Unusual Free Time Well Appreciated
As you can imagine, the Pacers were spent after last week’s agenda. Last Saturday in New Orleans (after traveling on game day because of weather conditions), they wrapped up a stretch of six games over nine days, including four games in five nights. Ever since, they’ve been on Christmas break.
That six-day period without a game comes to a close tonight when they host the Phoenix Suns (11-18) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Pacers received a bonus on Wednesday, in one respect, when their evening with the Bulls was canceled. It appeared the Pacers were ready to handle a Chicago team that played the night before and has struggled recently. Point guard George Hill saw the cancellation as a positive.
“It was just another good day of rest and very much needed after four games in five nights,” Hill said. “Our bodies really needed it, especially with the hectic season we’ve been having so far.”
That hectic season Hill speaks of so far has included nine sets of back-to-back games and 17 of their 28 games on the road.
The Pacers have won six of their last seven games. Their three-game win streak is second-best in the Eastern Conference after Miami, which has strung together six in a row. While that is great, it is nothing to brag about because none of those six teams have a winning record. It also, however, shouldn’t be overlooked because wins do not come easy at this level.
With the team’s success over the past week and a half, many would argue a break isn’t a good thing. Much of the game is about rhythm and confidence, which goes hand in hand with winning.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “When you’re playing well and won six of the seven, you kind of want to keep playing. Things like that are out of our control so we just make the best of it, keep guys sharp and condition.”
During this break, the Pacers can’t help but take a peek at the standings. And when they did, how could they not like where they’re sitting? They started the season poorly, losing six of their first nine games. Then, after implementing change, the Pacers have since gone 13-6 to put them fourth in the Eastern Conference (16-12) behind Miami, New York and Atlanta.
“I like being in first place in our division. (We’re) fourth in the East, with a chance, that I think we can push even further…We always try to look forward, not back, in the standings.”
The downtime has allowed the Pacers to get healthy, rest their bodies, and improve through practice. Roy Hibbert said his left thigh is “cool,” Lance Stephenson’s ankle is much improved and Gerald Green’s ankle is playable. Green sprained his left ankle in the final quarter last Friday and sat out in New Orleans.
With over one-third of the regular season complete, the only injury of great concern is with Danny Granger, who has yet to play this season. It has been almost eight weeks since he received an injection in his left knee and he seems to be on schedule. However, we don’t know anything for sure because he has declined all media requests.
Considering Granger’s absence, the Pacers have to feel encouraged about where they’re at, although they left a handful of games on the table in close losses.
The extended rest and practice time the Pacers have had this week is unusual. With the exception of the All-Star break – also six days between games – they play at least three games every week this season. That’s why this stretch of almost a full week without a game is tremendously beneficial.
Following a much appreciated quiet period, games ramp up and get back to normal beginning tonight – on the front end of yet another back-to-back.
Augustin Returns to Backup Role
D.J. Augustin has gotten his old position back. After being pushed back behind Ben Hansbrough to third-string point guard seven games ago – and only seeing the court in two of them – Coach Vogel has brought Augustin back into the 10-man rotation.
“Earlier he played beneath his capabilities,” Vogel said after practice Thursday. “He’s shown a great amount of work ethic and determination to get back in the rotation and get his game right.”
Read more in Mark Montieth’s blog.
Johnson Back to the D-League
Rookie guard Orlando Johnson has been reassigned to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants tonight. Because of an ankle injury to Lance Stephenson, Johnson didn’t make the last two trips to Fort Wayne with Miles Plumlee to get playing time with the Pacers’ D-League affiliate. He’ averaged 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals in his first two games with the Mad Ants.