The regular season has come to a close in the NBA, and Indiana Pacers fans can now look forward to watching their team in the playoffs once again.
After a meaningless game in Orlando, the Pacers wrapped up their season with a loss, giving them a total of 37 wins on the year. Although it isn’t a significantly better record than last year, their 37-45 record was good enough to get them back into the postseason. Things probably would have been much tougher if the Bobcats hadn’t traded Gerald Wallace to Portland, but they still earned this trip.
As is the case with any other team, Indiana’s season was filled with highs and lows. Most notably, the highs were the wins early in the season in Miami and in L.A. against the defending champion Lakers. The positive start for interim coach Frank Vogel was also a high point in the season, as they began to turn things around under his leadership.
The team had two stretches where they lost six games in a row, one early with Jim O’Brien and the other under Vogel. They also had some horrible losses, including many to teams that are going to finish at the bottom of the league standings.
Many people are predicting a Chicago sweep in the first round of the playoffs, and would already like to begin talking about the changes that could be coming in Indiana this offseason. While I can agree that there could be some big changes coming, I don’t think now is the time to start those discussions.
The team is back in the playoffs after a five-year hiatus. It’s their first trip since that epic night in Detroit. The organization has gotten rid of virtually everyone on that team, and this young group of players is beginning to gel. Everyone seems to have finally settled on their role with the team, and have looked much better over the past month.
Now they face a familiar Chicago Bulls team, led by MVP front-runner Derrick Rose. These division rivals will clash at least four more times, after Chicago took three of the four games during the regular season. The Pacers won the last one at home, but Chicago was without Carlos Boozer at the time.
While the focus for most people will be on the offensive play of Derrick Rose, it is the Bulls’ defense that scares me the most. The Bulls have one of the three best defenses in the league, and Indiana doesn’t have the firepower on offense to make up for their lackluster defense.
Chicago will be able to score at will. The Pacers are going to have to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor, and find a way to get offensive rebounds.
While I don’t see the series being close at all, I do think the Pacers have a chance to win one game, and possibly steal a second to make things interesting. Of course, I won’t be shocked if they are swept, but if the Bulls are up 3-0 in the series, playing in Indianapolis, I could see the Pacers maybe catching them asleep at the wheel.
I think Chicago would rather take it back to their home floor and wrap it up there, not wanting to win too early and face some extended time off. The rest-versus-rust debate is another argument in itself.
The main goal for Indiana here is to get some playoff experience. If they can get an understanding of what playoff basketball is like in the NBA, that will give them something to build on for next year.
This team basically has no playoff experience besides Jeff Foster and the six games Danny Granger got to play in 2006 against the Nets. It will be interesting to see if they are all too nervous and tense, or if they come out relaxed and confident.
Playing a team they are very familiar with should be better than going against a team like Boston or Miami, even though they have beaten both the Celtics and Heat this year.
At the beginning of the year, the expectation for this team was to make the playoffs. While they have accomplished this goal, they are now presented with a great opportunity to show how good they really are.
The casual NBA fan will watch the big games with the marquee teams, so many people have never even watched the Pacers play this season. Now, on the national stage, they have a chance to make an impression on a lot of people going into next year.
There will be plenty of free agents watching these games, as well. Hopefully they will see some potential (along with a lot of cash) in this team, and think about joining the mix.
The season began on October 27th with a loss in San Anotonio, and ended tonight with a loss in Orlando. On Saturday afternoon, the Pacers will make the short trip up to Chicago to play their first playoff game since 2006.
It wasn’t the best season, but anytime you can find your way into the playoffs for the first time in five years, it will be viewed as a good season. Considering the expectations that were put on this team, and the coaching change they went through during the middle of the season, I would give the Pacers a B- on the year. Now it will be interesting to see if they come to play on Saturday.
The NBA Playoffs begin Saturday at 1 p.m. with the Bulls hosting the Pacers on ESPN.
By Chad Smith
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