Apr 25, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Roy Hibbert addresses the crowd before the game against the Chicago Bulls at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Chicago defeated Indiana, 92-87. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
The best Pacers' regular season in a long time wrapped up Wednesday night, and there's plenty of excitement about the First Round playoff series against the Magic, starting Saturday night. What's the state of the Pacers, as they move into the post-season?
Team Record: 42-24
First Round Opponent: Orlando Magic
How would you describe the Pacers in the regular season?
There was plenty of optimism in Indiana coming out of the lockout, but I think it's safe to say that winning 40+ games, and securing a 3-seed in the East surpassed almost everyone's expectations. They began the season as a defensive powerhouse, a focus that has slowly relaxed as their offensive has become more consistent. The Pacers' success this season flew largely under the radar, lacking national exposure and signature wins. The quiet concern with the Pacers record is how they performed against different levels of competition. The Pacers were 8-13 against the Eastern Conference playoff teams, 34-11 against the rest of the league. It was a move in the right direction to see the Pacers consistently beating the teams they are supposed to beat, but the lack of forceful performances against top-tier teams means there's still work to do.
What are the Pacers' strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
The Pacers have a lot of offensive balance, which means it's difficult to shut them down completely. However, they are still prone to stretches of offensive confusion. When sets aren't working, they simply crash the offensive glass and bang their way to the free throw line. They had the 5th best ORB% in the league this season and the 2nd best FTA/FGA. Although it's tailed off lately they began the season as one of the best defenses in the league. All this points to the ability to win tough, physical, ugly playoff games.
Their occasionally offensive fogs are concerning for late game situations. Their defense saved them in a lot of close games this season, but when they have to get a basket, I'm not sure where the ball goes. None of the options inspire a huge amount of confidence. Also, moving George Hill into the starting lineup throws their bench rotation off a little. This may not be a bad thing, as the bench has struggled a lot this season, but it would be nice to feel that there were some reliable combinations available.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their
minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
George Hill will enter the playoffs as the starting point guard, joining Paul George, Danny Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup. Vogel may tighten his rotation from the ten players he used in the regular season, but expect to see a mix of Darren Collison, Tyler Hansbrough, Leandro Barbosa, Dahntay Jones and Lou Amundson, depending on the matchup and the situation.
The Pacers rode their starters more than any other team this season. That unit, with Collison in place of Hill, played 985 minutes, almost 250 more minutes than any other unit in the league. I wouldn't expect that reliance on the starters to change at all in the playoffs. Collison, Hansbrough and Amundson will likely be on the floor every night, with Jones and Barbosa getting squeezed.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a
potential "breakout" peformer this postseason?
The Pacers' have such a low national profile and such a dearth of playoff experience that there are several candidates for "breakout stars." It may seem like a strange choice since he's probably the best known Pacer, but I wouldn't be surprised if Danny Granger's reputation jumped up a notch or two. Over the past few seasons he's been known as a good offensive player, but not one quite good enough to carry a playoff team. This year Frank Vogel has firmly taken the reins, and the Pacers have settled into a smooth offensive rhythm.
Granger is now in a position where he focuses the offense, but within a framework, and without having to force shots. He's been incredibly hot for the last month, shooting as well as he ever has. I don't expect his production to jump another level, but rather to stay close to what he's done to finish this season. That will be a big leap from what he did last year in the playoffs, cementing himself as a versatile offensive weapon and the leader of this young team. I think it may surprise some people who don't watch the Pacers regularly, what a complete offensive game he has, and how potent his scoring can be when it's surrounded by the right mix of complementary skill sets.
How far can you realistically see the Pacers advancing in the playoffs?
Things certainly seem like they are lined up for the Pacers to win their first round series against the Magic. A second-round series, likely against the Miami Heat is an entirely different animal. Over the past two seasons the Pacers are 2-5 against the Heat, being outscored by an average of 6.95 points per 100 possessions. More concerning is how tight they've appeared to play against LeBron, Wade and Bosh, with things unraveling incredibly quickly in each loss. I'd love to see the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but it doesn't seem likely this season.