedule this season, with just four back-to-backs coming after the All-Star break.
The schedule also features several longer breaks between games than it did a year ago. Not counting the All-Star break, the Pacers had just one stretch of more than two days off between games last season. This year, the schedule features one four-day and two three-day breaks over the course of the season.
Considering the impact that injuries have had on recent Pacers seasons, the extra time to rest could prove critical to Indiana's success in 2021-22.