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Indiana Pacers release 2017-18 NBA schedule, Paul George returns in December

Indiana’s 2017-18 schedule has been released, setting up a pair of early season matchups against Paul George and Oklahoma City in October and December.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA’s limited schedule release last Thursday left fans of many teams wondering where the rest of it was. While it gave everyone a glimpse of marquee games featuring up and coming teams and championship contenders (plus the Knicks), it wasn’t so exciting for fans of teams like the Indiana Pacers, who aren’t expected much of.

So as deflating as the tip-off and Christmas schedule may have been on Thursday, the league will indeed allow teams like the Pacers to tip off 82 times in the upcoming basketball season, as evidenced by the release of the 2017-18 Pacers schedule.

The schedule, which was created with rest for players in mind, will feature many changes from past years, most noticeably that the season will begin a week earlier. Instead of a late October start, the Pacers will begin play in 2017-18 on October 18th, hosting the Brooklyn Nets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Of course, the two games that matter the most to Pacers fans this season will actually come quite early. On October 25th, just a week into the season, the Pacers will wrap up a three game road trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The two teams will meet up again on December 13th as...Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis host their former team? Okay.

Of course, the big deal regarding these two games is Paul George facing the Pacers for the first time since forcing a trade after tanking his value, then blaming the front office for his lackadaisical play for much of last season on his way out the door. The October 25th matchup will be a tough go for the Pacers, who will be wrapping up a three game road trip on the second night of a back-to-back, while the Thunder sit idle at home on three days rest.

The December 13th matchup at home, however, will be Indiana’s chance to make a nice statement to George and the fans (assuming George plays). It will be Indiana’s only nationally televised game this season (with all due respect to a pair of NBA TV games against the Magic and Bucks, Indiana’s only other national games), providing a look-in on what will no doubt be the best home atmosphere of the season, from the tip to hopefully the final buzzer.

Beyond petty George drama, however, there’s a lot of other things to look at with the Pacers schedule. Traditionally, the Pacers have had their first West Coast swing at the end of November, but this year, they won’t reach the left coast until after the new year, when they’ll be looking to navigate a trip that features the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs.

The five game trip is their longest of the year, with a pair of four game trips at the end of February and March, including their second West Coast swing where they play the Warriors, Kings, Clippers, and Nuggets. Among other changes to the schedule will be the back-to-back workload, a traditional problem of the Pacers, who last year were just 5-12 in back-to-back games.

That number doesn’t change as much for the Pacers as the league might want everyone to believe, however. Indiana still plays 14 back-to-back games, but 11 of those will be coming between October and January, leaving just three in the final two and a half months. In addition to cutting back on back-to-backs, the league also looked to cut back on single game road trips, to which the Pacers will have 10. This again is a minimal change overall; the number is down from 14 last year.

Though not a big talking point last season, Indiana also struggled mightily in single game road trips, going just 3-11. Between back-to-backs and single game road trips, Indiana may save a few schedule losses, ignoring that the overall record for the Pacers will be likely be worse regardless of back-to-backs and single game road trips..

That could be exacerbated early given a big road heavy schedule in October and November, standing to leave them gasping by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. After a pair of home games to open the season, Indiana will play 11 of their next 16 on the road. Fortunately, there will be chances to get wins throughout this stretch, but that’s difficult to count on.

After an eight of 10 stretch at home (including a six game home stand), Indiana will play nine straight home/away games, a curious stretch given the league’s attempt to reduce said games. It’s likely fans won’t matter too much if the Pacers are bad this year, but the worst case scenario for the season isn’t just losing a lot, it’s losing a lot and then finishing hot to drop them to their 11-13 comfort zone in the Draft Lottery.

So, rejoice! This year, such a hot finish is unlikely to happen given nine of the last 15 games will be on the road. This includes both of Indiana’s games against the defending champion Golden State Warriors on March 27 (away) and April 5 (home). Neither will be on the second night of a back-to-back, unlike last year when both were, but the Warriors may be in full-blown rest mode by then, so it will be hard to buy tickets with hopes of seeing Klay Thompson drop 60 again.

Overall, it feels like many of the schedule changes are minimal, outside of the season starting earlier. It may also feel the changes are minimal since the Pacers aren’t expected to achieve much this season, regardless of whether the schedule is more forgiving. With aspirations, minimizing traditional schedule pitfalls would favor Indiana to take a step forward in the standings, but that’s not really in play when 30 wins could be generous.

The road-heavy schedule early does put a bit of a damper on the start of the season, however. Regardless of overall record, seeing how this team plays early in the year is a big draw. Does Kevin Pritchard’s offseason moves make sense on the court? Is this team a more cohesive unit than last year’s ill-fitting roster? How do you function without a starting quality small forward in today’s NBA? How does Myles Turner play as the face of the franchise? Can Oladipo take a next step? What does the Lance Effect look like now?

In addition to the play of Sabonis, T.J. Leaf, Glenn Robinson III, and Cory Joseph, these are questions that will be a defining part of Indiana’s upcoming season, but seeing them have to find their footing on the road may make the honeymoon phase of this new-look Pacers team extremely brief. But this is a new-look Pacers team, and play early is just one part. Seeing growth across 82 games will ultimately be the draw for this team this season. If there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when the season wraps up, this season can be considered positive regardless of what the record may end up being.

In years’ past, Indiana’s marquee games were defined by matchups involving George showing up against LeBron James and shutting down James Harden and while those games against Cleveland (home games December 8 & January 12, road games November 1 & January 26) will still be exciting to watch, this is a chance to see Turner make an All-Star bid against the league’s best and brightest bigs, so here are some home games worth checking out:

  • October 20 vs. Portland Trail Blazers (feat. Jusuf Nurkic)
  • November 7 vs. New Orleans Pelicans (feat. Anthony Davis & DeMarcus Cousins)
  • November 17 and December 15 vs. Detroit Pistons (feat. Andre Drummond)
  • December 4 and February 1 vs. New York Knicks (feat. Kristaps Porzingis)
  • December 10 vs. Denver Nuggets (feat. Nikola Jokic)
  • December 31 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (feat. Karl-Anthony Towns)
  • January 10 & March 25 (feat. Hassan Whiteside)
  • February 3 vs. Philadelphia 76ers (feat. Joel Embiid)
  • March 7 vs. Utah Jazz (feat. Rudy Gobert)