6 Things to Watch out for During Indiana Pacers' Final Games

Poch de la RosaContributor IIIFebruary 13, 2017

6 Things to Watch out for During Indiana Pacers' Final Games

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    The upcoming final games will test the mettle of the Indiana Pacers.

    A team which was projected to win roughly 70 games has hardly looked like one. Prior to its 94-83 win over the Boston Celtics on March 11, Indiana uncharacteristically lost four games in a row.  

    The Miami Heat were also on a bit of a slide, but that doesn't give the Pacers any reason to be complacent. With a weak Eastern Conference this season, Indiana and Miami are destined to meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    The Pacers just cannot allow the Heat to snag the No. 1 seed in the East. Should these two teams be in a collision course for the Eastern Conference Finals, history would not be on the side of Indiana. Out of a total of 114 Game 7s in the history of the NBA, the road team has won just 23 times. That's a winning percentage of around 20 percent. 

    The Pacers are very much capable of beating the Heat or any other contender on the road in a Game 7. However, home-court advantage throughout the postseason is vital for Indy's title aspirations. 

    That being said, every shot, pass, rebound and whatever game-saving play from here on out matters big time. 


    Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of March 13 and are courtesy of ESPN

Offensive Rebounding

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    The Indiana Pacers' strengths lie mainly in their defense and rebounding. 

    However, this has not been the case when it comes to their offensive rebounding. 

    Pacers.com's Manny Randhawa chimes in on this issue after Indy beat a smaller Boston Celtics squad 94-83 on March 11: 

    But on a night during which the Pacers unveiled their latest acquisition in a championship-or-bust season7-foot center Andrew Bynumto compliment the 7-2 presence of Roy Hibbert, Indiana was badly outrebounded on the offensive glass. And getting outrebounded on the offensive glass has been a troubling trend for the Pacers, who ranked 22nd in the league in that category coming into Tuesday. 

    Prior to the win over Boston, Indiana was outrebounded on the offensive glass, 40-37, by its previous four opponents. 

    All losses. 

    With decent rebounders such as Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West and Luis Scola in tow, this should not be the case. 

    With the exception of West, Scola and Rasual Butler, the Pacers are generally a young team. There's no excuse to be beaten off the offensive glass time and again. 

    Perhaps this is something head coach Frank Vogel must readdress during practice. 

Andrew Bynum

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    Eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, 10 rebounds and one assist. 

    Not a bad first day on the job for Andrew Bynum. 

    Bynum showed flashes of his old self against the Boston Celtics on March 11. He had a dunk, a nifty assist to David West, a put-back and five rebounds in the first quarter. 

    He also did a good job of establishing good position down low and showing no signs of knee issues on a night Ian Mahinmi was out with a bruised rib. 

    Both David West and Paul George praised Bynum's size, per Pacers.com's Mark Montieth. West quipped, "He's enormous. I'm glad he's on our side." 

    West then told Montieth about Bynum's "ability to command a double team," something which bodes well for an open shooter or cutter for Indiana:

    His ability to command a double team. I don't know if it gets more simple than that. The NBA is about advantages, and if you've got a guy who can get two (defenders) to the ball before he even makes a move..

    Bynum should also give the Heat fits in the shaded lane and the Pacers depth at center in the playoffs. He would also help address Indy's offensive rebounding woes. 

    Had he been around earlier, he would have not let Charlotte Bobcat Al Jefferson go off for 34 points like Roy Hibbert and Mahinmi did.  

    With these, it looks like Bynum has shown up at the right time. 

    The bigger question remains: Will he be able to keep it up?

Bench Production

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    Larry Bird has done all he could to upgrade the Indiana Pacers' bench. 

    So far, it hasn't produced optimum results. 

    Through 64 games, Indy's shock troopers have shot better from the field (.426 to .410) and the free-throw line (.732 to .716) than opposing benches. They also turn the ball over less (4.9 to 4.3) and steal the ball more (2.3 to 2.1), per HoopsStats.com. 

    However, they lag behind in other statistical categories which include average points (26.1 to 28.9), rebounds (13.9 to 14.4), assists (4.3 to 6.1) and blocks (1.6 to 1.8).

    Here's the more telling stat: In matchups the Pacers bench won, the team posted a 27-3 (.900) win-loss record. 

    On the other hand, in those games the Pacers bench lost its matchup to the opposing bench, Indy is just a mediocre 18-13 (.580). 

