Falling to the Orlando Magic put the Indiana Pacers at 5-6, but all is not loss given the tenacity the team showed in keeping close with the Magic despite feeling like it shouldn't have even been close. With much of the talk being about optimism and progress, it'll soon be time to start looking at results. At some point, baby steps aren't going to be enough anymore, and we'll be left with a lot of wondering about what could have been if the toss up games continue to end up losses.
Instead of wondering wistfully what could've been, the next ten games will be all about results and help put this season into perspective where this team can go. Stan Van Gundy likes Indiana's chances at making the playoffs, he seems to be game planning for the Eastern Conference Finals showdown, but in order to get there, the blue and gold will need to transition the tenacity and fire and actually lead them to wins in the next ten games, because without results, it doesn't matter how much grit is shown.
Six of the next ten are on the road, including a West coast swing that includes the slightly better Los Angeles franchise, Sacramento, Utah, and Phoenix. At home, the Pacers look at four winnable games: Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and Charlotte, with road games at Miami and Milwaukee rounding out the ten game stretch.
So, if we add in the guts, multiply the passion and pride, divide by 54 points, and slip in a little bit of David Morway not seeking to improve the team (wink wink), what's a reasonable expectation for the Pacers in the next ten contests?
Miami creates an interesting matchup given the history of their big three, who have, by in large, scored on the Pacers with authority. Since Jim O'Brien took over in Indiana, no three players have scored 20 points more often against Indiana than Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh. Wade has thrived against the Pacers recently, but is nursing a bum wrist. It was also recently discovered that Udonis Haslem is out indefinitely and definitely out for the game against Indiana.
Either way, the Heat are coming off a tough loss to Memphis, but have been letting teams back into games in the second half lately. It's hard to say whether Indiana will be able to compete or not, because I get the sense so much of whether Indiana can compete is dependent on whether or not the Heat want them to compete. A big game from Roy Hibbert will be needed against a weak Miami frontline in any case. He could have his way inside all night if he works at it. Who else steps up if the Heat show life?
The Pacers are only 3-4 at home, something that will need to be improved as the season progresses. Fortunately, they have a great chance not only against the Cavaliers, a team they beat by 14 recently, even though they're in a similar schedule situation, but also against the Thunder, a team they matched up well against last year, steadily handling the up and comers at home last spring. Danny Granger will surely look at the opportunity to show up against Kevin Durant, a.k.a. The Reason (Granger Was the Last Man in Team USA's Rotation).
Meanwhile, the Western road trip will be a key stretch this season. Against the Lakers, it's hard to expect much, but the Pacers have managed to keep close against the Lakers over the past two seasons. Issues of complacency could open a window, and you know it's always possible to catch Lamar Odom on one of those really off games.
The game in Utah will be a nice measuring stick game as far as going against a quality (though maybe not elite) opponent on the road. The active front court could provide problems, but thankfully, my advanced scouting report reveals that it's easy to build a 20 point lead on this team. Teams have faltered by allowing them to make a comeback, which is something you shouldn't be doing anyway. I'm a little surprised no one had thought of not letting them make a comeback.
Ultimately however, it'll be the game in Sacramento that the team will need to win in order to salvage the trip, though some recent struggles for the Phoenix Suns could allow Indiana to sneak in a road win, especially if they keep playing well defensively and hold the Suns offense in check.
To round out the next ten, Indiana comes home for a trio of games against Eastern Conference foes. To this point, the Pacers are 4-3 against sub .500 teams, which is a stat they'll need to keep inflated in order to keep alive in the playoff picture, or at the very least in good position in the playoff picture. The issue will be in the close games. The Pacers are 1-3 in games decided by 5 points or less, and have only won one game within 10 points.
Toronto has a lot of gusto and youth, but not a whole lot else. They're a tough, scrappy team on nights they get it all together, though, and have put together a nice three game winning streak. Plus, we'll get a close up of Jerryd Bayless in what will likely be extended minutes, which will always be fun.
The Pacers let one get away against a shorthanded Bucks team, and will have their hands full trying to get a win in Milwaukee if Andrew Bogut is productive. The team is struggling, but that doesn't mean they can be taken lightly, especially as they work to get their feet under them for a run to get their slow start behind them.
In closing out the ten games, Indiana hosts Charlotte, which has the distinction of being the only team to have lost to the Pacers without getting blown out by the Pacers. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but you know it'll likely take a similar finish to close out the Bobcats, especially if Captain Jack manages to find himself another triple double.
Doing well in this ten will make the next tough ten game stretch a little easier to swallow should things go south a bit. The key will obviously be to not get suckered into multiple losses. Avoiding losing streaks in hopes of building a modest winning streak or two is maybe the most important thing in the results line. The team has done as quality job responding to losses; it needs to stay on the up and up and improve.
But you know, the Pacers could also hover a few games below .500 and still have a leg up in the playoff picture. In reaching the playoffs, it doesn't necessarily take the best effort the team can put forth, simply the best effort of what the bottom 10 teams in the East can put forth, which the Pacers have currently done, even at 5-6. Of course, there's no sense in looking too far into the future just yet. It starts in Miami. But even still, a growing stretch for Indiana is on the verge, how do they handle it?