The Pacers and Magic tip off tonight at 7:00 pm in Bankers Life Fieldhouse for game one of their first-round playoff series. Earlier, I shared some thoughts on a few issues that might surface for this young, largely-playoff-untested Indiana team. You can also read more thoughts from me at The No Look Pass as well as some from both me and Tim Donahue over at Magic Basketball.
But be sure to read the responses here from most of your favorite 8 Points, 9 Seconds contributors. I asked the five questions and thought it would be weird to answer myself, so I sat this one out. I also don’t enjoy predicting things. (But if you must know, I think the Pacers will win in 5 games. As does basically everyone.)
Who wins this series? In how many games?
Tim Donahue: The Pacers should win this series, probably in five games. It makes me nervous to type that, because Indy has only won one playoff game in the last half decade or so, but it’s true. Orlando sans Dwight Howard is a borderline playoff team at best, and the Pacers should just be better.
Jonathan Auping: Pacers win in five. I think it’s fair to allow one win for the whole, “Our team is more than just Dwight story lines, let’s rally for coach” idea. But I think the way the Pacers have played and the momentum that they have picked up in the last month of the season combined with the talent discrepancy should make this a one-sided series.
Ronald Eugene: I like the Pacers in five. Orlando could steal a game in its own arena if the Pacers suffer an off-shooting night, which is probable given the tendencies of Paul George and Danny Granger.
Jeremy Comstock: The Pacers will win, and they should do it in four games. The pessimist in me wants to cite Stan Van Gundy’s great coaching and the Orlando players’ desire to stick it to the man (Howard) as reasons to be wary, but I think the talent disparity is too great for this to be anything more than a five-game series.
Alex Yovanovich: Despite the fact that Orlando took the season series from the Pacers, I see this as the biggest mismatch of the first round of the playoffs. No Dwight Howard, no chance. Pacers sweep the series 4-0.
Josh Dhani: Indiana in four, or no more than five, games. Without Dwight and with how much drama they’ve had, there’s no way Orlando can win. They can probably pull out one win if they really focus, but they really have no chance.
What is the Pacers biggest advantage?
Donahue: The most obvious advantage is size with David West and Roy Hibbert. But the biggest advantage is depth. Orlando’s best bench players (J.J. Redick and Glen Davis) are starting these days, and that basically leaves Von Wafer as their most productive scorer off the bench. Indy, meanwhile, has at least seven players (starting five plus Darren Collison and Barbosa) for whom they would be willing to run a final play.
Auping: It has to be size. Without Dwight Howard the Magic not only become small, but also play small to maximize their talent. Not to say that the Pacers have to jeopardize their guard play, but a steady and consistent amount of shots for Hibbert and West should be too much for the Magic big men.
Eugene: Interior play will be huge. Without Howard, the Magic won’t have much of an answer for the two-headed monster of Roy Hibbert and David West. Also remember, Tyler Hansbrough was huge in some playoff games last year.
Comstock: Talent. You could quite easily make the argument that every starting Pacer is better than their counterpart on the Magic. The same could be said for the second units.
Yovanovich: When I look at the head-to-head matchups in this series it’s hard to find an advantage for Orlando. The Pacers size should cause major issues for the Magic. Roy Hibbert and David West should dominate the interior play throughout.
Dhani: Honestly, everything. They have much much talent and depth than Orlando right now. Sure, the Magic may have guys Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson, but Indiana has about seven guys who could start on 95% of the league’s teams. Big advantage here for Indy.
What is the Pacers biggest vulnerability?
Donahue: Against Orlando this season, the Pacers have been awful. In the three losses, Indy averaged fewer than 95 points per 100 possessions. The offense wasn’t really any better when Dwight was off the court, either . Orlando is a slow-paced team, and the Pacers tend to bog down when they don’t liberally blend in transition opportunities and uptempo play. Ultimately, if the Pacers allow Stan Van Gundy’s team to dictate the pace, the series will be tense.
Auping: Jameer Nelson becomes very dangerous without Dwight Howard. His low-to-the-ground dribbling, penetration and potential for hot shooting can lead to double teams against Vogel’s instructions. If you leave a Jason Richardson or Ryan Anderson for a driving Nelson you will probably pay for it with three points.
