Oftentimes teams with their “backs against the wall” will refer to a big game as a “must -win” game. If they lose this game, it could be all over. In the NBA, games in December really don’t figure into the eventual champion, but for this Indiana franchise, their game tomorrow at home against the Cavs will feel like a must-win game.
After the thumping they received from the Lakers at home last night, the Pacers have now dropped six of their last eight games. The only two wins were against the Bobcats and Raptors, two of the worst teams in the league. Indiana has now lost three in a row and face a team that went into Miami and battled the surging Heat all the way until the final minute. They are better than most people think and this game will not be an easy one for Coach Jim O’Brien and the Pacers.
The reason why this game is a must-win for the Pacers is because looking at their upcoming schedule, things could get very rough. It’s hard to predict a win before their game in Philadelphia against the 76ers on Jan. 11. Even that might be a stretch.
These are the opponents that Indiana will go up against between now and then: Cavs, Celtics, Hornets, Grizzlies, Celtics, Wizards, Wizards, Knicks, Spurs and Hawks. You would think they would be able to get one of the games against the Wizards and maybe sneak another W in there somewhere to surprise some people. Still, looking at the competition and comparing it to how this team has been playing this past week, things could get very ugly in Indy.
There is a strong possibility that the Pacers could have a double-digit losing streak heading into that Jan. 11 game against the Sixers. They will almost certainly have to win this game tomorrow night at home against Cleveland and grab one of the games against Washington at the end of the year. They will need that momentum heading into 2011 because the schedule doesn’t let up any in January.
Getting a win Friday night at home will do many things for this team. It will stop the three-game losing streak first and foremost. Secondly, it will give the team some confidence heading into Boston to face a team on Sunday that may be without Rajon Rondo. The Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the league right now though and are almost unbeatable at home. Luckily for the Pacers, four of the next five games will be at home once they return from Boston.
O’Brien has done some shuffling with the lineup in the last couple of games. He didn’t say that Josh McRoberts had been playing poorly, but stressed that the reason he is being replaced by Tyler Hansbrough is his lack of rebounding. The Pacers didn’t even reach double-figure rebounds as a team before halftime of their game against the Lakers on Wednesday night. McRoberts had just one in almost 15 minutes of play.
O’Brien also elected to start the second half with Mike Dunleavy at SG instead of Brandon Rush, who had been starting at the position for the past handful of games. Even though I understand he wanted to shake things up, I was dumbfounded with the decision to do so. Rush can obviously guard Kobe Bryant better than Dunleavy, and proved it. Bryant had just six points in the first half while Rush was on him and had 25 in the second half with Dunleavy and Granger switching on him. Rush was also fairly effective on the offensive end, so I am still wondering about the decision to go with Dunleavy in the second half.
Teams with depth at the PF and C positions have given this team trouble all season. Last night was a perfect example, as Pau Gasol completely dominated Roy Hibbert inside and Lamar Odom pulled down 17 rebounds by himself. Fortunately for Indiana, the Cavs don’t have the same depth at those positions as the Lakers. JJ Hickson is a force down low, but other than that, they should be fine on the defensive end of the floor. The guard play is going to be key for both teams.
We won’t expect back-to-back sell out crowds at Conseco tomorrow night, but hopefully the people slobbering on Bryant will be gone and the Pacers will get the real support they deserve from this city…and get a much needed victory against a divisional opponent.