After missing the playoffs for the first time in six years, the Indiana Pacers will look to bounce back in 2021-22.
Indiana changed coaches after a stretch of five straight first-round exits in the postseason, but things got even worse under Nate Bjorkgren as a 34-38 record was only enough for a spot in the play-in tournament. A loss to the Washington Wizards then sealed the team's fate of being on the outside looking in of the playoffs.
Rick Carlisle now returns as head coach with a team that is seemingly talented enough to contend in the Eastern Conference if it can stay healthy.
Domantas Sabonis earned his second successive All-Star selection last season while Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert and T.J. Warren provide plenty of help from the perimeter. Adding the defensive ability of Myles Turner and the tools are there for a successful season.
The team will need to prove it on the court during the upcoming year.
2021-22 Pacers Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 20 at Charlotte Hornets, 7 p.m. ET
Championship Odds: +11000 (FanDuel)
Chicago Bulls (First matchup: Nov. 22 at United Center)
The Bulls are coming off their fourth straight losing season, but they have added Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan this offseason to provide some offensive help alongside Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Young players such as Patrick Williams and Coby White should also play significant roles next year as they continue to develop.
It should be enough to at least make Chicago a contender to reach the playoffs, which makes the team a threat for the Pacers.
Indiana went just 1-2 against the Bulls last year, and things will be even tougher in 2021-22. With Chicago now having plenty of scoring guards, the Pacers must not only defend but also keep up offensively.
The Central Division rivals should have some close big-time battles throughout the upcoming season, and each game could be extremely important when it comes to playoff positioning.
Washington Wizards (First matchup: Oct. 22 at Capital One Arena)
Last season was a bad one for Indiana, but it was the Wizards that eventually eliminated the squad.
The Pacers were embarrassed during a 142-115 loss in the play-in game that determined the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Washington shot 58.1 percent from the field and 14-of-28 from three as the visiting team provided no resistance defensively.
Indiana will have a chance to avenge this loss while helping itself in the fight for a 2022 playoff spot.
Russell Westbrook is no longer on the Wizards, but Bradley Beal remains with an intriguing roster filled with players who could be difference-makers with increased opportunities. Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie have all played well in smaller roles and could be in for big years in Washington. Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and Deni Avdija will also be worth watching if they can stay healthy.
This team is good enough to reach the postseason, but the Pacers will need to excel in the head-to-head battles to stay ahead in the standings.
The Pacers didn't make too many high-profile moves in the offseason, which could be a concern as they try to produce better results. Torrey Craig can be a valuable addition to the rotation, but he won't turn things around on his own.
Indiana will hope the difference comes from staying healthy and getting the most out of the players on the roster.
Sabonis and Brogdon essentially carried the Pacers for much of last season, but LeVert and Warren can provide a much-needed boost offensively if they are on the court. Even Jeremy Lamb can make a difference if he can return to full strength.
On the other end, Turner averaged 3.4 blocks per game before missing significant time with a foot injury. He might have been a Defensive Player of the Year candidate if he had stayed healthy.
These players can compete with nearly anyone in the league, although it requires a lot going right throughout the year. The competitors in the East also aren't going away with the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and others likely to top the standings.
Even if Indiana gets back into the playoffs, don't expect a long postseason run from this squad.
Record Prediction: 44-38
Must be 21+ and present in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, West Virginia, Colorado, or Tennessee. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. See sportsbook.fanduel.com for details.