    Stats don't lie: If the Pacers bench players are at their best, the team is a title contender. 

    If not, the team is just like a lower seed in the playoff bracket. 

    Bird spoke with the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz on March 11 to say he's disappointed in the bench ranking 28th in offense:  

    Yeah, that surprises me; that was the main goal, to get a big push from the bench, especially in the playoffs. Luis (Scola), the big thing is he's not scoring the ball like he did earlier in the season.

    I don't get it. They're ranked 28th, so they are what they are. I'm very disappointed in that. I thought they'd do a lot better for us.

    There's no better time than now for Scola and Co. to give a struggling Pacers squad the lift it desperately needs. 

Evan Turner

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    As previously mentioned, one of the keys to the Pacers' success is their bench production. 

    From that bench, Evan Turner is perhaps the most critical component.

    C.J. Watson can shoot, but he's not a scorer.

    Andrew Bynum did well in his first game back, and will be counted on to do more. 

    Luis Scola's performance has tapered off as the season has progressed, showing some signs of his age (33).  

    Ian Mahinmi defends well and can provide a hustle bucket here and there. 

    Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler have shown promise, but have rarely taken the floor this season. 

    Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill and Lavoy Allen round up the rest of the bench. 

    Turner has been wildly inconsistent at best, and that does not bode well for a Pacers team that is trying to earn the No. 1 seed in the postseason. 

    Pacers.com's Mark Montieth offered his take on the Turner issue on March 10: 

    The key acquisition in the deadline deal that discarded Danny Granger, Turner remains an uncertainty in the minds of most Pacers fans.

    Little wonder, given his erratic scoring. In eight games with the Pacers, he's scored 13, eight, seven, eight, zero, 22, five and two. 

    That averages out to 8.1 points on 44 percent shooting. Granger was averaging 8.3 points on 36 percent shooting. 

    It's still too early to gauge if the Pacers got the better end of the deal since Turner's been in Pacers blue and gold for only nine games through March 13, whereas Granger was in Indy for almost nine years. 

    Bottom line: Indy needs more from Evan Turner if they are to dethrone Miami in the East. 

Turnovers and Defense

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    Turnovers and mediocre defense make for a bad recipe in the NBA. 

    So far, the Indiana Pacers have been susceptible to it. 

    This comes as a bit of a shock, considering Indiana is still the league's No. 1 defensive team through March 13, per ESPN. However, the gap has narrowed considerably.

    In the ESPN stat sheet, the difference between the Pacers and the second-ranked Chicago Bulls stands at a paltry 0.3 points. 

    Indy used to suffocate its opponents on a nightly basis, but not anymore. 

    Roy Hibbert isn't the defensive juggernaut he once was. For instance, he allowed Al Jefferson to score 34 points in an embarrassing loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on March 5. 

    Montieth also correctly points out the Pacers' perimeter defense has softened, as evidenced by the 40 three-pointers they allowed during their four-game skid. 

    And then there are turnovers. 

    As of March 13, Indiana is averaging 14.6 turnovers, good for just 20th in the NBA. In its last five games, it has averaged 16.

    Four of those five games were losses.

    It will be interesting to see if the Pacers can somehow improve their perimeter defense and turnover numbers in their remaining games.

    If they do, they should be in peak form just in time for the playoffs.  

Paul George

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    Paul George has looked anything but an MVP contender lately.

    George struggled immensely in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break. He was somehow able to end his slump after the break, averaging 25.7 points as the Pacers went 6-1 leading up to the four-game losing streak. 

    However, games such as the 12-point, five-turnover performance against the Boston Celtics on March 11 and the two-point anomaly against the Charlotte Bobcats six days earlier are just plain head scratchers.

    These are numbers which are not worthy of a franchise player. 

    Yes, George will have his struggles just like everyone else. However, if he wants to elevate his game more, he has to be more consistent. 

    In the Pacers' 47 wins as of March 13, George shot .446, per ESPN. In Indy's 17 losses, his shooting clip dropped to .410. 

    George's saving grace this year has been spunky veteran David West. When George shot just 5-of-23 against the Portland Trail Blazers, West's top-of-the-key jumper was virtually unstoppable.

    West again proved to be the difference against Boston with 24 points on a night George struggled.

    George should forget about the MVP plum. That belongs to either Kevin Durant or LeBron James. He should set his mind on shooting better consistently to further bolster the Pacers' title aspirations.