Apr 25, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Roy Hibbert addresses the crowd before the game against the Chicago Bulls at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Chicago defeated Indiana, 92-87. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Round 1 Playoff Series Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic


Indiana (42-24) vs. Orlando (37-29)

Series Schedule:

Orlando @ Indiana, April 28th, 7:00 PM

Orlando @ Indiana, April 30th, 7:30 PM

Indiana @ Orlando, May 2nd, 7:30 PM

Indiana @ Orlando, May 5, 2:00 PM

Orlando @ Indiana, May 8, TBA (if needed)

Indiana @ Orlando, May 11, TBA (if needed)

Orlando @ Indiana, May 13, TBA (if needed)

Key Stats:

Indiana                                                       Orlando

97.71 PPG                                                  94.17 PPG

43.8 % FG                                                  44.1% FG

36.8% 3PT                                                 37.5% 3PT

18.61 APG                                                  20.02 APG

43.88 RPG                                                 42.46 RPG

Matchups

Point Guard

Apr 17, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Indiana Pacers guard George Hill (3) holds his hand in pain during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Pacers defeated the Sixers 102-97. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Indiana                                                       Orlando

George Hill                 vs.                          Jameer Nelson

9.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.9 APG                  11.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.7 APG

Hill’s numbers may seem below average for an NBA starter, but then, he’s only started nine games this year, which hasn’t given him much of a chance to boost his stats. In those nine games, however, Hill has put up a respectable 13.9/3.7/5.3 line on decent shooting splits. Most impressively, as a starter Hill has averaged less than 1 turnover per game. Jameer Nelson, while a reliable option, and sometimes hot three point shooter, will struggle running around the perimeter with Hill, and will likewise have difficulty getting his shots off in the face of Hill’s tenacious defense.

Advantage: Pacers

Shooting Guard

Indiana                                                       Orlando

Paul George                vs.                          Jason Richardson

12.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 SPG                  11.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 3PTMpg

Richardson has made the successful late-career morph from athletic leaper to three point specialist that has eluded so many other elite NBA dunkers. Paul George, on the other hand, is already a more complete player, capable of eye-popping windmill jams and efficient from beyond the arc. Richardson, while deadly at times, and capable of heating up, has struggled this year, by and large, vs. the Pacers. While he’s craftier and more experienced than George, he’s basically a poor man’s version of the Pacers youngster statistically, and if George can play at his highest level, his potential dominance in this matchup could swing the series. But if George disappears, as he still has a tendency to do, Richardson could take advantage.

Advantage: Pacers

Small Forward

Mar 21, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Phoenix Suns center Robin Lopez (15) and Orlando Magic small forward Hedo Turkoglu (15) battle for a rebound during the second quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Indiana                                                       Orlando

Danny Granger               vs.                     Hedo Turkoglu

18.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 3PTMpg          10.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.4 APG

Turkoglu didn’t miss a beat coming back from facial surgery, scoring an efficient 18 points on 7-13 shooting in under 30 minutes on Thursday’s season finale. That said, he’s missed all but four games in April recovering from his injury, and was wildly inconsistent prior to the surgery. Conversely, Danny Granger turned in an All-NBA level April, averaging 21.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 three pointers made on excellent shooting splits (46/47/96). Turkoglu is elusive on offense, and has great vision for a wing player, but defense is not his strong suit. If Granger’s playoff numbers even remotely resemble his April numbers, Hedo’s in for a long series.

Advantage: Pacers

Power Forward

Indiana                                                       Orlando

David West                      vs.                     Ryan Anderson

12.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 48.7% FG       16.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.7 3PTMpg

This will be this series’s most interesting matchup. Like Granger, David West turned in his most productive offensive month in April, averaging 15.4 points on a blistering 55% FG clip. But Anderson, widely considered the leading candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player, will challenge West with his perimeter prowess. Since Dwight Howard’s injury Anderson has become the focal point of Orlando’s offense. In a five game double-figure scoring streak to end the season (he scored 21 or more in four of those games) Anderson hit 12 three pointers and played 38 or more minutes in each contest. In fact, Anderson has been particularly deadly from beyond the arc against Indiana, hitting threes at 55% in three games. Expect Anderson to, at times, dictate the Pacers’ game plan to him, as they throw different looks at him to slow him down.

Advantage: Magic

Center

Indiana                                                       Orlando

Roy Hibbert                     vs.                     Glen Davis

12.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG               9.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.7 SPG

Glen Davis has become the Magic’s #1 post option. Unfortunately, he’s undersized (though not underweight) and out-classed by most NBA-caliber starting centers, Roy Hibbert included. Not only does Hibbert have 5-6 inches on Davis, he’s a much more polished low-block scorer. Davis has established himself as a rugged rebounder since taking over for Dwight Howard (he’s averaged 8.8 rpg in the month of April). But that won’t be enough to hang with Hibbert, who’s fully healthy and coming off the best season of his career. Davis is not completely healthy. He recently suffered a sprained ankle and his availability for tonight’s game is in question.

Advantage: Pacers
Bench

Indiana                                                       Orlando

Leandro Barbosa                      vs.           J.J. Redick

Tyler Hansbrough                                   Quinten Richardson

Darren Collison                                        Daniel Orton

Lou Amundson                                         Chris Duhon

Redick adds another deadly three point shooter to the already-impressive mix of starting shooters. Quinten Richardson is also capable of hitting the occasional three, though luckily he’s stopped with that annoying headband thing that he and Darius Miles used to do. Overall, this Magic Bench is capable of scoring when necessary, but is lighter and softer than Indiana’s rugged reserves, who look to decapitate their opponents whenever possible. Fortunately for the Magic, Darren Collison is still getting acclimated to his backup role, and Tyler Hansbrough spent the entire season in a disappointing shooting funk. So while the Magic second unit can outscore the Pacers’, Indiana’s will out-tough Orlando’s.

Advantage: Even.

Series Prediction: Indiana in 6

Pacers fans like to call for a sweep. The Magic, on paper, look like the most beatable team in the playoffs. They are without their only legitimately skilled player, Howard, who happens to also be an All-NBA center, Olympian and perennial All-Star. Beyond Howard’s season-ending back surgery (mysteriously scheduled for just days after we heard he “would never play for coach Stan Van Gundy again”) the Magic have a wealth of other problems, from porous interior defense, soft, aging perimeter offensive players and no true distributors. Their coach, as much as this pains me to admit, is probably a little better than Indiana’s Vogel, an up-and-comer, but also a coach still prone to some bone-headedness. Stan Van Gundy (who is officially the least popular coach in the league) can get even players who don’t like him to win nearly 60% of their games. That’s pretty impressive, given the depths to which this squad has sunk these last couple months.

The Magic match up well with Indiana. The Pacers don’t do a particularly great job with ball-moving teams who can shoot the three. While missing Howard will make things harder on Orlando’s three point shooters, they will get hot and win 1-2 games in this series just because they shoot so much, and it’s so much of an Achilles heel for the Pacers. But in the end, Indiana’s depth, smarts and energy will be too much for the Magic. While winning in six games is no sweep, it’s still winning a playoff series, and these Pacers will take that. Besides, first round sweeps are rare. Since the NBA went to the best-of-7 format for the first round of the playoffs in 2003, only four first round sweeps have happened, and they’ve all taken place in the Western Conference (and three of the swept teams were the Memphis Grizzlies, sadly enough).

It will be a fun series. Hard-nosed, gritty defenders vs. finesse three point bombers. An inexperienced, well-liked coach vs. an effective, yet unlikeable one. Depth and enthusiasm vs. desperation and panic. Welcome to the playoffs.