The Indiana Pacers are expected to compete with the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference title. There are certain areas of their game that need refining if they want to beat the defending champs, though.
While Indiana does many things well on the court, they have just as many weaknesses as strengths. Unfortunately, it may be too late to improve in these areas with only five games remaining.
Luckily for the Pacers, though, they've been able to overcome their deficiencies all season long. Even without their best player, the Pacers have been in contention for the No. 2 seed in the East since the beginning of the season.
If the Pacers are to make a deep run in the playoffs, the following strengths will be the reason, and if their weaknesses rear their ugly heads, it could be a short postseason for Indiana.
Unless otherwise noted, all advanced stats courtesy of Hoopdata.com.
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It is only fitting that we start with their defense, as it is the reason why the Pacers are in the position they are currently in.
They only allow 90 points per game and are first in defensive efficiency due to their suffocating defense. Per 100 possessions, Indiana only allows 95.4 points per game.
Paul George has great length and is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. Small forwards have only played to a 10.8 PER against George this season, while shooting guards haven't fared much better at 12.9, according to 82games.com.
Behind George is center Roy Hibbert, who stands at 7'2". When opponents get by Indiana's perimeter defenders, Hibbert is there to clean up the mess. He averages 2.6 blocks per game and affects a countless number of other shots.
All in all, the Pacers are the best defensive team in the East. Many other teams ratchet up the defense when the playoffs start, but Indiana has been playing playoff-caliber defense all season long. The fact that the Pacers are accustomed to playing with intensity on the defensive end is an advantage since they simply have to keep doing what they've done all year.
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As good as the Pacers defense has been, their offense has struggled at times during the season.
Indiana is 19th in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging only 101.3 points per 100 possessions. Many Pacers fans hoped that Danny Granger would return to boost their offense, but season-ending knee surgery ended that optimism.
With Granger out, Indiana will have to get by with the players currently on the roster. Paul George can score from anywhere on the court, but he's only shot 42 percent from the field. He has increased his scoring, but his efficiency on the offensive end has regressed as he has turned the ball over nearly three times a game.
Roy Hibbert's scoring has improved since his subpar first half of the season. Moving forward, the Pacers need their offense to run through Hibbert. No other center in the East has the height to match up with Hibbert, but throughout the season the big man hasn't been as aggressive as he should be.
Throwing the ball down to Hibbert in the post opens up lanes for the rest of the team when opponents double-team him. It also frees up the shooters on the outside for open shots. Hibbert must be the focus of the offense for the rest of the season and during the playoffs if the Pacers want to succeed.
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While many of the other teams in the NBA have gone small, the Pacers have stuck to a traditional lineup. As a result, they are an outstanding rebounding team.
With Roy Hibbert and David West on their front line, the Pacers have a height advantage over nearly every other team in the East. When you add in Paul George's 7.7 rebounds per game, the Pacers are the best rebounding team in the league.
They average 46.1 rebounds per game as a team, first in the league, with 12.9 of those coming on the offensive end. In the playoffs, the Pacers will virtually have the edge on the glass against every other team.
The Heat are a small team, as well as the Knicks and Celtics. Tyson Chandler is a presence underneath, but the rest of New York's front line has been decimated by injuries. As for the Heat, Chris Bosh isn't a great rebounder for a center, and the rest of the team struggles in that area. Kevin Garnett is a bona fide center, but the Celtics have also been bit by the injury bug. Jeff Green is a tweener, and while he is athletic, he will give up some size to David West.
The Pacers will control the glass against most of the teams they face, giving them a huge advantage.
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As I mentioned earlier, Paul George has a problem with turnovers. He isn't the only Pacer who struggles to hang on to the ball, though.
Roy Hibbert turns the ball over twice a game and David West gives it away 2.1 per contest. As a whole, Indiana turns the ball over 15.1 times per game, seventh worst in the league.
They've been able to get by all year despite being loose with the ball, but in the playoffs, they can't slide by giving it away that much. Teams like the Heat and Knicks thrive in the open court and get easy baskets going the other way when they force turnovers.
Part of the reason the Pacers have struggled on offense is because of their turnovers, which is something they must improve upon when the playoffs begin.
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The Pacers lost a bit of their edge when Granger went down, but they still have their fair share of tough guys on the team.
Pacers fans won't forget about when Granger stood up to LeBron James in last year's playoffs, setting the tone for the rest of the team in that series. While Granger is gone, David West and the rest of Indiana's core remain.
West is one of the more underrated players in the league in every facet of the game. He does have a reputation as one of the hardest workers and toughest guys in the league, though. Combined with Roy Hibbert, who already got suspended this year for fighting, the Pacers have one of the toughest frontcourts in the league.
For the most part, Miami is a soft team throughout, but mainly in the frontcourt. Chris Andersen adds an edge, but Chris Bosh is soft and is largely afraid to mix it up underneath. Indiana should be able to bully Miami underneath if they meet in the conference finals.
Boston won't be pushed around as easy and is a very similar team to Indiana. Without Jared Sullinger giving the Celtics depth up front, Kevin Garnett is mainly the only option. Jeff Green has played well since Rajon Rondo's injury, but he is a bit undersized for a power forward.
As a whole, Indiana is a tougher team with Lance Stephenson rounding out things. The one thing Pacers fans can count on is that this team won't be afraid of anybody once the playoffs begin.
Weakness: Point Guard Play
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George Hill is a solid player, but he isn't a pure point guard. Hill is a bit of a do-it-all guard, contributing in every aspect of the game.
The one area he struggles with at his position is setting up his teammates. Hill only averages 4.6 assists per game, which is part of the reason Indiana ranks 27th in the league with only 20 assists per game.
The end result is very few easy shots for the Pacers as a whole.
The lack of a true point guard isn't necessarily a death sentence in the Eastern Conference. If the Pacers were in the West, it may be a bit different. Luckily for the Pacers, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Steph Curry all reside in the West.
The only legitimate point guards in the East are Deron Williams and Raymond Felton—possibly Brandon Jennings, but he is a shoot-first point guard. With Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo out, the remaining point guards are Mario Chalmers, Nate Robinson, Jeff Teague and Avery Bradley.
When you look at it that way, point guard isn't a glaring weakness, but it does affect the offensive fluidity of the Pacers.
In the end, Indiana should be able to get by with Hill running the show, but it would improve the Pacers offense if Hill would find the open man a little more.