This series may yet bring out the basketball nihilists in all of us.
Still, I can't help but wonder if this series could be a bit of fun, if only for a few games.
And then I wonder what the point of this series could possibly be, as a pairing so mismatched could only produce a product devoid of meaning, devoid of value and devoid of life. Maybe nihilism isn't the sure result after all, as watching this series will undoubtedly be accompanied by acknowledgements that there is something out there more worthwhile in this basketball universe—something a bit more competitive, and more worthy of the investment that a seven-game series commands. It's a shame to see a series with so many interesting players so easily cast aside, but with Dwight Howard covering his ailing back with bags of frozen peas, there's simply no other way to slice this one.
The Magic are in trouble, and at the moment, even the ability to visualize how they might possibly win escapes me. But for the sake of thoroughness and process, here are some scattered thoughts on what undoubtedly stands as the most depressing first-round series—albeit one that has the potential for small, singular bits of fun:
- Even with good ball movement, it's hard to determine exactly how Orlando might go about consistently creating shots against a team that ranks in the top 10 in defensive efficiency and sixth in opponent's effective field goal percentage. The Pacers are long and well-practiced, and without having Dwight Howard as the most direct avenue to the Magic's offense, a lot of pressure will be put on J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson to create for themselves and teammates. We have no reason to expect anything particularly substantial from Jameer Nelson or Hedo Turkoglu (who is set to play, and may start) given their flirtations with irrelevance this season, and no systemic basis from which to assume offensive strength. The Magic are without their defensive centerpiece, but they're also without the factor on which most of their offense relies.
- Per NBA.com: The Magic have scored at a rate of 103.1 points per 100 possessions since Howard was ruled out for the season, while surrendering 108.3 points per 100 possessions. It's a small sample size, mind you, but that's roughly equal to the season-long efficiency differential of the Sacramento Kings.
- The Pacers have a tendency to over-foul, but sadly, the Magic lack the ability to really exploit that tendency. I don't hold a general, oversimplified disdain for the "live by the three," philosophy that seems to come part and parcel to punditry, but in this case the lack of dribble penetration in Orlando's offense puts them at a particular disadvantage.
- Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson haven't performed all that poorly as a defensive tandem this season, but Roy Hibbert should indeed prove to be a ridiculously difficult cover for Davis. There's an odd dynamic here; the Magic may play perfectly well in rotation and still lose this series in a sweep due to Hibbert's post game, the outside shooting of Paul George, George Hill, and Danny Granger, and the intermediate work of David West.
- Hill has definitely played well enough to hold onto the starting point guard job and the majority of the Pacers' minutes at that position, but it should be interesting to see if Pacers head coach Frank Vogel is willing to toggle back to Darren Collison if and when Indy hits a rough patch. That may not happen at all in this first-round series, but I'm definitely curious to see if Vogel feels an itch to shift back to his original starting five now that Darren Collison is inching toward good health.
- The Pacers play such a conservative offensive style that I can't even imagine the Magic generating much offense through live-ball turnovers. The offensive glass may provide Orlando a sole place of comfort; Indiana ranks 21st in the league in defensive rebounding rate, and even without Howard, Orlando has the capability to clean the offensive glass thanks to Anderson (who collects 12 percent of available misses on that end), Davis (8.5 percent), and Daniel Orton (11.6 percent). Anderson has actually been the Magic's top offensive rebounder all season, in part because of his willingness to sprint in from the three-point line—an action that's much more difficult to box out—on his teammates' shot attempts.
Pacers in five -- the "gentleman's sweep."