Wilson's Word: Next 17 games will tell a lot

While next two games will be difficult, Pacers are looking at 17-game stretch with several winnable games in next month.

The Indiana Pacers made Kobe Bryant take the fourth quarter off.

In the Los Angeles Lakers’ glory days, that would have been a bad thing. On Monday night, it meant the Pacers had finally put to bed an eight-game losing streak with a 110-91 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It would be naive to surmise from one game that the Pacers (8-17) have figured out a few things and will start winning again.

As forward Solomon Hill reminded afterward, “We’ve got to play like this against other teams.”

The fact of the matter is the Lakers left town with the same record as the Pacers. These aren’t the Lakers we remember, just like the Pacers aren’t the same team as last season, as we’ve been constantly reminded. And Kobe and friends had played the night before in Minneapolis, where Bryant passed Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

The hunch was the Pacers would be due and the Lakers might be a bit ragged. None of us expected the Lakers to shoot just 16 percent in the first half, but the way things have been going for the blue and gold, they’ll take anything they can get.

The reality is this bumpy ride will likely continue in the next couple of games. The Pacers play nine of 12 on the road, beginning with a trip to L.A. to get reacquainted with the Clippers, who beat Indiana here last Wednesday in a game that wasn’t as close as the 103-96 final score indicated. Then it’s onto Denver, and the Nuggets blew out the Pacers by 21 at Indianapolis on Nov. 14.

If there’s any good news, it’s mid-December and hopefully point guard George Hill is close to making his season debut. That will help a Pacers offense tied for 26th at just 93.9 points per game.

Aside from injuries, the Pacers’ biggest problem has been scoring. We see it night in and night out. The win over the Lakers was just the fifth time these guys have scored at least 100.

We saw in preseason until Hill suffered his torn quad injury that he was going to be a more aggressive scorer in this offense. And it seemed at the time like an encouraging development, the way he was playing, going back to IUPUI mode.

There’s also a few more tidbits to consider, in case you have already written off these guys.

The Eastern Conference has its share of lousy teams, which means the Pacers despite two extended losing streaks of six and eight games are still 11th and just three games behind eighth-place Brooklyn (10-13).

Not to get too overly optimistic here, but the Pacers could start making up some ground after taking a few more lumps. Well, maybe, if they play well.

After Denver, Indiana visits Minnesota, the Western Conference’s worst team at 5-19. Then the Pacers come home to play New Orleans (12-12) before venturing back out to visit Detroit (5-20) and Brooklyn.

Home games against Chicago (15-9) and Miami (12-13) will be tough, although the Heat have had their injury issues of late and who knows what shape that team will be in for a New Year's Eve afternoon game in Indy.

Then 2015 begins with a stretch of winnable games. We’ve seen the Pacers struggle against some of the NBA’s best teams, wondering when the schedule might give them a bit of a break. Well, this could be it.

The Pacers are at Milwaukee (13-12) on Jan. 2, the Lakers (8-17) two days later and then at Utah (6-19) on Jan. 5. It’s not like we count anything as a win, but if these guys get Hill back and can develop some chemistry and start scoring a bit more, they’ve got a shot in these games.

After that, a trip to Golden State (21-3) will be as difficult as it gets, but then the Pacers return home against Boston (8-14), are at Philadelphia (2-22), then home the next week to Minnesota and Detroit before a trip to Charlotte (6-18).

After all that schedule examination, sizing up the opponents and looking at several winnable games on the horizon, it’s fair to say we should have a clearer picture on if the Pacers are going to have any chance of making a run at a playoff berth by Jan. 17.

Yeah, one month from now. Between now and then, that’s 17 games. It might sound crazy, looking at the record now, but if the Pacers can win at least 10 of those, maybe more, we’ll start talking differently about what could happen the rest of the way.

If they fail to come through that stretch without enough success, then it would be reasonable to conclude a regular-season-ending April 15 trip to Memphis can’t get here soon enough.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.

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