Eugene: Pacers could fall victim to what Bill Simmons calls the “Ewing Theory.” Orlando may really galvanize without Howard’s distractions. The Ewing Theory is compounded by the fact that Patrick Ewing is actually an assistant for Orlando.
Comstock: Trying to guard Ryan Anderson. The Pacers do not have any bigs who are adept perimeter defenders. It’s not too difficult to imagine a scenario where Anderson torches the Pacers a la Carmelo Anthony. If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution at power forward: Danny Granger. But that would mean Indiana gives up its size advantage.
Yovanovich: Overconfidence is the one thing that could trip up the blue and gold. Ideally the Pacers need to get off to a fast start and crush the Magic’s spirit early.
Dhani: Jameer Nelson. He is Orlando’s guy now with Superman gone. Nelson is an experienced veteran who can do a lot of things when he needs to, and in this series, I think he’ll definitely pick up his game. It’s George Hill and Darren Collison’s job to stop that.
What is the key to the series?
Donahue: I think it’s the first two games in Indianapolis. The goal of the lower seed is always to “steal one” of the first two, but I think that gets magnified in this series. The Pacers are new to the “favorite” role and relatively untested so an early loss could shake them. Meanwhile, the Magic have suffered through a ridiculously melodramatic season — considering the mess surrounding Howard — and if they get punched in the mouth early, it will be hard for them to muster up much fight in what could be seen as a futile exercise.
Auping: Weathering runs. The Pacers will outplay the Magic for most of the minutes in this series. But when the Magic go on a 24-8 run because they hit every three imaginable long-range shots, will the Pacers understand that the hot shooting will fade or will they fold to the momentum?
Eugene: Recreating last year’s playoff magic (no pun intended) will be huge. Vogel really had the guys ready to play. With a much weaker opponent, the Pacers have a great opportunity to advance this time around.
Comstock: The first quarter of every game. As recently noted, the first quarter has been the Pacers’ worst quarter all season. If the Pacers let the Magic hang around, Orlando will become a more confident and more dangerous team. If the Pacers can start fast, they might be able to run them out of the gym mentally after about nine quarters of basketball.
Yovanovich: Defensively, the Pacers must consistently guard the three-point line to put away the Magic. Offensively, if the Pacers go inside early to Hibbert and West, easy jump shots should open up for Danny Granger, George Hill and Paul George. In addition, when bench players like Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough enter the game, they should be able to exploit the Magic’s lack of depth.
Dhani: Stopping the three and controlling the pace. The Magic take a lot of threes and obviously they sometimes fall. If they go on a hot streak, they get the momentum and are most likely now controlling the pace. Indiana needs to stop that from happening, as it is what led to the Pacers losing the regular season series.
Who will be the series MVP?
Donahue: This will be tough to tell, because I think you’ll see the wealth get spread around, but I’m going to go with George Hill. Hill will need to hit shots and keep the tempo up on the offensive end. Defensively, he’ll need to cut off Jameer Nelson, who has averaged over 15 points and almost 8 assists since Howard’s last game. If Hill wins this matchup — and I think he will — it will go a long way towards extinguishing Orlando’s hopes.
Auping: Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is the best center in the Eastern Conference playoffs and I expect big things from him. It is his teammates’ responsibility to feed him the ball. It is his responsibility to be active and efficient without slowing down the game or disrupting the flow.
Eugene: David West. Been there, done that. His mid-range game has gotten back to its old reliability from his pre-surgery days. Who’s stopping him inside?
Comstock: This is a golden opportunity for Roy Hibbert. He should be able to thoroughly dominate Orlando’s big guys. He’ll also be trying to redeem himself from an atrocious playoff series against the Bulls last year. If Hibbert can’t capitalize on this opportunity, it might be time to question his ability to ever meaningfully contribute to a playoff run.
Yovanovich: The series MVP could come from a number of spots for the Pacers. Any of the starting five or even a few of the bench players are candidates. I believe the inside presence of Hibbert and West is really going to open up the floor, and Danny Granger will take advantage to become the MVP of this series.
Dhani: It has to be Roy Hibbert. With Howard out, he takes the throne as the best center in the East. He has a big advantage going up against a front court featuring Glen Davis and Daniel Orton. With that, there’s no excuse for him not dominating this series.