Breaking down the Indiana Pacers' tough January stretch

January was a tough month for the Indiana Pacers, so how did they do?

Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam
Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam / Dylan Buell/GettyImages
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February is here. The Indiana Pacers sit at a 27-21 record and hold the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. At first glance, this record seems impressive enough, with Indiana holding strong despite multiple injuries and three losses in a row after Pascal Siakam arrived on the scene.

However, digging deeper, it becomes clear how much more impressive this record is considering the hectic January stretch the Pacers had to endure.

As soon as the schedules were revealed for the 2023-24 NBA season, two things caught Pacers fans' eyes. The first being that Indiana only had one national TV game, which was coincidentally the final game of the January stretch against the league-leading Boston Celtics in a loss.

The second, however, was that January would very clearly be the hardest month for Indiana and the month where they would have to put all the pieces together for playoff seeding. As the new year came and January started, the Pacers were projected to have the second hardest schedule of the first month of the year with an average opponent win percentage of 57% and four back-to-back games, tied for second most in the league.

Going into January, the Pacers season looked like a mixed bag, as they were 17-14 and looked to be in the play-in hunt as the 7th seed. However, they did come off a three-game winning streak to start the new year and offset their 1-6 record in their past seven games to bring their record down to .500 for the first time.

All hands would need to be on deck for the first week of the new year, as Indiana would face the Milwaukee Bucks two nights in a row, followed by the Atlanta Hawks, and two straight games against the Boston Celtics.

Surprisingly, Indiana handled this stretch with relative ease, going 4-1, including two one-sided victories against the Bucks and Hawks and two closer games against Milwaukee and Boston, including a two-point nail-biter against the Celtics on January 8 to finish out the tough five-game stretch.

Unfortunately, during this stretch, Indiana faced its biggest hurdle to date, as superstar point guard Tyrese Haliburton went down with a hamstring injury early on and would miss the next few games.

For many, this represented disaster, or at the very least, disaster of the rest of the month, as the Pacers still had key games against playoff teams coming up, including two against the defending champion Denver Nuggets.

At that point, all fans asked for was for Indiana to take care of the easy takes, such as the Wizards and Hawks, and that's exactly what they did, going 2-2 in the next four games with their losses coming against the dominant Nuggets and a surging Utah Jazz team.

However, between the loss to Utah and the next game against Sacramento, Indiana made a major change to the roster by adding Pascal Siakam. Siakam's addition came during an interesting time, as Haliburton's scheduled re-evaluation would not take place for another five days and Indiana's roster would be somewhat undermanned for the immediate few games.

Perhaps someone forgot to tell the Pacers that. The day after trading for Siakam, with Haliburton still out along with Aaron Nesmith and backup point guard Andrew Nembhard, Indiana went out and beat a fully healthy Sacramento Kings team behind a career night from little-used rookie forward Jarace Walker, improving their January record to 7-3.

The next night, news broke out that Haliburton would be returning from injury ahead of schedule, three days before his scheduled evaluation was even set to take place against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

Unfortunately, his return would not end in celebration, as despite a fantastic debut from Siakam, good chemistry with Haliburton for their first game together, and 21 points from Haliburton to go with 17 rebounds and no turnovers, the Pacers would still lose a heartbreaker to Portland, which would be even more bitter after news came out about Haliburton missing the next few games due to injury management, which some speculated was due to a re-injury.

Indeed, the Pacers, led by Siakam for the moment, struggled at first, losing their next two games to Phoenix and Denver again and falling to an 0-3 record since the trade. However, something changed after they returned to Indiana, and Siakam was given a chance to practice with the team.

Indiana immediately strung together two wins in a row against contenders in their respective conferences in Phoenix and Philadelphia and finished the sans-Haliburton stretch with a big win against the Memphis Grizzlies led by Bennedict Mathurin.

All hands were on deck for Haliburton's return game against Boston, which was Indiana's only scheduled national television game of the year, being broadcast on TNT Tuesday and the final game of the wretched January stretch.

Unfortunately, this January Cinderella run would not end with a bang, as despite a career night from Aaron Nesmith against the team that drafted him, Indiana would fall to the league-leading Celtics 124-129 after sparking a comeback from as much as a 20-point deficit.

Haliburton, hampered by a restriction that limited him to only six second-half minutes, looked decent in his first real return game since January 8 and even knocked down a half-court prayer to give Indiana momentum going into the second half.

But despite a shocking comeback and a monumental scare to the best team in the league, it just was not to be, and Indiana finished a torrential January stretch with a loss.

Despite this loss, Indiana still finished the month of January with an impressive 10-7 record to improve their record to 27-21. Considering some were expecting them to return to .500 level, especially after the Haliburton injury and 10 games missed from their superstar, a 10-7 record is something you take any day of the week.

Sporting the ninth-best record in January despite having the second-hardest schedule and the second-most games played in the month is also nothing to scoff at, and the Pacers showed the league and the rest of the NBA world that they are poised for their deepest playoff run since the days of Paul George and Roy Hibbert.

Contrasting the Pacers' play without Haliburton this season compared to last has looked like night and day. Without Haliburton, Indiana posted a 7-19 record in the 2022-23 season and looked lost altogether on offense, with rookie Andrew Nembhard and bench spark TJ McConnell having to start in Tyrese's place.

This season, however, Indiana has posted a 7-6 record without Haliburton and still owned one of the most potent offenses in the league, averaging 118 points without their superstar and offensive engine out there.

As stated before, many, myself included, were looking straight to January when Indiana's schedule released on August 18 2023. Perhaps 'looking forward to' isn't the right phrase, as many were dreading the potential injuries the Pacers have been known to suffer during this stretch, which are the same ones that knocked Indiana out of playoff contention last season, with Haliburton missing a large chunk of the season after the Knicks game.

As it turns out, Haliburton would suffer some more injury issues, but, unlike last season, Indiana would continue being solid without him as a result of the core tightening up, the offense remaining potent under Rick Carlisle, and the addition of an All-NBA level power forward to set up the offense and get everyone involved.

Next. 3 Trade targets for Pacers to form Big 3 with Haliburton, Siakam. 3 Trade targets for Pacers to form Big 3 with Haliburton, Siakam. dark

With Indiana's schedule from February 1 onward being the third-easiest in the league and Haliburton and company finally returning for the long run, the sky is the limit to what a fully healthy Indiana team can do from this point on.