Fresh off their brief two-game road trip (where they went 0-2), the Pacers return home where they’ll play their next six games. Now that we’re more than a quarter of the way through the season, the Pacers find themselves right in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. Through the first 23 games, the Pacers are 12-11 and are currently ninth in the conference as Dec. 3.
We're entering the part of the season where the separation between teams starts to begin. Great teams start to separate from good teams, good teams start to separate from mediocre teams and so on and so forth. That’s why this six-game home stretch is so crucial for the Pacers. Now, this homestand isn’t going to define their season in any shape or form, but it will help clear things regarding where they stand in the league. Four out of the six teams are from the Eastern Conference, and five out of the six are likely playoffs teams (sorry Bulls fans). Indiana needs to accomplish these four things to make sure this homestand is a successful one.
Involve Myles Turner more on offense
Before the start of the season, many expected Turner to carry a lot of the offensive burden since the departure of Paul George. So far this season that hasn’t been the case. With Oladipo’s emergence this season, Turner hasn’t been asked to do much more offensively than what he’s done in years past. Despite being lower on the offensive pecking order, Turner has begun to heat up over his last five games. In those five games, he’s averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field including 39 percent from downtown. This is a welcome sign for Pacers fan as he has struggled with his shot early in this season. The Pacers are 4.4 points better per 100 possession offensively when Turner is on the floor compared to when he’s not during that those five-games.
With Turner getting into an offensive rhythm, the Pacers need to make more of a concerted effort get him more involved. He’s only averaging 50 touches per game in the last five games which is fifth most on the team during that stretch. As much as I love Thaddeus Young and Domantas Sabonis, they should not average more touches than the second best player on the team. Out of those 50 touches, 2.6 of them have come in the paint. This isn’t nearly enough, especially when you consider that Turner is averaging 1.0777 points per paint touch. For comparison, Sabonis averages almost triple the number of paint touches (7.0) than Turner, while only averaging .629 points per paint touch. It’s time for Coach McMillan to feed his big man and what better time to start than during their homestand.
Bench production & feed off of Lance's energy
Bench production has not been one of the Pacers strongest areas as they rank in the bottom half of the league when it comes to bench scoring. However, the bench has been much better at home than it has been on the road this season. The bench averages 36 points per game at home compared to 28 points per game on the road. A big reason for the eight-point discrepancy has been the play of Domantas Sabonis and Lance Stephenson. Sabonis has been excellent coming off the bench at home, averaging 15.7 points on 52 percent shooting and coming down with 7.2 rebounds per game. The Pacers will need him to continue this production to keep themselves in games when the starters head to the bench.
Despite this stellar production, the more prominent reason for stark difference has been the play of Stephenson. Stephenson has been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when it comes to playing at home or on the road.
Just look at the table above. It’s outstanding how much better Stephenson is at home compared to when he’s on the road. Like most players in the NBA, he’s more comfortable shooting on his court, and the Pacers need to take advantage of it. One noticeable difference you can see on tv between “home Stephenson” and “away Stephenson” is the amount of energy he plays with. He contests more shots defensively and travels more distance on the court at home than when he’s on the road. The energy he plays with is infectious. On a team that doesn’t have a lot of “energy” guys, it makes Stephenson presence that much more valuable. When he plays with a lot of energy it gets the crowd into the game and raises the energy level of his teammates. Just look how he gets into the chest of a nonchalant Sabonis and gets him excited after a big dunk late in the game. The Pacers are going to need to feed off of Stephenson’s energy these next six games to get themselves going and the crowd going.
Contain opposing teams stars
One thing the Pacers hasn’t done well as of late is containing the opposing team's best player. In their last five games, they’ve allowed opposing stars to have good outings against them.
As you would expect this correlated with the Pacers going 2-3 in those games and it doesn’t get any easier when it comes to opposing star power in this home stretch. Almost every team that they’ll face has a player that could take over a game at any moment during the game (sorry once again Bulls fan). They got to face Porzingis, LeBron, Jokic, Drummond, Westbrook, Carmelo and Paul George who makes his first return to Indiana as one of the bad guys. There’s no way of completely shutting down these players, but the Pacers need to able to try to contain them. If they can hold each to below the season averages, then they’ll give themselves a good chance in every game.
Finish with a winning record
As stated earlier, five out of the six opponents are likely playoff teams (I swear I’m not trying to pick on the Bulls). These games could also have tie-breaker implications, in particular, the games against the Knicks and Pistons. Winning at least four games would set the Pacers up nicely for not only the playoff race but also their season. It’ll show that they can hang and compete with all ranges of playoff teams. It would instill belief in themselves and put the rest of the NBA on notice that they should be taken seriously as playoff contenders.