The playoffs are a different beast -- the "real season" as some put it -- and the Indiana Pacers have proven that over their last three playoff appearances.
Heading into the 2011 playoffs with a rookie Paul George starting at shooting guard, local fans were bracing for a blowout with Chicago fans mopping up tickets making the games at the Fieldhouse like a heated high school rivalry game between North Central and Carmel.
The Pacers exceeded expectations with their competitiveness in those games against the top seeded Bulls but eventually lost 4-1.
After adding David West and George Hill, the Pacers won a playoff series in 2012 by rolling past the Orlando Magic and then once again surprise the league by having the Miami Heat on the verge of collapse before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade turned the Fieldhouse into their own playground in Game 4 to take back control of a series they would win 4-2.
The 2013 playoffs arrived with no surprises. The Pacers weren't favored to beat the Heat but they expected to give them an even up battle. After surviving two six-game series wins over Atlanta and New York, the Pacers once again had their moments to take control of the series against Miami but eventually came up short before getting ushered out of the postseason in Game 7.
On Saturday night, the Pacers play the Atlanta Hawks to tip off the 2014 playoffs and despite holding the top seed, face plenty of scrutiny and minimized expectations based on their poor play over the final six weeks of the season. All of that scrutiny has been deserved, but as we've seen in the past, it can also disappear in a hurry with a renewed and improved effort in the playoffs.
The Pacers earned their top seed and now the playoff grid in front of them is about as favorable as they could hope for to make a run at the Finals. Now they just have to play with that playoff mentality they've flahshed in the past.
Game 1 is always big to set the tone for the series and also for the Pacers to show they are in playoff mode. If Saturday night goes as expected,I have the Pacers winning the series in five games.
How do you think the series will go?
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