This weekend, the NBA Playoffs will finally begin after a long, eventful 82 game season. A lot has changed from last season, as a result, many teams have become increasingly competitive in both conferences.
After a distinct lack of parity in the NBA last season, many teams looked to become relevant again. There have been a handful of teams that have surprised everybody in how successful their seasons turned out.
The Indiana Pacers were one of those teams that came out of nowhere. After trading Paul George, it seemed that the Pacers were looking to rebuild. Victor Oladipo and company had other plans, however, and have been quietly playing good ball as of late.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been through it all this season. From losing Kyrie Irving in the summer to trading half its team before the trade deadline. Head coach Tyronn Lue even had to take a leave of absence at one point to get medical help. Despite the chaos, LeBron James still has a chance to get to his eighth straight finals. He will first have to get past a fearless Indiana Pacers squad. Let’s take a look at the #4 vs. #5 match-up in the East.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers Series Preview
The Pacers managed to take down the Cavaliers in three out of the four games this season. These games were battled out until the end with neither team winning by double digits.
It will be tough to gauge how this series will play out based on their regular season meetings. All four meetings were before the Cavaliers made their huge transformation so the Cavaliers are essentially a whole different team.
A stat that might be able to carry some weight is how the Pacers were able to make 10 or more threes in every meeting. They are playing a faster style of basketball than in years prior, which has made them harder to guard.Â The three ball will be a very important element in this series given how lackluster the Cavaliers have been on defense.
Given all of the personnel changes, the Cavaliers haven’t had much time to really master all of the defensive principles. Coach Lue vows that the defense will be different in the playoffs like he does every year. The defensive side of the ball will certainly be something to monitor during this potential run.
It has been well documented that the Cavaliers have had an enormous amount of obstacles this season. Despite the herculean efforts from LeBron, this team could have very well slipped far down the standings.
The biggest splash of the season had to be the trade deadline purge of the Cavaliers’ roster. With the trade, the Cavaliers certainly got younger and more energetic. In the same breathe, however, they lost a lot of battle-tested veterans.
Veterans may have a rocky regular season, but with no back to backs and an elevated level of intensity, these same veterans can turn it on and give a huge boost to the team. They have been there before and wouldn’t be shaken or rattled by the moment. They can be counted on.
In return, the Cavaliers received a handful of promising young players but many of them have never played in a playoff game. Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson have never played under the pressure of a LeBron-led team before. They were always labeled as “up and coming” prospects during their stint with the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, they will likely be counted on with valuable rotation minutes in the playoffs.
Rodney Hood was another player that was acquired during this trade. He has had a small taste of the playoffs with the Utah Jazz last year. The Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers before falling to the Golden State Warriors.
The one new acquisition that has had some battles in the playoffs isÂ George Hill. It is hard to forget the intense rivalry between the Pacers and the Miami Heat back when the ‘Heatles’ were dominating the NBA. Hill was in the midst of these battles so the stage shouldn’t be too big for him.
The new players are all likely to be in the playoff rotation and will be asked to perform on the big stage. We will have to wait and see if they rise to the challenge or crumble under the weight of expectation.
Arguably the biggest performance for the Pacers and breakout star Oladipo was on December 8th, when they took down the Cavaliers. Oladipo signified that his hot start to the season was not a fluke. He finished with 33 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. This game also included him hitting a step back, dagger three-pointer to ice the game for the Pacers.
After being an all-star for the first time this season, his numbers have dipped a tad after the break. His scoring is down by 3.1 points while his rebounds and shooting percentages have also declined.
It is no secret that Oladipo’s success will determine the Pacers’ fate in this series. His aggressiveness on offense is crucial for the rest of the team. When he puts pressure on the defense, he can create spacing and shots for players that rely on him to be effective.
The Cavaliers are known to blitz and trap the opposing best player at times and make the other players beat them. Oladipo’s decision making and trust in his teammates will be something to look out for against this gambling Cavaliers’ defense.
Oladipo is the Pacers’ best player and has carried them for the majority of the year. He will have to be efficient and aggressive if the Pacers would like to get past the first round.
When Kyrie demanded a trade from the Cavaliers, the whole basketball world was in dismay. One of the biggest reasons he wanted to move on was because he was tired of playing second fiddle to LeBron.
Love has also had a tough season amidst all of the chaos.Â Coach Lue has been experimenting by putting him at the center position this whole year. Love has been outspoken about his frustration with this role but has learned to adapt as the season went along.
The spacing he creates with the three ball against opposing big men is an essential part of the offense. His threat to shoot the ball from deep creates a lot of space in the paint which can be exploited by LeBron.
Love will have to assert himself in order to take some of the load off of LeBron. He is averaging 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds this season and will have to be consistent if the Cavaliers want to be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
The Cavaliers are looking to make it four straight finals appearances this postseason. Unlike prior years, the Eastern Conference doesn’t seem like a cakewalk. The Cavaliers will be the favorites in this series but it will not be easy. Expect this series to go five or six games, especially if the Cavaliers continue their struggles on the defensive end.
Game one gets underway from Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday, April 15th, at 3:30 p.m. EST.