FanPost

Pacers Top 10 Countdown: Best Statement Games of the 2013-2014 Season

USA TODAY Sports

[From the FanPosts, C2975 takes a deep dive on some key games on the Pacers' schedule for the upcoming season. - TL]

During the 2012-2013 season, the Pacers had an outstanding record at home going 30-11. They won the Central Division for the first time since 2004, but they were defeated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Although that loss was the only thing standing in the way of the Pacers making their first trip back to the NBA Finals since 2000, the Pacers have used their defeat to the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat for motivation and as a learning experience. In an interview with HoopsWorld, Paul George was quoted as stating:

"We’re positioned really well. The only thing we really needed was the experience, and with everyone coming back together again, there’s no doubt in my mind that we should win a championship."

With such lofty expectations, the Pacers must start working toward the goal of raising a banner in Bankers Life Fieldhouse during the regular season.

Many fans contend that regular season wins do not guarantee postseason success. Certainly, recent history confirms this claim. Look no further than the 2011 San Antonio Spurs or 2011 Chicago Bulls as evidence. Even though both teams won their respective conferences, neither squad made it to the NBA Finals. The same goes for head-to-head match-ups. For instance, during the 2011-2012 season, the Boston Celtics won the regular season series against the Miami Heat 3-1. That same Celtics team was defeated by the Heat in Game 7 of the ECF.

Nevertheless, while the regular season does not guarantee the outcome of the postseason, it does prepare teams for the playoffs. The 82 game schedule reveals a team’s strengths and weaknesses. It indicates if teams play better at home or on the road. It shows how well teams play with rest. It displays how teams perform when the lights are brightest. It can expose match-up problems. Above all, it is when teams begin to prove to the rest of the league that they will be a force with which to be reckoned in May and, possibly, June. Here is a countdown of the Top 10 games of the regular season that the Pacers can use to make a statement to the rest of the league, and to themselves, that they are ready to contend for a championship:

#10 – Friday December 20: vs. Houston Rockets:

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 2-0)

This is a statement game for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it is a Friday night primetime game on ESPN. It is no secret that the Pacers have experienced less than their fair share of nationally televised games in recent seasons (only 5 in the 2012-2013 season). Even after making it to the ECF, the Pacers were still scheduled for only the 12th most TV appearances. Although the Pacers will have much fewer opportunities, it is important for any contender to be able to play when the lights are brightest. This is an opportunity for the Pacers to show their ability to hang with an up and coming Western Conference team on national television. Not to mention it will likely be a battle between two of the best bigs currently in the game. Dwight Howard was a huge acquisition for the Rockets this summer. If he no longer plays the role of a malcontent (see last year Lakers) and is back to his DPOY form alongside James Harden, the Rockets could wreak havoc in the Western Conference.

#9 – Sunday December 1: @ L.A. Clippers

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 1-1)

Although the Clippers lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies, the Pacers win in LA on April 1 to end a long west coast road trip was one of the team’s best wins of the year last season. The same could be said this year. This December 1 match-up marks the beginning of a brutal five game road trip. The next night the Pacers will have to be ready to play in Portland. The Clippers will be no easy match-up next season. This offseason, they have resigned Chris Paul and added J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, BJ Mullens, and old friend, Darren Collison. Another notable addition was the hiring of coach Doc Rivers. Winning this game in LA would be a statement win not only because it would be against one of the teams projected to be among the best in the west, but because it would show that the Pacers are a formidable force on the road. Last season, the Pacers went a rather subpar 19-21 as the visiting team. Pacers fans need to look no further than the Game 7 loss in Miami for evidence as to why it is important to be able to beat playoff bound teams on the road.

