A couple other bits of business before we move on. Let me welcome some more nations into the AP Baseball international fold. Hello Sweden and Thailand! I have to admit, I have a pretty deep admiration for Sweden, so I am very excited to have some Swedish readers. Is basketball popular in Sweden? I hope so, because that's going to be the focus for a little while.
Tonight at 7:30, the Pacers take their first swing at the Magic in Orlando. Even though the series is tied at 1-1, I think we can all agree that the Pacers really ought to be sitting in a commanding 2-0 lead and generally outclassing the Magic. In both of the games in Indianapolis, with the exception of the last four minutes of the first game, the starters have dominated Orlando. It's not even been close, something we saw reflected a bit better in the second half of the last game. The problem in both games has been the bench.
The past few years, even when the team wasn't winning so many games, the Pacers still had a very reliable and very solid second unit who could come into games and give the starters a chance to win. Now, obviously, the problem was the starters weren't too much better than the bench, so that plan didn't typically come through. Now that the pieces are in place, though, the bench has been able to keep a lead or even build a lead for the starters to come back in and finish the job, or, in many instances, let the starters take the rest of the night off.
This has been the furthest from the truth in the first two games of the series. The bench totally coughed up two big first quarter leads, leaving the Pacers behind at halftime. I'm not entirely sure why this is. I don't know if part of it is the second unit adjusting to playing with Darren Collison, who spent the first three-quarters or better of the season as the starter. I don't know if it's just guys who are normally big sparks off the bench just not igniting.* Maybe Orlando's bench is just better, but I don't think I buy that one.
*Here's looking at you, Leandro Barbosa. You're not the only offender, but the first one that jumps to mind.
A nice bit that Frank Vogel figured out in the second half of Monday's game was melding his bench and starters, especially with Tyler Hansbrough. Psycho T* didn't do anything in the first game, and really didn't do much in the first half on Monday. He came to life in the second half on Monday, though, and did it mostly beside David West while Roy Hibbert either was taking a breather or in foul trouble. When they picked West up, the plan was for him to spend some significant time at center so Tyler would still get plenty of minutes to develop. I don't know how much that really happened during the regular season, and that can directly be attributed to Lou Amundson playing better than anybody every expected him to.
*I don't know if he actually uses that nickname so much any more. He should, but I'm going to try to steer clear of it in the future just because I don't hear it used so much these days. In fact, the only reason I used it there was to justify this aside.
As much as I like Lou, he hasn't done too much this series, which opens up the West-Hansbrough combo we saw on Monday. And it worked spectacularly well. Neither West or Hansbrough can dominate the paint on the defensive end quite like Hibbert, but their offensive games seem to give Orlando quite a bit more trouble.* Hibbert seems to have a hard time getting the ball in the paint, but he has been blocking shots like a machine.
*That is, when Hansbrough found his rhythm. It did not look good when he was out of sorts, like in Game 1.
As much as I liked the hybrid line up, I don't think that's something you can necessarily depend on. You can get away with it in high school basketball, or even college with certain players, because the shorter games mean your bench doesn't need to be nearly as deep. In the NBA, though, between significantly longer games and significantly better players, you can't just stick your best player or two out there on the court for the entire game. I don't think the Pacers are going to be able to get the starters enough rest just by cycling in a bench player or two at a time. At some point, the second unit needs to start looking like it did during the regular season again. I don't know what the answer is for that, unfortunately, other than for guys to play better.
One thing I'm a bit bummed about is the disappearance of Dante Jones. I like Dante a lot, and he really does play some lock down defense. And he can score the ball at times. The problem for him, though, is that the Pacers have done a very good job of locking the Magic down. They've held Orlando to 81 and 77 points respectively. You will definitely take that defensive performance every time. With the other players playing defense so well, it leaves Dante out of the picture. You might see Dante come back and play a decent amount against the Heat, though. I'm not sure if it will make a huge difference in that series, but his defensive presence might be needed against a team with the firepower of the Heat.
Again, for the DirecTV readers out there, the game is again on Fox Sports Indiana (673) and NBA TV (216). I would highly recommend watching on FSIndiana. Even without Stacy Paetz, it's definitely better than the national broadcast teams trying to cover the Pacers.