DALLAS — The Indiana Pacers spent nearly the entire preseason on the road, a whirlwind, worldwide tour that included stops in Manila, Taiwan, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta and finally Dallas on Friday night to wrap it all up with a resounding 98-77 win.
There were no outright signs of fatigue, no flares of road rage. Only a team that put on a third-quarter blitz, exuding confidence and discipline. It’s a veteran team now, battle-tested and one that bolstered its bench in the offseason and firmly believes it is overall superior to the one that took the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals four months ago.
“We survived,” power forward David West said of the travel-heavy month. “We feel good about closing the preseason with three wins … so we feel good about where we are.”
Playing six of eight preseason games away from home didn’t land the Pacers in a foul mood or have them waving angry fists at the NBA schedule-maker, who, by the way, also has Indiana as one of just six teams to open the regular season on Tuesday night as opposed to Wednesday or even Thursday for some.
Nope, the high-mileage preseason instead was viewed as necessary medicine.
“We’ve been on the road a lot. That’s good for us,” said rising superstar Paul George, who tormented Dallas with 28 points, six rebounds and six assists in 34 minutes. “Last year we were a team that struggled playing basketball on the road so I think that was good for us to start the year off playing a lot of preseason games on the road, playing against tough teams and having to learn how to jell and get chemistry.”
The Pacers went 19-21 on the road last season, which locked them into the No. 3 seed, just one-half game ahead of Brooklyn. Indiana was the only team among the top five seeds in the East to finish with a sub-.500 road record. With Derrick Rose primed in Chicago, the star-studded Nets and the Knicks coming off a 54-win season, the Pacers know another poor road record can easily land them on the road to start the first round of the playoffs.
After dropping their first five preseason games, the Pacers won their final three, averaging 102.3 ppg and allowing 81.7.
“It’s been a healthy dose of adversity and getting through adversity can make you stronger,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve embraced that challenge being on the road almost the entire month. Look, if we’re going to compete for the conference championship and the NBA championship, you’ve got to be a great road team so why not just start it in the preseason?”
The Pacers are deeper than a year ago with the well-chronicled bench additions of Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson. Roy Hibbert is coming off a monster postseason and George signed a lucrative, long-term contract that has him feeling more like an established vet.
“I do. I feel relaxed out there, I feel more comfortable,” the 6-foot-9 wing said. “And I’m just letting the game come to me, picking and choosing when to be aggressive and staying assertive in our offense.”
So after a long month of travel, the Pacers headed back to Indianapolis late Friday night for a weekend of recovery and preparation for Tuesday’s regular-season home opener against Orlando. Then it’s back on the road for Wednesday’s first back-to-back of the season at New Orleans.
You won’t hear the Pacers complaining. They have bigger things on their minds.
“I feel good where we’re at as a team,” Vogel said. “I feel like our system has been really developed over the last two years and is pretty solid in terms of all the details that go into it, and having a core group of guys coming back to not only execute it, but help the new guys understand what we’re looking for. I feel good about where we’re at.”