#8 – Sunday January 5: @ Cleveland

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 4-0)

This game marks another important road match-up. The Central Division will likely be the NBA’s best next season. In fact, it is quite possible that four of the Central Division squads could be playoff bound. Although the Pacers swept Cleveland during the regular season last year, the Cavs made a lot of notable additions this summer including signing Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, and Andrew Bynum. They drafted the #1 pick in Anthony Bennett. Anderson Varejao is expected to return from injury. With Kyrie Irving in the backcourt, this game could expose some of the Pacers biggest weaknesses. This is a statement game because the Pacers are the reigning Central Division champs. Every win against a Central Division squad will matter next season. The team with the best record in the division is guaranteed no less than a four seed in the Eastern Conference.

#7 – Monday December 23: @ Brooklyn

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 0-3)

Last year’s regular season series record says it all. This is a statement game because the Pacers never beat Brooklyn. Last season, the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat made it a team goal to prove that they could beat every team in the league at least once. The Pacers should aim to do the same. This game in Brooklyn is the second night of a back-to-back (12/22 vs. Boston, 12/23 @ Brooklyn) and the front end of a home-and- home (12/23 @ Brooklyn, 12/28 vs. Brooklyn). During the 2012-2013 season, the Pacers went 14-8 in games with no rest. The Nets have 5 all-stars in their projected starting line-up for next season with the additions of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Notably, the Pacers also never were able to beat Boston last season. With the new look Nets seemingly being an amalgamation of Brooklyn and Boston, getting a win in Brooklyn would do a lot to build confidence for the Pacers next season.

#6 – Wednesday March 19: @ New York

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 2-1)

Including six playoff games, the Pacers went 6-3 against the New York Knicks last season. All 3 of the losses were at Madison Square Garden. The Pacers did come up victorious at the Garden in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Even so, it is clearly important that the Pacers prove this season that they can take care of business on the road. Winning road games will not only prepare the Pacers for playoff road games, it could potentially help them earn home court advantage in the playoffs. It is also notable that March could prove to be the toughest month of the schedule for the Pacers next season. The Pacers will be one of only a few teams to play 18 games in the same month. During the month of March, the Pacers will never have more than two days rest between games. Moreover, eleven of those 18 games will be on the road. Before this game with the Knicks the Pacers will have one day of rest (the Pacers winning percentage in such match-ups was 0.568 last season). Some say, that the real season does not start until after the all-star break. As such, getting a win against an Eastern Conference foe, on the road, during the toughest month of the schedule will no doubt be a statement win.

#5 – Saturday March 22: @ Memphis

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 2-0)

Last season, the Pacers total margin of victory over the Grizzlies was a mere 6 points. The most points scored by a team in either match-up was just 88 points. It almost goes without saying that when the Pacers and Grizzlies face off it will be a battle of the best defense. In the 2012-2013 season, the Grizzlies finished 1st in terms of opponents points per game. The Pacers finished 2nd. It is no secret most teams’ defense tighten up during the playoffs. As a result, facing the Grizzlies during the regular season will be an excellent test for how the Pacers offense (which ranked just 23rd during the regular season and 11th during the playoffs in the 2012-2013 season) may perform during the postseason. Additionally, this particular match-up against Memphis is sandwiched in between two big games against the Pacers Central Division Rival – the Chicago Bulls.

#4 – Sunday December 8: @ Oklahoma City

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 0-2)

The Oklahoma City Thunder was one of just five teams (Thunder, Nuggets, Spurs, Celtics, and Nets) that the Pacers never managed to beat last season. The Thunder’s margin of victory in both meetings was 10+. This game at OKC will be yet another test of the Pacers ability to win against a playoff contender on the road. In the same way that playing Memphis is an excellent evaluation of a team’s offensive capability, matching-up against OKC can serve as a measuring stick for a team’s defense. In 2012-2013, OKC ranked 3rd in terms of points per game. Last season, the Pacers gave up a total of 203 points to the Thunder in two meetings. However, most notably, this match-up is the last game of a 5 game road trip (12/1 @ L.A. Clippers, 12/2 @ Portland, 12/4 @ Utah, 12/7 @ San Antonio, 12/8 @ OKC) and the second night of one of the Pacers 20 sets of back-to-backs. How will the Pacers respond to having zero days of rest after playing a tough Spurs team in San Antonio? Last year, the Pacers were able to boast a respectable winning percentage of 0.636 on game nights with zero rest. (Note: the only other game against OKC during the 2013-2014 season is April 13th at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – thus it is likely that several of both teams starters may not be playing in order to rest up for the playoffs).

