MIAMI, FL – The Pacers have made it no secret that they want the one seed in the Eastern Conference. This all started back in early November, where the words “one” and “seed” were muttered by either Frank Vogel or someone wearing a Pacers uniform after seemingly every game. The main idea behind it was setting themselves up for a potential Game 7 in Indianapolis against the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
Fast forward to April and the Pacers have essentially run out of gas, admitting to being worn down after last Sunday’s game against Toronto. The starters got the night off Wednesday in Milwaukee – much to the chagrin of some local media – in an attempt to re-energize and regroup before the playoffs begin in a week.
While the one seed is still in reach – in fact the Pacers enter Friday’s match-up with Miami sitting in first – the Pacers should be more concerned with righting the ship. If that means rest, so be it. The offense has nose-dived since January, so much so that the only thing that kept Indiana from the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency was the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Missing out on the one seed isn’t the end of the world for the Pacers. Paul George’s shooting and Indiana’s once stifling defense returning to form is more important than playing a Game 7 on their home floor.
With that being said, the Pacers will likely square off with the Atlanta Hawks or New York Knicks should they finish atop the Eastern Conference a week from now.
The Hawks have a 97.6 percent chance of grabbing the final spot in the East, according to John Hollinger’s playoff odds over at ESPN.com. The Pacers probably don’t want to hear that. Although they should be heavily favored, Indiana has struggled with Atlanta’s bigs who can stretch the floor – and it was evident in the most recent meeting between the two teams. Both Pero Antic and Paul Millsap can knock down threes and had success against the Pacers, as the two teams split their 4-game series in the regular season. This is most likely a series that the Pacers should ultimately win, but if they enter the playoffs still on their current skid, the Hawks could make this series run longer than Indiana would prefer it to.
If New York…
Do the math and those same playoff odds give the Knicks just a 2.4 percent chance of making the playoffs entering Thursday’s games. That probably doesn’t look too pretty to the NBA and new commissioner Adam Silver, seeing how having New York in the playoffs is always a good thing for the league in terms of ratings. The Pacers handled the Knicks in last year’s conference semi-finals and more of the same shouldn’t be surprising if they were to meet again this season, no matter how poorly the Pacers are playing. New York doesn’t offer the same match-up problems as teams who have given Indiana issues this season. If the Pacers were given a choice between the Knicks or Hawks, one would think Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks would be the preferred pairing.
Keys to tonight’s game against Miami:
Who’s guarding Roy Hibbert? Hibbert destroyed Greg Oden in the last meeting before being completely neutralized by the shorter Udonis Haslem over the final three quarters.
The Pacers must attack. Indiana has to attack the offensive glass and Miami’s smaller front line with the same aggression that was seen earlier this season and last year.
Showtime.LeBron James said he expects this game to feel like a “Game 7,” so how will the Pacers react to the emotions that will surely be brought out when these two teams collide? In other words, can Lance Stephenson keep his cool?
What if it’s the Two Seed…
Corey Elliot ISR Senior Writer
MIAMI, FL – When the Pacers entered the All-Star break at 40-12, with two representatives in Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the general consensus was Indiana looked like a favorite to take the Eastern Conference crown from Miami earning a chance to go toe-to-toe with the best of the Western Conference and ultimately dethrone the Heat as NBA champions.
Oh, my, how things can change. Since the All-Star break the Pacers are 14-13. They have lost their offensive ability to strike early and often—but especially early. The Pacers have struggled on offense, George has been a shell of someone on the way to becoming the pseudo “third best player in the NBA” and Hibbert has matched my Sunday night rec-league basketball stats recording less than 10 points and rebounds in 13 of the Pacers 27 games since the All-Star break. Seriously, I’m worried he might take my place.
Don’t bother with the “Blue Collar Gold Swagger” slogan. The Pacers have looked like a team that is very tired of each other, losing and any other detriments that come to mind. Body language, teammate interactions, seven of their last eight losses coming by way of a double-digit deficit and a style of basketball that isn’t conducive to neither their swagger nor their work ethic which used to resemble a blue collar atmosphere are all pieces to what has become a puzzle combined with Where’s Waldo and trying to find a needle in a hay stack.
