The Indiana Pacers won't sneak up on the Bucks this time

During the regular season, the Indiana Pacers were able to come in under the radar. That won't happen in the first round of the playoffs against the Bucks.
Apr 14, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9)  in the second
Apr 14, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) in the second / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

All of a sudden, the Indiana Pacers are no longer underdogs. They aren't the team that is sneaking up on everyone and shocking them with a win. These Pacers aren't the same Pacers of the last four seasons. These guys are good and are looking to win.

The Milwaukee Bucks know that. They fell to the Pacers four times in five games in the regular season. Those matchups are close to irrelevant though. Pascal Siakam was not involved in any of them and Tyrese Haliburton was fully healthy in all of them.

Haliburton is as close to 100% as he's been since that hamstring injury in January. His shooting has gotten better but it's not quite back to where it was prior to the injury. He's not sneaking up on the Bucks anymore. They're going to have a different game plan for him,

The Indiana Pacers need to know they aren't the underdogs anymore

With Giannis hurt and out for the beginning of the series, multiple NBA pundits are taking the Pacers to win this series. They may have anyway, but now Indiana seems to be the favorite. That's a shifting narrative from how the Pacers have played most of their season.

Siakam is going to be a major story in this series. Milwaukee's defense is already bad and they won't have an answer for him without Giannis. Even if they drop into a zone, the Pacers have enough shooters around Siakam to make that a bad move for an extended period of time.

How Haliburton plays defense is going to be the biggest thing I'm watching in this series. His defense has been horrendous in the final two weeks of the season. He's never been a good defender, but this was worse than usual. He can't be a turnstile to Patrick Beverley, whom I expect him to guard.

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Indiana will come into the series mostly healthy. Only Bennedict Mathurin won't be available for them. They'll have enough firepower to light the scoreboard up. The question is whether or not their defense can hold up over the course of seven games.