#3 – Monday March 31: vs. San Antonio

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 0-2)

The San Antonio Spurs are another one of the five teams the Pacers never defeated last year. Thus, the Spurs are another challenge the Pacers need to be able to overcome in order to prepare to compete for a title. It should be noted that both of the Pacers losses to the Spurs last season were in the month of November prior to the all-star break. November marked the lowest part of the season for the Pacers last year. They were below .500 and posted just a 7-8 record. Even so, one of the losses to San Antonio was one of their worst margins of loss of the season (22 points). This game is at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and will be post all-star break when both teams are preparing to position themselves for the playoffs. Closing out a tough month of March with a victory against San Antonio will be a huge boost of confidence for the Pacers headed into the postseason.

#2 – Wednesday November 6: vs. Chicago

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 3-1)

Impressively, the Pacers went 3-1 last season against the reigning Central Division Champions. However, that Bulls team was missing their former league MVP, Derrick Rose. This season, Rose will be back and so will Danny Granger. How will the two teams match-up this year now with both of their two all-stars back in the fold? It goes without mentioning that the Bulls are a huge division and conference rival for the Pacers. This game will be the first of four regular season match-ups between the two squads, and the first televised game of the season for the Pacers. With an improving Central Division, each match-up with a Central Division foe will have meaning for the Pacers both in terms of playoff seeding and defending their Central Division crown.

#1 – Wednesday March 26: vs. Miami

(2012-2013 Regular Season Series Record: 2-1)

After last year’s ECF, it should be obvious that any win over the Miami Heat next season will make a statement. Last year, the Pacers (during the regular season and playoffs) went 5-5 against the eventual NBA Champions. Clearly, the two teams were evenly matched. In order to counter one another this offseason, the Pacers improved their struggling bench by adding C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland, and Luis Scola, while the Heat added Greg Oden to make-up for their rebounding deficiency. Last season, the Pacers were 1st in the league in terms of rebounds per game and the Heat were dead last. How will the Pacers shrewd offseason moves payoff next season and in the postseason? With the Pacers’ goal being to win a championship and the Heat setting their sights on 3peating, any of the four match-ups with the Heat could have qualified as the #1 statement game of the season. For instance, in December the Pacers will have to come home and face the Heat after their five game road trip against the Clippers, Trailblazers, Jazz, Spurs, and Thunder. Without being able to know what the health status will be of either team at any particular time next season, it is probably safe to say that the March match-up at Bankers Life will be the biggest game of the season against Miami because it is post all-star break and trade deadline. Just like the games against Chicago and Cleveland will matter for the standings in the Central Division, each match-up with the Heat will contribute to deciding the seeding in the Eastern Conference. Notably, the Pacers will be playing contenders such as the Bulls and Heat four times, while only matching-up with likely lottery bound squads such as the Bobcats and Sixers three times. Therefore, the Pacers will have fewer chances to pad their record with wins against teams below .500. Winning against the Heat in late March could make a statement that the Pacers are ready to contend for home court advantage and a rematch in the ECF.

What do you think Pacers fans?

What do the Pacers need to prove in the regular season next year? As a whole, it could be argued, that wins in these 10 games will show that the Pacers can improve their below .500 road record, compete over the course of multiple game road trips, score on tough defenses, defend tough offenses, beat teams they could not beat last season, defend their Central Division crown, and show the rest of the league that they will be a force with which to be reckoned in the postseason. Perhaps, if the Pacers can meet all of these goals they will be ready to raise a banner into the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

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