The first two months of the season promises to be a chance for the Pacers to build some momentum. And in the NBA, that's what it's all about. There are some very winnable games in the early sched, highlighted here. The Pacers have a real opportunity to finish the calendar year with a good, winning record.
Even if they lose their two openers in October (@ Atlanta and vs. Miami), given some early season gifts they could go 7-6 or 8-5 in November. Then 9-7 or 10-6 in December. At best, that's 18-13 by the end of '09, and that's pretty darn respectable. And I'm not just exaggerating because I'm a homer; there's real potential here. The Pacers play 17 games in that span against teams who didn't make the playoffs last year.
And as for early-season momentum, well, the Pacers could have used some last season. The Pacers were 10-21 at the end of 2008, and suffered through three two-game losing streaks, one three-game losing streak, one four-game losing streak and one six-game losing streak. If you do the math, 19 of their 21 losses in 2008 were part of demoralizing losing streaks. I'm looking at the new schedule, and I see the potential for only one three-game losing streak (to start the year, unfortunately, Atlanta, Miami and Denver) and one four-game losing streak at the end of '09. But they get Boston flanked by three winnable games (@ New York, vs. Washington and vs. Golden State) on one side, and two on the other (@ New Jersey and vs. New York). Then they play Cleveland, but four of the next six are quite winnable (@ Charlotte, vs. LA Clippers, @ Golden State and @ Sacramento). The vs. Portland/@Orlando sandwich is filled with winnable games (vs. New Jersey and @ Washington). Then the @ Orlando/@ San Antonio sandwich is filled with two more winnable ones (vs. Charlotte, @ Memphis). They have a tough stretch to end the calendar year, playing @ Boston, vs. Atlanta, @ Miami and @ Chicago, but can go home for the holidays with a win over the beatable Memphis Grizzlies.
Just think what early season momentum could do for this club's confidence. Even if the Pacers are just one or two wins over .500 (very doable) they'll have the momentum to handle a tough January schedule when they play nine times on the road.
I think this team is capable of establishing good momentum. They've got to win the obvious ones (especially the obvious road ones) and perform like they did last year against the good teams at home. Fourteen of their 25 home victories last year came against playoff teams, and all of the conference finalists were among that group of playoff teams.