But wait, before we read too far into all of this, let’s not forget; the Pacers are miraculously still a half-game ahead of Miami. And here comes the big bailout: Miami is 16-11 since the All-Star Break; better, but not really. So with tonight’s matchup hours away accompanied with an atmosphere similar to the 1980 Miracle on Ice, or something like that, what happens if the Indiana Pacers lose tonight and continue on their destructive path of “what-the-Hell” all the way to the playoffs as the second seed?
First off, you could consider the second half of the season the equivalent to jumping out of a plane with no parachute in the middle of the night—see definition: scariest free fall, ever. But it might not be all that bad. If Indiana goes into the playoffs as the two seed they will likely face Washington or Charlotte. The Pacers are 2-1 against the Wizards and 2-1 against the Bobcats.
With home court advantage through the first two rounds, if the Pacers can find themselves and rediscover their winning ways from their 20-3 start to the season this season may be salvaged. The likely second round opponent (pending the Pacers advance—and yes that is a real concern) would be Toronto or one of the aforementioned first round opponents pending seeding. Indiana is 1-2 against the Raptors, both losses coming in Toronto.
Toronto, Washington and Charlotte are your road blocks on the path to the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami will likely have Atlanta or New York before a second round duel with Brooklyn or Chicago. The Pacers want absolutely no part of that second round.
If It’s Charlotte…
The Pacers have had fits with the Bobcats despite winning two match ups this season. Particularly with Hibbert and the Bobcats surprise performer Al Jefferson. Jefferson is averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds on the season—those are numbers the Pacers All-Star center hasn’t come close to averaging in the last two years. The likelihood of the Bobcats beating either Miami, Indiana or Chicago—if they get the six seed—is a stretch at best. They just don’t have the experience as a team to go into either or the three respective arenas and steal one, let alone two, games on the road. If this is your 2-7 matchup, I’ll take the Pacers in six games, 4-2.
If it’s Washington…
While Hibbert has traditionally played like the center we all would like him to become (or is it the center he should already be?) against Washington, his last matchup vs. the Wizards fell in line with his recent numbers, or lack-there-of, when he recorded eight points and two rebounds. While I don’t like Hibbert’s performance against Marcin Gortat, I like it a lot more than Hibbert against Charlotte and Jefferson (but in reality, I really don’t like Hibbert vs. anyone but the Heat right now).This is another matchup where the Pacers have had the better hand thus far, though. Both wins over Washington this season have been by 20 and 27 points. The Wizards are just now seeing the light at the end of a tunnel that was pitch black a year ago. Young players, zero playoff experience and not enough about them to steal two, let alone one, on the road. If this is your 2-7 matchup, I’ll take the Pacers in five games, 4-1.
Keys to tonight’s game in Miami
LeBron will be LeBron. Of course you want to try to contain him, but we all know the likelihood of suppressing the best basketball player in the world and limiting him to under double-digits in any column. Do not get beat by the role players. It seems every time the Pacers lose to the Heat it’s because they let their guard down allowing the Shane Battier and Mike Miller’s of the world give their personal rendition of one shining moment scorching Indiana.
Go inside early. Hibbert has a sensitive mentality. I’m not saying he’s soft, I’m saying he needs you to feed him and get him involved to get his motor running. We all know this. Go inside, just like two weeks ago, and let Roy have at ‘em early. Building his confidence and making him feel like the centerpiece to your success results in Hibbert playing to the standards of his “Big Dog” nickname.
This isn’t a Broadway show. There will be plenty of drama during the game. The kind of drama that comes naturally when two teams have become such nemeses. We don’t need to relapse and go back to faking, flopping, crying and whining. Get back on defense, get down the court on offense. Don’t look to the officials for anything; play the game.
Corey Elliot is a Senior Writer at the Indy Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.Brandon Curry is the Pacers beat writer for Indy Sports Report. Both are recognized as accredited members of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow Corey, Brandon ,and the ISRon Twitter
Corey Elliot is a Beat Writer at the Indiana Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access.
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