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2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Semis: Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat

You’re getting no objectivity in this preview, if such a thing even exists. Your correspondent is regionally biased towards the small-town, hardhat, no-stars, blue collar, made by local workers for local people team in this second-round series, between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, and anyways, it’s not like you know anything about the East’s 3-seed. Indiana was on national TV once in this shortened 2012 season. The Heat, I figure you’ve seen them.

Expect some stock farmland footage:

If the Pacers play well, this series has the potential to be one of those talked about by NBA junkies for years: This could be the series that vaults Miami’s SuperTeam into the first of a gazillion championships, this could very possibly maybe be the series that sets up Indiana for another run as the Spoiler Sans Stars that maybe will break through someday soon, like they were for so much of the Nineties and early Aughts.

Effective bigs, big wings, a bunch of shooters, youth, experience–that’s what the Pacers got going for them this year, and if they don’t fall apart (which I don’t expect), we’re getting a classic.

Some notes on what makes the Pacers the best bet in the East to beat the Heat:

No Man An Island

No one who’ll be playing significant minutes for Indiana can be left alone. No, Roy Hibbert, despite all of his improvements, cannot yet hit threes, but he’s not going out into the Promised Land. LeBron is at his defensive beastly best when he gets to play free safety, and though Danny Granger isn’t nearly as good a pure scorer as Carmelo, Batman can’t be left alone. Miami was really bad at 3-point percentage defense for an elite team–the Pacers aren’t reliant on the three, but they can hit them, especially when they’re in rhythm and open, which brings me to point two…

David West Is A Swinger

If you’re at work, just read Zach Lowe on this series and come back to me in five, but if you’re pressed for time I’ll sum it up: David West has been really, really effective on offense late in this season, and getting the ball in his hands in high pick-and-roll situations has been really, really important to the Pacers scoring buckets. Indiana is 16-4, including the Magic series, since April began, and a lot of that has been George Hill dumping the ball to West, who then makes a decision. He was slinging crosscourt passes during the Orlando series and Indiana was rotating the ball around quite well, excepting that horrid Game One collapse.  As Lowe points out, lots of side-to-side action involving a bunch of shooters is the Heat-beating blueprint-reference Dallas Mavericks, 2011.

Whip Out The Measuring Stick

It’ll doubtless be pointed out ad infinitum over the next week or so, but the Pacers are a pretty big squad. Roy Hibbert is very tall, and pretty good at basketball. He wasn’t so effective on offense against the best Big Baby we’ve ever seen, but if Indiana is following their recent pattern, that’s not so important. If Hibbert can protect the rim and rebound without fouling-Frank Vogel has already begun inveighing against the refereeing-and drop in just a few awkward hooks over Joel Anthony, the Pacers will keep the Heat from running them off the floor, which brings me to even more cribbing from other peoples…

Destroying The Big-Small Dichotomy

The Pacers are big, and LeBron is a freight train, and so Indiana should slow the game down. You’ll hear this from someone, probably on the ESPN side of the broadcast divide. And truly, it’s not a good idea to let LeBron and D-Wade get loose in transition. The Pacers can run too, though, and they showed a desire to push the ball in the Orlando series after Game One got all mucked up. One Indiana blogger called this the Power of And-power through the post, and points from running. Kareem and Magic, Bird and Parrish and McHale–those teams could do everything. Jordan and Pippen ran the floor, and then Rodman and whatever center du jour slaughtered you on the boards. Without a superstar, until Paul George gets some more seasons in, Indiana has to play every way they can to win a series like this one.

An Independent Variable Of Lesser Discussion

Darren Collison played pretty OK in the Orlando series (23/1 assist-turnover ratio), and Leandro Barbosa had his moments, too. Everyone knows Paul George is the X-Factor; Collison and Barbosa could be the Y. It’s a bad defensive backcourt, but they brought a lot of energy against the Magic, and Miami’s defense against guards-anchored by Derek Fisher-wannabe Mario Chalmers-isn’t so hot either.  If those two guards coming off the bench along with the sometimes effective and always irritating Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson can be effective at all, at least holding serve for a few minutes, that might be enough to tip the series to the Pacers. The Heat were going eight-deep against the Knicks, and that includes 20 minutes a game for Anthony and Udonis Haslem.

I’m going Heat in 7, because I don’t think the Pacers are quite ready. Barkley’s hedging his bets and saying that Indiana can win in 6 or Miami in 7. Chuck really likes this series by the way; I could’ve just said that and been done. It’s gonna be a doozy.

Photo Credit: Michael Hickey / US Presswire.

