It starts tonight. The heavily favored Pacers square off against the Magic tonight at 7:00 pm in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Without Dwight Howard, most experts agree: Orlando is a dead team walking. It seems impossible that Stan Van Gundy, almost certainly a lame-duck coach with only a week or two left on the job, will be able to rally his troops enough for them to mount a true threat to Indiana. The interior advantage the Pacers have will likely be just too much to handle. And while the Magic can still be deadly from behind the arc, three-point shooting has rarely propelled a lesser team to victory in a seven-game series.
The outcome, then, may be anticlimactic, but this is just how Pacers fans should want it. The team hasn’t won a playoff series since 2005 so getting a wounded opponent is just what the Dr. (Hibbert) ordered.
There is still plenty to watch for, however.
Four of the Pacers five highest-scoring players this season have never played in the second round of the playoffs. With the addition of David West (24 career playoff games), George Hill (20), Leandro Barbosa (64) and Lou Amundson (18), the roster does now have considerably more postseason experience than last year’s near-playoff-virgin squad did when they faced the Bulls. But nobody on this roster has played together in the second round, and none of the guys who played in that Chicago series have ever played in playoff series in which they were favored. So it will be interesting to see how they respond. To falter to such a degree that they lose to the Magic would be a collapse too large to even discuss before game one. But it will be important to see how they respond if — and when — some adversity surfaces. Because Orlando will make enough runs in most of these games to steal momentum. They have plenty of offensive firepower to trade blows with Indiana, which is prone to some long scoring droughts.
Will the Pacers respond by going back to their strengths of pounding the ball inside and moving it around the perimeter? Will any of the sometimes-hesitant-to-shoot players (looking at you, Paul George) shy away? Will the Darren-Collison-as-backup-point-guard experiment face more hurdles than expected? Will Roy Hibbert play like the All-Star he was this season or post a line like 7 and 5? Will Tyler Hansbrough make jumpers?
Other than concerns related to inexperience and psychology, the key for Indiana will be stopping the Magic from scorching nets from deep. Ryan Anderson, a leading Most Improved Player Award candidate, will be the biggest threat. Tim Donahue said it well in this series preview roundtable over on Magic Basketball, your go-to website for Orlando coverage for the next two weeks. “Neither David West nor Roy Hibbert are fleet of foot, and a stretch big like Anderson can pull either of them far out of their comfort zone defensively. A big series by Anderson will not only weaken the Pacer D by spreading them out, but could force the Pacers to go small.”
If Frank Vogel opts — or is forced — to keep Hibbert out of the game at times due to matchup concerns, that is highly favorable for Stan Van Gundy. It’s also safe to say that the Magic coach really doesn’t give a monkey fudgin’ sassafas about much right now. So we may also see him just throw the bathroom sink at the Pacers. I wouldn’t be shocked to see some weird zone defenses, high-risk traps and strange lineups. He knows his team has no business winning this series, and he also knows that he is facing an inexperienced team with a head coach who has only overseen five career playoff games. If he puts Jameer Nelson, Chris Duhon, JJ Redick, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu out there at some point, I wouldn’t even bat an eye.
Will the Pacers freak out?
Really, that’s the only way they should be able to lose this series. The Magic can’t beat them.
Only the Pacers can beat the Pacers.
(Here are some stat/history primers to get ready for the game.)
Regular season series (Magic leads 3-1)
|Jan 24, 2012||Orlando 102, Indiana 83|
|Jan 29, 2012||Indiana 106, Orlando 85|
|Feb 4, 2012||Orlando 85, Indiana 81|
|Mar 11, 2012||Indiana 94, Orlando 107|
Tags: 2012 Playoffs