The Indiana Pacers are set to face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. This is a major step up after the team was projected to not even make the playoffs at the start of the year. The Cavs will have the home court advantage, but the Pacers have the advantage in the season series at 3-1. Today, we’re going to look at three key matchups that will go a long way towards deciding the series.
Whoever is guarding LeBron James
It’s well known that James has a different gear when it comes to playoff basketball, and, even in his 15th season, he has shown no signs this year will be any different. The Pacers possess no true defensive stopper that can check LeBron all game long because he just wears the opponent down every possession. The team has the option of putting Lance Stephenson, who has caused LeBron some annoyance in the past, on James when he’s on the court. They could also send Victor Oladipo, the team’s second-best defender per NBAMath’s TPA statistic, out on him, but they rely on him too much on the offensive end to have him be out there all game long. The team’s best shot at success will ultimately be throwing as many bodies as possible at James and hoping it wears him down. Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner can help check James in the post, but perimeter defense is the major question mark.
Both the Cavs and Pacers have dealt with the injury bug this season. Of the Pacers top 10 contributors in minutes per game, only Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson have played all 82 games. Turner, Oladipo and Darren Collison all missed time throughout the season, but have gotten healthy at the right time. The Cavs are a team that feature star power and a bench full of players that start on other teams, which suggests that the Pacers have to stay healthy during the series to stay competitive. Health is a small thing until it becomes a big thing. The most important thing for the Pacers healthwise will be Oladipo. The presumed Most Improved Player of the Year has been the team’s unquestioned best player. Per his on/off numbers, the team is nearly five points better with him on the floor on offense, while being just over nine points worse on defense without him. All the players are important but Oladipo’s health will be key.
The Cavs’ “Switch”
The Cavs have cruised to three straight finals after lackluster regular seasons where they only secured the number one seed once. The difference has been that, come playoff time, James and his team morph into a different sort of team. Their defensive intensity ramps up, while their offense becomes the juggernaut it is capable of but rarely reach. The Pacers are a deeper team than the Cavs in terms of raw numbers, but they lack the same level of talent. The Cavs have looked sloppy and lacked cohesion this season that they have had in years past. It’s possible the team is unable to “flip the switch” leaving the door open for the Pacers to upset the Cavs and end James’ run of dominance through the Eastern Conference.
The Indiana Pacers were not expected to be competing in the playoffs. They were only expected to maybe matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers in round one as an 8th seed, but they’re a five seed that took three games from the Cavs in the regular season. The Cavs still feature the best player on the floor in the series, but they don’t feature the same type of team that the Pacers do. If they get too sloppy and look past them, they could be watching the rest of the playoffs from their couches.
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