The Indiana Pacers didn’t have a nationally televised game this season. At one point this season, they had the NBA’s lowest attendance numbers in the league. Yes, even the Charlotte Bobcats were beating them in attendance for most of the season. Indiana surprised everyone this year and took a leap from last year’s #8 seed to this year’s #3 seed in the playoffs.
NBA analysts have been divided on whether the Pacers benefited from this year’s schedule or if they are legit. Indiana is full of young players who are still peaking, so they are a bit unpredictable. They started off the season on fire, but suffered a mid-season slump. After acquiring Leandro Barbosa, they went 18-9 and finished the season 42-24. Can the Pacers be consistent enough to win a series against the Miami Heat? How does Indiana match-up against the best teams in the West?
1. Roy Hibbert is a defensive nightmare for the Miami Heat. Hibbert is one of the most improved players in the NBA. He hasn’t put up get offensive numbers in the playoffs, but he can block any guards that drive in the lane. There aren’t many legit big men in the playoffs and the ones that are left (Joakim Noah, Andrew Bynum, Marc Gasol), he has had big games against in the past. Joel Anthony isn’t an offensive threat, but Hibbert is more physical and will be able to score.
2. Paul George is turning into an elite defender. George came into the league with a big question mark. He had all of the tools to be a great player in the league, but no one knew if he would develop into one. He was good at a lot of things, but not great. He didn’t have a position out of college, much like Evan Turner. He has improved his game at every level and could be the Pacers’ franchise player very soon. In the past, Indiana has relied on Dahntay Jones to defend the team’s best scorer. He has done well, but he is an offensive liability. He takes too many bad shots and he has a quick trigger. George was top-10 in steals, steal %, and steals per game. He would guard Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Dwayne Wade with Danny Granger sharing the duty.
3. Danny Granger is a consistent scorer. I couldn’t say this at the beginning of the season, but he finished the season on a hot streak. He raised his points per game to 18.7 and finished the season shooting 38% from behind the arc. He doesn’t have the pressure to be the team’s leading scorer, since George, Hibbert, and David West could all easily have 20-point games. I have confidence in him taking the final shot and cemented his place as the team leader.
4. David West is fully-healed from his knee surgery. Before the All-Star break, West wasn’t playing maximum minutes and Tyler Hansbrough would often finish the games at power-forward. West is turning into a 20-10 guy and help the Pacers go 18-9 down the stretch. He is the enforcer in the paint, much like Kendrick Perkins was during the Boston Celtics title run. Teams are scared to go in the paint with West and Hibbert occupying it.
5. George Hill is a better starting point-guard than Darren Collison. When Collison went down with an injury a month ago, Hill stepped in and the team went on a seven-game winning streak. The team is much better on the fast break than in the half-court and Hill is a better scoring threat on the break. Hill only averages 1.0 turnovers per game, Collison improved his turnovers per game to 1.9, but Hill is better with the ball. Pacers’ fans are now happy that they traded their first-round draft pick (that turned into Kawhi Leonard) to the Spurs for Hill.
6. Indiana’s bench is one of the deepest teams in the league. At the trading deadline, the Pacers traded a second-round draft pick to Toronto for Leandro Barbosa. They needed a bench scorer and he has delivered. Hansbrough, Barbosa, Collison, Louis Amundson, Jones, and Lance Stephenson are an exciting second unit. Hansbrough and Amundson are motor guys that always fight for the ball and Jones can deliver perimeter defense. They will have an advantage when the opposing team rests their starters.
7. Indiana has the confidence that they can beat any team. As in #8 seed in last year’s playoffs, they made the Chicago Bulls fight for every win. They weren’t supposed to make that series close, but Derrick Rose had to give 100% to win that series. They have beat most of the teams in the playoffs and have only had a few games this season that were out of reach early. The team is peaking at the right time in the season.
8. The Pacers are an excellent road team. They had a winning road record (19-14) and even averaged more points per game away from home (95.5). If they slip up at home, like they did against the Magic in Game 1, they can make it up on the road. I know that it is tougher to win on the road in the playoffs, but like I said before, their confidence is at a season-high.
9. Derrick Rose’s unfortunate injury opens up the Eastern Conference race. Indiana has to play their way through Miami to face where Chicago would be, but they match-up well again the top part of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Miami will be their toughest challenge in the East, so if they make it to the Conference finals, they will be favored. They will have a difficult match-up against the Western Conference winner, but it won’t be as lopsided as experts would predict.
10. A playoff match-up against Indiana will be a “trap series” for the Heat. Miami has only one goal, to win the NBA Championship. Their season would be a disappointment if they fall short of their goal. No matter who the Heat face in the second-round, Magic or Pacers, their focus will be past their opponent. A team will be able to sneak a couple wins against them throughout the playoffs, so that extra win could sway the series. I’m excited to see Indiana play Miami, since the entire country will be rooting for them to knockout Lebron and his “South Beach talents.”
No matter how far the Pacers make it in the playoffs, this season will be considered a success. They are a young team and are expected to make the playoffs many times in the near future.
I just hope that this is the year that Indiana hangs their first banner as a member of the NBA.
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