So here we are. Right where the Pacers wanted to be. There are only two changes in the game plan. One, the Pacers have a three instead of a two in front of their name. That’s all window-dressing and pride, though. As has been widely discussed here and other places, the Pacers were just a better team than the Knicks on a lot of levels, regardless of what their records said. Two, and much more serious, Danny Granger is not with us this time around. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that Granger wouldn’t make it back, I probably would have given up on this season before it really started. With the benefit of hindsight, well, it’s a different story.
I like Danny Granger. I did agree that he probably shouldn’t be the main star for this team if it wanted to be successful, but he did bring a certain swagger to the team that is now solely provided by David West.* I think most knew this team would really shoot up a level once this became the Roy Hibbert and/or Paul George team, but the idea was that Danny Granger would still be there to be a volume scorer and sizeable defender. The Pacers, though, did what good teams are supposed to do. They adapted their game without Danny, to the point where I wonder if you bring him back.
*And if you’re going to have a single bad ass on your team, David West is a pretty good one to have.
I think you have to. As much as Lance Stephenson has shown he is a legitimate starter in this league, I think most would rather he be the spark and leader of the bench unit in a perfect world. I’m sure there’s a whole ‘nother blog post to be had here, but we’ll save that for another day. Let’s see how deep this team goes first.
I just wanted to do a little preview of this series. I know I’m a fan and a notorious homer, but I really think the Pacers have a good shot in this series. Even with Chris Bosh this time around. I’m even going to go so far as to agree with Mike Wells and say the Pacers take this series in seven. Even if they don’t pull this off, though, the Pacers are going to give the Heat all they can handle, and here’s why.
The Pacers starters, as a unit, are just plain better than the Heat starters as a unit. Now, the Heat have better individual players in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and they’re better to a level that makes the Heat heavy favorites. As much as I hate to say it, NBA history tends to say you’re better off with a superstar or two than a balanced team. But, as a unit, the Pacers are better and more evenly spaced. You may remember my amoeba comment against the Knicks. I stand by that. Advantage, Pacers.
Now, last year, the Heat absolutely killed the Pacer bench. I expect the same this year. Advantage, Heat. But, I do think Frank Vogel* learned something from last year’s playoffs, and you saw it against the Knicks. You can’t use the same kind of rotation you did in the regular season once you reach the playoffs. So, while I fully expect to see a dramatic fall-off once the bench gets in the game, I don’t think it will be used as deeply or liberally as it was in last year’s Heat series. I guess the best thing I can say is Vogel has a better idea of how to handle damage control.
*Who absolutely should have been coach of the year and anybody who didn’t consider him (AKA Mike Greenberg) ought to be wholly ashamed of themselves.
The main reason I think the Pacers will pull out this series? Because they happen to have a couple stars. Maybe not superstars like James and Wade, but certainly well above average players in Paul George and Roy Hibbert. If you have guys who play at that level, as well as guys who you consistently to go off on that level as a group,* then I feel you are better off than playing heroball, a la Melo or Cavs-era LeBron. Or, frequently, Heat-era LeBron.
Much ado was made about having three stars on your team being the key to winning a championship back when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston. Then again when James and Bosh joined Wade in Miami. I feel like, in many ways, this Pacer team has that, you just don’t necessarily know who the third guy is going to be. You have Paul George playing at an All-Star level on both ends. You have Roy Hibbert, who’s usually good for at least ten points and saving you more than that on the other end. Then somebody, typically either George Hill or David West, steps up, and voila, you have your third scorer. And, you know, after this last series, there’s no reason to think Lance Stephenson won’t do it again. Dwyane Wade has never been known as a defensive wizard to my knowledge, and if he’s hobbled by his knee, well, it could get interesting. And don’t forget, Stephenson is bigger and I would have to think stronger than Wade. If he’s as aggressive as he was against the Knicks, I don’t know what Wade is going to do about it.
There’s also the size issue. Namely, the Pacers are a lot bigger than the Heat everywhere except for the George-James matchup. That is the one area where the Pacers will likely miss the size of Granger, which would let George move over to Wade, but at every other position, the Pacers will badly outsize Miami. I’m sure there’s something to why West put up huge numbers against the Heat. You think anybody on that roster wants to bang around the paint with West and Hibbert all game? No, not at all. And, you know, in that regard, Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi aren’t exactly lightweights, either.
Is it going to be a cakewalk? No, not at all. Is there a reason the Heat are heavily favored? Yes. Does that mean I’m crazy for thinking the Pacers can pull this out? Maybe, but don’t tell me I don’t have reasons to believe.
Besides, clearly there’s only one team (or at least their fans) that aren’t scared of the Heat. And they happen to live right here in Indiana.