“It feels like being in the middle of a dream. It’s a little weird,” he said before the Pacers faced Dallas Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “They say it’s a day for each hour of the time change, which would be 12 days. I’m hoping it’s not that long.”
The preseason schedule is more like a nightmare for the Pacers.
After one week of training camp, they opened the preseason on Oct. 5 against Chicago, an 82-76 loss in BLF in a game that had the atmosphere of the postseason.
Immediately afterward, they boarded a charter jet for their second international jaunt in five years, a nine-day trek that included exhibition losses to Houston in Manila, Philippines and Taipei, Taiwan. They got home around midnight Sunday, took a day off, had a light practice and then played Dallas at home on Wednesday, another loss.
They won’t play at home again until the regular-season opener Oct. 29 against Orlando. The Pacers’ final four preseason games, beginning with a weekend back-to-back tonight in Chicago and tomorrow in Cleveland, are on the road
Is this any way to prepare for a season in which the team is expected to contend for a championship?
“It’s a big challenge, there’s no doubt about it but nothing about this year’s going to be easy,” Vogel said. “When you’re trying to take the step from conference finals to going to the Finals and trying to compete for a championship, nothing about that is going to be easy.
“When you make the conference finals and now you’re the target, and you’re getting everybody’s A-game all year, nothing’s going to be easy about this whole year so we’re embracing that the preseason is like this and going after it and turning adversity into a strength of ours.”
It may not be easy, but it doesn’t have to be this hard.The rebuilt second unit needs time not only to learn the offensive system and defensive principles, but also develop some kind of chemistry among the new players. Danny Granger is working his way back after missing almost all of last season with a knee condition that required major surgery.
The second half of the preseason schedule typically is about fine-tuning rotations and sharpening a team for the regular season. For the Pacers, it will be much more about survival.
Four starters – Paul George (ill), George Hill (ankle), David West (rest) and Roy Hibbert (rest) – missed the Dallas game. Granger (strained left calf) joined them on the bench in the first half.
Hill and West should be back tonight, but there’s less certainty about the others.
Complicating matters is the team’s Fan Jam on Sunday. Instead of traveling directly from Cleveland to Atlanta, where they play Tuesday night, the Pacers will return to Indianapolis for the event Sunday at BLF. That costs a practice day and adds a travel day to an already strained schedule.
“We’re not going to practice till the 28th,” Vogel said with a laugh. “There’s not going to be a lot of practice time but one of the strengths of our system here is we watch film every single day and we grow in the film room. We drill our system mentally as much as we do on the practice court.”
Small wonder they are one of just two winless teams (along with Milwaukee) this preseason. The records don’t matter, of course, but the performance does. In their last three losses, the Pacers have trailed by at least 18 points and struggled mightily in some of their trademark areas of strength.
They’ve been outrebounded in all four preseason games (by 37), and they’ve been outscored in the paint (by 58) and in transition (by 26) in all four. They have had at least as many turnovers as assists in each game.
Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, two free agent acquisitions being counted on to bring firepower to the second unit, have combined to shoot 19 of 62 (.306). Hibbert is 9 of 28 with zero assists in 76 minutes. George has eight turnovers and 12 fouls in 75 minutes. Granger has made his 3-pointers (5 of 14) but shot 5 of 23 inside the arc as he struggles to finish at the rim.
“Obviously you want to come out of the gates shooting 70 percent and holding the other team to 30 and when it doesn’t happen right away you evaluate, you identify what’s happening and you work to build those habits,” Vogel said. “That’s what preseason’s about. It’s something I’m keeping an eye on but not losing sleep over.”
Good thing, since there’s no sleep left to lose for this road-weary bunch.