Indiana Pacers' Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for March
The Pacers were a woebegone bunch in early February. They were 17-32 (.347) at that point and seemed destined to suffer the fate of their 2009-10 version. That season's Pacers team under Jim O'Brien featured players such as Luther Head, Dahntay Jones, Solomon Jones and Brandon Rush. It finished with an abominable 32-50 (.390) win-loss record.
This writer predicted Indiana would continue its inconsistent play and finish 4-5 in February. Instead, the Pacers are 6-2 heading into their showdown against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 27. This is the Pacers team we have longed to see from the get-go.
With franchise player Paul George possibly rejoining the squad in mid-March, Indy's good fortunes ought to become even better.
PG-13 himself broke the news via the Pacers' official website on Feb. 13. He said, "I'm still optimistic on my return and I'm hopeful to be practicing by March 1st and hopeful to be playing by mid-March."
After a long layoff, George won't be the force he is just yet. Without him, the Pacers can still wind up in the lottery if they don't get their act together.
With him in tow, Indiana is sure to be in the running for the East's seventh playoff spot, which is currently occupied by the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat (25-31). The Pacers also have a chance to go deeper into at least the second round of the postseason.
For now, it's all on head coach Frank Vogel and Co. to make a statement in March.
Week of March 1-8
- March 1 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
- March 4 vs. New York Knicks
- March 6 vs. Chicago Bulls
- March 7 at New York Knicks
The Indiana Pacers kick off the month of March with the most crucial stretch of their 2014-15 NBA season.
There's really a lot to be said about this week. First, Indy has a three-game home stand against the Sixers, Knicks and Bulls. Looking at the bigger picture, this is part of a nine-game stretch dating back to their last game in February where the Pacers play eight of their nine games in the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Pacers are just 13-14 (.481) at home through Feb. 28, so this is a golden opportunity to turn things around.
Second, three of the four games from March 1 to 7 feature the East's doormats, the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks. Both teams have a combined 22-91 (.195) win-loss record through Feb. 25.
Third, both the Bulls and Knicks are without their franchise players. Chicago point guard Derrick Rose has a torn meniscus and will undergo his third surgery in three years, per a Feb. 25 ESPN update.
As for the Knicks, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony will undergo left knee surgery and is ruled out for the next four to six months, says ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk.
The clear takeaway for the Indiana Pacers: They must make the most out of these opportunities.
If they don't, they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye.
Predicted record: 3-1
Week of March 8-15
The Indiana Pacers will continue to rely on Bankers Life Fieldhouse for their playoff push this week.
Indy will tangle with the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, two teams that made key acquisitions on the NBA's trade deadline on Feb. 19.
It will be interesting to see how the Pacers fare against new Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who nailed a running layup with 9.9 seconds remaining in the Philadelphia 76ers' (Carter-Williams' former team) 93-92 win over Indiana on Jan. 10.
If anything, the Pacers will have revenge on their minds when they face the Bucks on March 12. Expect George Hill to put the clamps on the young Carter-Williams in this one.
C.J. Miles will have his work cut out for him when he tries to contain Celtics guard Avery Bradley two days later. Bradley went off for 23 points in the Pacers' 107-103 overtime win on Jan. 9.
Hill, who missed Indy's games against Philly and Boston in January, could very well be the X-factor in the Pacers' games against the Bucks and Celtics this month.
As for the March 10 game against the Orlando Magic, we would like to see Damjan "Damo" Rudez do an encore of his masterful 18-point showing in a 106-99 win at Amway Center on Jan. 25.
If Rudez continues to play decently, we may very well see the last of Chris Copeland (who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season) in a Pacers uniform.
Predicted record: 2-1
Week of March 16-23
- March 16 vs. Toronto Raptors
- March 18 at Chicago Bulls
- March 20 at Cleveland Cavaliers
- March 21 vs. Brooklyn Nets
- March 23 vs. Houston Rockets
The week of March 16-23 is the Indiana Pacers' chance to prove they are no pushovers.
The quality of opposition this week is insane: With the exception of the Brooklyn Nets, the combined win-loss records of the Raptors, Bulls, Cavaliers and Rockets through Feb. 25 is 148-82 (.643).
Interesting fact: It isn't Lowry who has given the Pacers the most fits in their duels against Toronto. It's actually shooting guard Louis Williams, who has averaged 20.0 points and shot 50 percent from three-point distance in two games against Indiana this season.
Toronto is 2-0 against the Pacers in 2014-15, winning by an average of 12.5 points. One of the keys here is the Raptors' 94-82 edge on the boards in those two games, with center Jonas Valanciunas plucking an average of 11.0 rebounds.
Roy Hibbert and Co. must do a better job in this area.
They also cannot afford to let Houston Rockets guard James Harden go off on them again like he did on Jan. 19, when he scorched Indy for 45 points in a 110-98 win.
As Paul George indicated in his statement on the Pacers' official website, he could be back by this time. If he is, look for him to give them a huge lift.
Predicted record: 3-2
Week of March 24-31
- March 25 at Washington Wizards
- March 26 at Milwaukee Bucks
- March 29 vs. Dallas Mavericks
- March 31 at Brooklyn Nets
The Pacers have often had an unheralded player rise to the occasion against the Washington Wizards this season.
Point guard Donald Sloan scored a career-high 31 points against Washington in a 96-94 overtime loss on the road on Nov. 5. Three days later, second-year guard-forward Solomon Hill scored 28 points, his own career high, in a 97-90 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It will be interesting to find out who will be next in line for the Pacers when they face the Wizards on March 25. It's a safe bet it won't be Sloan, who has played a grand total of 15 minutes without scoring any points in the month of February.
One thing's for sure: Indy will have its hands full against John Wall, whose 24.5 points-per-game average against the Pacers is his second-highest against an opponent in 2014-15 (he's averaging 25.0 points against the Portland Trail Blazers).
Sloan also won't have a chance to duplicate his 29-point outburst against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 24 because of the way he's been mired on the bench. For the Pacers to earn a season sweep of the Mavericks, they must keep the backcourt duo of Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis in check.
Indiana finishes the month of March by playing three of its four games this week on the road. It will be anything but easy.
Predicted record: 2-2
The Parting Shot
March is a make-or-break month for the Indiana Pacers.
If they win more than they lose, they should be in the running for the seventh playoff spot in the East. Should they keep winning and teams such as the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets keep losing, they will be in a good position to face the No. 2-seeded team in the postseason. This could be the Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls.
The Pacers are indeed a work in progress, but are showing progress. They have scored more than 100 points in each of their last six victories, and their defense has been solid. Not stifling, as it was most of last season, but solid.
Given their momentum and their remaining schedule, there's every reason for them to be optimistic about making the playoffs.
Who would have thought? Remember, Indy was a woeful 17-32 at one point this season. Paul George possibly returning would no doubt make the Pacers an even better team.
However, if they lose more than they win, it will be a major letdown. With the way Indiana has been playing (6-2 in February), it is absolutely not in tank mode. The Pacers are peaking at the right time, and the fanbase can only hope the Blue and Gold can carry this momentum as the season winds down.
When all is said and done, Indy will win 10 of its 16 games in March and inch even closer to a hard-earned playoff berth.
Predicted record for March: 10-6
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are current as of Feb. 26 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.