Just how is the Indiana Pacers postseason matchup wish list shaping up?
At this rate it doesn't matter because with the way Indy's been playing lately, the team may very well be a one-and-done casualty come playoff time.
Take it from the Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz, who said the Pacers are in the midst of a major collapse in his April 1 piece:
No, what the Pacers have going right now is a full-fledged collapse, a gag job down the stretch that doesn't look fixable between now and the start of the NBA playoffs.
Forget worrying about the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, something we all thought was a fait accompli as the Pacers were rushing out to a 33-7 start.
However, if the Pacers somehow get their act together (here's crossing our fingers they do), they should be able to build on last season's playoff push.
It's still anyone's guess if Indiana manages to snag that top seed in the East from the Miami Heat, but knowing it won't go any lower than No. 2 in their conference, its first-round opponent boils down to four teams.
Cody Zeller taking on his hometown team?
A rematch of last year's first-round series between Indy and Atlanta?
Carmelo Anthony and Co. seeking revenge from last season's second-round playoff exit?
Take your pick.
Let's probe deeper into what teams the Indiana Pacers match up well with and which ones they don't.
Best First-Round Matchup: New York Knicks
The Pacers, as has been the trend the past two seasons, excel defensively but are bad offensively.
Defense alone can't win championships. For the Pacers to succeed, they also have to get it going on offense.
Indiana is 24th in offense as of April 2, averaging 96.8 points per game.
NBA.com's Sekou Smith says,"While some believe defense wins championships, the best teams, especially recently, always have big-scoring offenses."
Smith then rattles off the average point production of the last five NBA champions:
- 2012-13: Miami Heat (102.9, fifth)
- 2011-12: Miami Heat (98.5, seventh)
- 2010-11: Dallas Mavericks (100.2, 11th)
- 2009-10: Los Angeles Lakers (101.7, 12th)
- 2008-09: Los Angeles Lakers (106.9, third)
Among the four possible playoff foes of the Pacers, it seems the New York Knicks (who are the eighth seed in the East as of this writing) are the best matchup in this regard.
This is because the Pacers averaged 102 points in three games against New York this season.
And get this: Indy scored an average of 110 points in its two wins over the Knicks.
Another key for the Pacers is, of course, their franchise player, Paul George. Smith stresses George's decline on offense has a direct impact on the Pacers' overall record (see table above).
In three games against New York this season, George averaged 25.7 points—his eighth-highest scoring average among all NBA teams through April 2, per ESPN.
With these, the most favorable matchup for Indy in the first round would be against the Knicks. What Indiana fan wouldn't want tormenting Spike Lee's team?
Uncle Reggie would be proud.
Worst First-Round Matchup: Charlotte Bobcats
These are not the Charlotte Bobcats of yesterday.
These Bobcats are not the same pushovers the Pacers had a relatively easy time against in years past. Prior to this season, Indy had a 22-10 win-loss record against Charlotte, per LandofBasketball.com.
What's special about Steve Clifford's team (in spite of its mediocre 37-38 record through April 4) is its ability to neutralize Paul George.
Yes, the Charlotte Bobcats have been Paul George's kryptonite all season long, and that does not bode well at all for the Indiana Pacers.
According to ESPN, George—whose propensity for ill-advised shots can be maddening—has shot just 22.2 percent in three games against Charlotte this season.
That's his worst shooting performance against any NBA team in 2013-14.
In addition, George has averaged just nine points against the Bobcats.
He has been a picture of inconsistency this season. He cannot afford to turn in one of his weak efforts against Charlotte, a team which has made his life miserable on the court.
Steve Clifford deserves a ton of credit for Charlotte's turnaround too. He's a phenomenal coach and he's been great for the Bobcats.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 4, 2014
Hibbert's inconsistency on offense and rebounding is also a bothersome trend, and that showed against Jefferson.
Andrew Bynum sitting out due to knee issues isn't helping matters much, either.
In any case, should the Pacers play the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs, both George and Hibbert need to play at a level similar to (if not better than) what they did in last year's postseason in order to eliminate an upstart Charlotte team.
The Parting Shot
The Pacers' chances against the Washington Wizards, who are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season, really hinge on their experience.
However, if the regular season is any indication, the Wizards are also doing a great job in stymieing Indiana's offense. The Pacers average just 88 points on 41.5 percent shooting—the lowest among their four possible first-round opponents—per NBA.com.
Which team represents the MOST favorable first-round playoff matchup for the Indiana Pacers?
What makes the Bobcats a tougher draw is their ability to clamp down on franchise player Paul George, who performs better against the Wizards (16.7 points, on 32.7 percent shooting).
As for the Atlanta Hawks, who are outside looking in with a 32-42 win-loss record as of April 4, they pose as a favorable matchup for Indiana.
The Pacers shot 45 percent in three regular-season games against the Hawks. This represents the highest field-goal percentage allowed by any of the four teams Indiana may wind up facing.
For a good defensive team that struggles mightily on the offensive end, the Pacers will take that.
Oh, and Paul George averaged 24 points on 42.4 percent shooting against Atlanta this season.
Granted, the postseason is a different brand of basketball. Should Indy face either Charlotte or Washington, it should rely on its playoff experience to put away the opposition.
Paul George and good offensive execution are two other factors that the Pacers must rely on on a nightly basis if they are to dethrone the Miami Heat.
It also wouldn't hurt one bit if Indy is back to playing the kind of smashmouth basketball it is known for.