2012 NBA Playoff Preview: Indiana Pacers vs. Orlando Magic

A knowledgeable NBA fan could have predicted in the preseason that the Pacers and the Magic might finish as the third and sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively. What many would have failed to predict is that the Pacers would be the host to the Magic in the first round of the Playoffs. Currently, there may not be two more divergent teams in the entire NBA playoff field. The Indiana Pacers on one hand, have exceeded the expectations of most analysts, and have a vapid fan base more consumed with off-season football melodrama than on the court execellence. While the Orlando Magic have come apart at the seams as a franchise, polarized by a season long soap opera most noted for the roller coaster trade-winds surrounding Dwight Howard.

Indiana finished 42-24 in this compacted 66 game season, with five more wins than all of last season, quietly demonstrating the tremendous growth of a ball club ready to contend. Last season’s grueling five game series against the top seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs laid the foundation for the success the team has experienced this year. They return to the playoff stage a deeper, more efficient, and better defensive team than a year ago, with six players averaging double figures, and a tenth overall ranked scoring defense. In a normal 82 game NBA season, the Pacers were on pace to win 52 games, eight more wins than in any of the previous seven seasons, and their best since a franchise record 61 in 2003-2004.

The current state of the Orlando Magic franchise is not one that coincides with the fun-filled, exciting ethos of the city’s famed Walt Disney Resort. There is no question though, this season has been filled with mickey-mouse antics, from rumored deals to the Lakers, Nets, and Mavericks for soon to be free agent franchise center Dwight Howard, to unscripted tell all interviews by embattled coach Stan Van Gundy about his impending firing. Further sowing the seeds of this season of discontent, Dwight Howard has been sidelined with a season ending back injury that significantly curtails the chances of the Magic to advance past the first round for the first time since the 2006-2007 playoffs. The Magic won the season series against the Pacers 3-1, in part because of their scoring defense (93.4), none of which matters now without the 3-time defending Defensive Player of the Year.

X-FACTORS

INDIANA

The front court size of Indiana will be of greater importance in these playoffs without Dwight Howard on the floor. That is the obvious. Indiana is one of the biggest teams in the league with significant length in the post and on the wings. But, the difference in just how well this oiled machine runs will depend on the point guard play of George Hill, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa. Collison and Hill have been the starters, with Hill taking over the starting job in the last month of the season. Indiana has gone 7-2 in that span, facing the Sixers as their only playoff foe, with whom they split two games. Hill figures to log the most minutes going forward, but Collison and Barbosa will play significant roles off the bench, depending on the game tempo and matchup. Another key factor in the Pacers chances of moving to the next round could be the play of Paul George. On good nights, George can do a lot of things well, from rebounding to attacking the rim with ferocity. His shooting percentage has generally been better against the Magic, and without Howard clogging up the middle, put backs and drives to the bucket may come a little bit easier for the second year guard.

ORLANDO

Built around their franchise center, the Magic offense is predicated on spacing for open perimeter shots. Third year forward Ryan Anderson had his best season yet, leading the league with 166 three pointers, and is in strong consideration for the Most Improved Player award. JJ Redick has also stepped up his game in the absence of injured Hedo Turkoglu, scoring 14.5 points a game, while shooting 45% from behind the arc in 22 starts. While the open looks may be more difficult to come by, especially when you factor in the opportunistic defense of the Pacers (15 forced turnovers a game), Orlando is still capable of moving the ball quickly enough to get good shots. Anderson and Redick will both have to do a better job of creating their own shots in this series if they hope to make up for the scoring loss of Howard. Glen “Big Baby” Davis will also play a pivotal role for Orlando, as their lone inside presence without Howard. More than anything else, the question regarding Davis will his ability to handle the increased minutes against a physical and deeper Indiana frontcourt unit.

PREDICTION

Pacers in six. Well, I wondered how many times I would mention Dwight Howard despite the fact that he isn’t playing. Doing so as many times as I have, underscores his value to the Orlando Magic franchise, and ultimately their chances at winning this series. Having led his team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks this season, there is no question that his presence, or lack thereof will be the ultimate deciding factor. Indiana will almost certainly attempt to attack Orlando in the paint behind aggressive play from Roy Hibbert, David West and Tyler Hansborough. They should ultimately be successful in doing so, as the Pacers perimeter players will also have less fear of penetration into the middle of the paint for easy layups and dish offs. The leading scorer for the Pacers, Danny Granger has gotten his game together after struggling in the early season. Look for his play to also elevate in this series, especially in clutch situations.

The Orlando Magic should have a glimpse or two of success and past glory against an Indiana team with less playoff experience in this series. Assuming that the aforementioned shooters Anderson and Redick are able to get open consistently, and Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Turkoglu are able to use their experience to drive the lane and kick the ball out successfully. Unfortunately a lethal combination of front office turmoil and the loss of their franchise player to injury, the Magic have been given little chance to win this series. Stan Van Gundy will have to rely on every bit of coaching knowledge and game plan trickery that he can muster just to keep this series competitive. That will be a very tall order for such a short turnaround.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux