With the NBA playoffs almost among us, each of the sixteen teams who will eventually make up the post season will have dreams of going all the way and be crowned the NBA champions. Of course for some this is still merely a pipe dream, while for others it is the absolute end goal, with any other result deemed a failure. With that in mind we take a quick and lighthearted look at how each team can potentially do once the playoffs start.
Why They Can Win It All
Ok, so things haven’t been going too smoothly for the Indiana Pacers for over a month now, but let’s focus on the positives first. Last season this team pushed the eventually champions the Miami Heat all the way in a bruising seven game series in the Eastern Conference finals. In the off-season, they appeared to only get better with the acquisition of key sixth man, Luis Scola. To start the year this was the best team in the NBA, and in Paul Geroge this club has it’s superstar. Recent struggles aside, his 21.7 points are a career high and his 3.6 assists are only down slightly on his previous best (4.1). This guys is one of the select few who has gone toe to toe with LeBron James and won some battles, so you know he is the real deal. His breakout as a star has really only taken place over the last eighteen months or so, and people forget he is only twenty-three years old too. Surely the best is yet to come from George.
While defence has typically been their calling card, there is another key stat that can be a big help to them once the playoffs begin. The Pacers are the eighth best rebounding team in the league (44.6 a game) but this isn’t really a surprise given the height of their team. It is a trump card over the Miami Heat though, who are the worst rebounding team in the entire NBA. A matchup with the Brooklyn Nets is also favourable in this area too, as these days they go with a small ball lineup. In fact, the Pacers can bully the Nets (29th), Hawks (28th), Knicks (27th) and Wizards (20th) in the paint, and this will be crucial for the team if they hope to go far in the playoffs. Other than that, this team has great balance. The height of center Roy Hibbert, the midrange game and emotion of forward David West, the heartbeat of this team. West’s 13.9 points a game shouldn’t be overlooked either, this team can be stagnant on the offensive end for stretches of games so his points are important to the team. Other than that, the experience this group has of steadily getting further in the playoffs as the years have gone by mean they are as prepared as any other team in the league to life the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season.
Why They Might Exit Early
As stated, something went terribly wrong round about the All-Star break for this team. Suddenly, they looked a tired outfit, going from comprehensive shutouts on a near nightly basis, to being blown out at home by the average Atlanta Hawks. One telling statistic here is the fact that the Pacers are 28th in the league in field goals made. That is positively anaemic. We’ve spoken about how this team is a defence first organisation, and that is fine. But you do actually need to score as well in order to contend for a championship. It may also tell us why this team has struggled so much of late. Defending is both tiring and not a lot of fun for a team. Defending to a high level on a nightly basis is near impossible, as it is hard to stay motivated to do so. Players become a step late on defensive rotations and fail to get back in transition.
This is not the end of the world, during the regular season teams zone in and out of defending to a high level. The Pacers would have looked at the standings and known that even with some mediocre defending, they would still be ok. The problem with that though, is that this team can’t really score much either. Roy Hibbert’s comments about not seeing the ball enough may have seemed childish, but really they were born out of an understandable frustration. Put yourself in his shoes and imagine running the floor every night, being asked to defend at an elite level, and seeing maybe ten touches of the ball on the offensive game all night. Attacking is the fun part of the game, and the Pacers need to be a lot better at it in a hurry. Not to pick on George either, but he really needs to step it up on a personal level. If he wants to be treated like a star, he needs to play like one, and that starts with carrying this team. In October he was shooting at a 48.6 percent clip. In March that number was 37 percent; that is not good enough. A mention must also go to the departed Danny Granger and his replacement Evan Turner. While Granger did little on the court for this team, he was loved in the locker room and the team misses that. Turner has also done nothing of the note on the floor for the Pacers either, and this has been a problem for the team.
Lance Stephenson. Arguably the biggest snub at All-Star weekend by not making the Eastern Conference team, the guy can do it all. He also seems to have maturity too and has let the game come to him rather than try to hard like he has done in the past. In his fourth year, he is posting career highs in every statistical category and is the Pacer’s number one triple-double threat on a nightly basis. His 13.8 points, 4.5 assists and 7.1 rebounds are big time for a team that could do with the scoring first and foremost. He brings an energy that has been lacking to the team and is also one of the best third/fourth options in the league. If George is in tune with the game, Hibbert is doing the dirty work and West is contributing nicely, having Stephenson as an additional threat will be too much for most teams in the league. In April, he is seeing 31.8 minutes on the court, compared to 35 for the two months previous to that, which means he is being given some rest so that he can be a big part in the Pacer’s playoff assault.
How They’ll Do
Rarely has a team ever been so good and gotten so bad so quickly in the history of the NBA over the course of about two months. It is baffling. In March alone this team went 8-10, at a time when other playoff hopefuls such as the Nets and Houston Rockets have fine tuned their play and gotten better. For this reason expect to see the Pacers bow out in the semis of the Eastern Conference this season, learning some harsh lessons and coming back stronger next year.