Breaking down the first half of the Pacers’ 2020-21 schedule
The first 38 games are scheduled and it all begins Dec. 23 against the Knicks.
Finally … it’s time for my ninth annual breakdown of the Pacers’ schedule.
Like most about the upcoming season, this is completely different. Wisely, the NBA chose to release the 72-game schedule for the 2020-21 season in two parts. That way if there’s a problem, if games are postponed and such, it can be accounted for on the back end.
It also can lead to a far more entertaining national TV schedule. If a certain team gets hit by the injury bug, decides to trade players or just isn’t having the type of season as expected, other teams can be shown instead — and it should result in a far more interesting and competitive TV product.
As for the Pacers, you know this team. Sixteen players are back from camp last season, including the top 13 contributors. The front office brought 20 players to camp, the maximum allowed.
The new additions are second-round pick Cassius Stanley, Butler product Kelan Martin, Jalen Leque, acquired in the trade that sent TJ Leaf to OKC, and rookie Rayshaun Hammonds, who played for Tom Crean at Georgia.
Jeremy Lamb (ACL rehab) is able to play 1-on-1 and could return to game action early in 2021. Otherwise, the team is healthy and has had full participation in training camp, according to new head coach Nate Bjorkgren. He rounded out his staff with Greg Foster and Kaleb Canales. Bill Bayno is the only holdover from Nate McMillan’s staff.
Victor Oladipo is the healthiest he’s been in more than two years and is entering a contract year. “I definitely feel better from even in the bubble until now,” he said. “I think I made some pretty big improvements, some pretty drastic improvements. I just got to keep trending forward.”
So far, reporters are unable to attend practices and interviews are conducted over Zoom. So it’s more difficult to see what they have and how they look different with a new coaching staff.
Opening night is Dec. 23, two months later than last season. They host the New York Knicks.
The first three months of the schedule are set, leading up to the All-Star break March 5-10. Due to COVID-19, it will be much different — still to be determined — and what was supposed to be Indy’s All-Star year has been postponed to 2024.
The second half runs from March 11 to May 16 and the playoffs are tentatively slated to go from May 22 to July 22. And then, if all goes well, the NBA will resume its normal September-June schedule.
Here’s a breakdown of the Pacers schedule:
The preseason spans from Dec. 11-19 with each team playing between two and four games. Scheduling here is up to individual teams and the Pacers scheduled three.
Dec. 12 and 14 at Cleveland, then Dec. 18 at home against Philadelphia.
What about fans?
None will be allowed at those preseason dates.
As for the regular season, the Pacers decided to be closed to the public initially, but intend to change that the following month.
“We look forward to having fans back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in January, and we will provide updates in the near future,” according to a statement issued by Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
When fans are allowed in, they will noticed many changes on the event level. There’s a new $4 million video board, gray seats replace the familiar green in the lower level and there’s new entry + exit points where seats used to be. There’s touchless payments all over and bathrooms were upgraded.
The Pacers are not among the 10 teams selected to be featured on Christmas Day. Maybe one day…
They have their typical afternoon game on New Year’s Eve, at 3:00 p.m., against the Cavaliers.
They will NOT be playing on MLK Jr. Day either. They will have just wrapped up a five-game road trip out west. And no game on Valentine’s Day, the original date for the All-Star game.
This number will be up across the league due to a condensed schedule.
Last season, they had 11 — slightly below the league average (12.4). And remember, this is just half the schedule.
They have three back-to-backs in January and February, and one before the All-Star break. The worst part about it is how the bulk of them are on the road.
National TV games: 2
Both are on the road, in February and will air on ESPN.
Feb. 3 at Milwaukee and Feb. 26 at Boston.
Four of their first 38 games can also be seen on NBA TV. But none on TNT.
Notable home games
The Pacers play at home on opening night, for five of their first six games and seven of nine. That could be helpful to help ease the transition for a new coaching staff.
Dec. 27 and 29: Consecutive games against Brad Stevens’ Celtics. The fun subplot, of course, is the fact that there were trade conversations last month and the Celtics clearly didn’t think enough of Myles Turner.
Jan. 9: First look at the new Suns, featuring Chris Paul, Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. Plus, it will be a revenge game for T.J. Warren.
Jan. 20: Mark Cuban, Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and the Mavericks come to town.
Jan. 24 and 25: The only home-home back-to-back and it’s against the (Tampa) Raptors — Bjorkgren’s former team. Players expect to play similar to the Raptors, so this will be a fun pair of games.
Jan. 31: Two months in, we’ll have a better idea what the 76ers, now coached by Doc Rivers, look like. And it marks the return of executive Peter Dinwiddie and assistants Dan Burke and Popeye Jones.
Feb. 2: Ja Morant, of course, leads the Grizzlies. But there are also several players with ties to the state: Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, John Konchar and Sean McDermott.
Feb. 5: The new-look Pelicans, highlighted by Zion Williamson.
Feb. 7: I want to see Myles Turner battle Rudy Gobert, both of whom compete for the Defensive Player of the Year award. It’s the annual homecoming for Mike Conley Jr. and the Jazz have two former Pacers: Bojan Bogdanovic and Georges Niang. Hoosiers will want to see Juwan Morgan and Cardinals fans hope to drive up to see Donovan Mitchell.
Feb. 24: No Splash Brothers since Klay Thomson (Achilles tear) is out for the Warriors season, but Steph Curry is always worth the price of admission.
Mar. 4: Pacers-Nuggets is always a fun matchup. It could be even more interesting with coach Bjorkgren’s creativity. It’s the second night of a back-to-back, though, and both teams will be ready for a break.
Road trips: 2
The first half of their schedule is even, 19 home and 19 road games. Four times they’ll play twice on the road before returning home.
In a typical season, they’ll have three five-game road trips and a few more three-game trips. This half has one journey out west in January and a three-game roadie in the middle of February.
Jan. 11-17: Sacramento, Golden State, Portland, Phoenix, L.A. Clippers
Feb. 10-13: Brooklyn, Detroit, Atlanta
They’re mostly at home for the first two and half weeks of the season, except of a quick trip to Chicago and down to New Orleans.
4: Dec. 27-Jan. 2: Boston, Boston, Cleveland, New York.
4: Jan. 20-25: Dallas, Orlando, Toronto, Toronto
Games by day