All signs are pointing to the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers meeting in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Bulls will be obvious favorites in this series. Most people will be surprised just to see the Pacers win one game. Throughout the regular season, the Bulls have definitely been the better team. But, as the Warriors proved in 2007, anything can happen in a seven game series. Here are eight reasons why the Pacers could pull off the monumental upset.
I don't know how he has done it, but Tyler Hansbrough has become a legitimate NBA player. Hansbrough is basically Joakim Noah with a jump shot. Noah is certainly a better defensive player, but Hansbroguh has the better offensive game, and has shown just as much hustle.
Hansbrough's season numbers are skewed because of his lack of playing time under former Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. He averages 10.8 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, but for the last month or two, has been much better. Just two weeks ago, he scored 29 points against the Bulls in Indiana. This was his sixth game out of seven in which he scored 20 or more. He has slowed a little since, but not by much. He is your typical difference making player that all his teammates love, but all his opponents hate, much like Noah.
In April, the Bulls saw how much of a different team the Pacers are with Hansbrough on the floor. I am sure they don't want him to show them again.
While Hansbrough is known for doing some dirty work, he doesn't have to do it all for the Pacers. Josh McRoberts and Jeff Foster are both your classic "garbage men". Neither player looks for his points, and just worries about doing the little things to help their team win.
McRoberts is extremely athletic. Pacers fans have been treated to McBob going up for numerous spectacular alley-oops this season. He only averages 7.3 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game, but he bring a lot of energy to the Pacers front line when on the floor.
Jeff Foster is one of the longest tenured players playing on the same team in the NBA. He has been with the Pacers since the glory days with Reggie. Foster averages 2.9 offensive rebounds per game. That is an outstanding number for someone who only averages 17 minutes a game.
With Foster and McRoberts, the Pacers have two of the most unselfish, smart, and scrappy interior players in the NBA.
Derrick Rose is an amazing player and has had an unbelievable year. He is an MVP candidate for a reason. This Bulls team is not even close to a number one seed without Rose. The question surrounding the Bulls is: what happens if Rose gets hurt?
I realize this could be applied to every team in the NBA, but the Bulls are much like the Oklahoma City Thunder, in that if their star goes down, their team goes down. Rose plays so hard and throws his body around so Iverson-like, that an injury could happen in any game he plays. I do not wish injury on anybody, but if Rose were to suffer an injury of some significance, the Bulls would be in big, big trouble.
Remember the 54 point quarter the Pacers put up on Denver back in November? It may have only been one game, but it showed the streakiness of the Pacers. When they get hot, they get real hot. The Pacers just put up 136 on the Wizards tonight. They can score in bunches.
There are a lot of weapons on the Pacers. Danny Granger can put up 30 on any given night. Roy Hibbert has shown he can dominate games when he gets it going. Hansbrough, Darren Collison, a healthy Mike Dunleavy, Brandon Rush and Paul George have all had breakout games recently. The Pacers have suddenly became a very balanced team under Frank Vogel. A team with balanced scoring, that can get hot, like the Pacers, could be dangerous in a seven game series.
The Pacers have been a strange team all year. They have played up to their competition or down to their competition all year. They have won games in L.A. and in Miami. They beat Chicago and Boston in Indianapolis just last month.
With a team as young and inexperienced as the Pacers, they often seemingly don't know the significance of the games they are in. The Pacers will play the Bulls like they have played the top teams all year: with the hunger of a young team trying to prove itself. I am sure Coach Frank Vogel will play the "nothing to lose" card. The Pacers will play the Bulls with no pressure on themselves. As the eight seed, the pressure falls squarely on the Bulls' shoulders. That should allow the Pacers to play to the competition, even if it is the best team in the East.
When the Pacers come home for game three, Conseco Fieldhouse will be rockin. The loyal Pacers fans in Indianapolis haven't had a home playoff game to attend in five long years. The games against the NBA's most popular teams (Bulls, Lakers, Celtics), sometimes looked like road games for the Pacers at Conseco this year. The fans will alleviate that in the playoffs. I have a feeling the Bulls-heavy crowds of the regular season games at Conseco will have a harder time getting seats for these games.
Conseco Fieldhouse may not hold the noise that Market Square Arena once did, but the fans can still bring it. They should be on their "A" game by the time the Bulls arrive in Indy for the third game in the series.
I already touched on this a little, but the Pacers are a very deep team. Their second unit has been very effective this last month of the season. The usual second unit consists of A.J. Price, Mike Dunleavy, Paul George, Josh McRoberts and Brandon Rush. Dahntay Jones also plays some minutes with this unit and is a very good defensive player. The Bulls may sport the better starting five, but if the games get physical, like I assume they will, the second units of each team could be a deciding factor. I would give the bench edge to the Pacers.
Things have been going right in Indianapolis lately. The Colts have been perennial contenders, the city will host the 2012 Super Bowl (lockout permitting), and the Butler Bulldogs have made consecutive NCAA Finals. It only seems fitting that the Pacers win something of some significance.
Ok, so maybe I don't believe the whole destiny thing either, but if the Pacers beat the Bulls in a seven game series, and pull off the biggest upset in NBA playoff history, it may be time to start believing. There are some factors that work in their favor. I predict the Pacers win one game in the series, but if they win more, especially three more, the city of Indianapolis will be the center of the Basketball World once again.