Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Pacers are in a hole, but they aren't dead as they trail the Heat 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals
The Indiana Pacers currently trail the Miami Heat 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 5 happening later tonight in Indiana (8:30 PM ET on ESPN). Things no doubt look bleak for the Pacers right now. After taking Game 1 at home against the Heat, things have quickly swung in favor of the Heat, resulting in 3 straight wins for the defending champs. The key problem for the Pacers is that Roy Hibbert has slowed down a little bit after appearing to have found his groove against the Wizards, and Lance Stephenson has virtually disappeared in the last two games of the series, averaging just 9.5 points per game in Games 3 and 4. Stephenson's struggles have been due to foul trouble and a lack of aggression. If the Pacers can get Hibbert and Stephenson to wake up the rest of this series, the Pacers do have a chance, albeit a slim chance. How is that possible? The answer lies in the simple fact that the Pacers have Game 5 and Game 7* (If Necessary) scheduled in Indiana and also the fact that it's really hard to hold serve against a team like the Pacers for an entire series.
I picked the Pacers before the playoffs started to get to the NBA Finals and I picked them to beat the Heat in 7 games once the series began. The reason was simple: Home court advantage. In the NBA, playing at home is more important than in any other sport. The refs give you the calls, the fans get into the heads of the road team, and role players always play better at home. Those three reasons make it really difficult to win on the road in the playoffs, and I think should the Pacers force a Game 7, they will win this series.
As for the Heat, they just have to take care of business at home to beat the Pacers and the series is theirs. But can we really expect the Pacers to go down to Miami for a third time and come up empty handed? I don't think we can. The Pacers have been fantastic on the road this post-season, which means one has to think they get at least one game down in Miami. I think odds look fairly good that this series still goes to a Game 7, and if it does, the Pacers will have home court, which is huge for reasons I just mentioned.
Now, if the Pacers want to force a Game 7 and walk away winning this series, they have to do two things: Get Lance Stephenson going and get easy buckets inside. Paul George may be the engine of this Pacers team, but Lance Stephenson is what fuels the engine. His hustle, passion, and toughness has been the X-factor for the Pacers all post-season. He doesn't necessarily need to score a lot of points for the Pacers to win this series, but they do need him out on the floor scrapping for loose balls and hustling. If he gets into serious foul trouble early in any game going forward, the Pacers are probably cooked. As for getting easy buckets inside, this is pretty self explanatory. The Pacers aren't a great three point shooting team, but they do possess good low-post scorers. Roy Hibbert and David West have to get a lot of touches going forward and beat up the Heat's vulnerable inside. If the Pacers succeed in the paint, then their odds of winning this series go up dramatically .
I know that statistically speaking the Pacers look doomed when you look at numbers that say "Only 8 out of 217 teams down 3-1 have come back to win a playoff series" but I still think there is great hope for the Pacers. I think they should win Game 5, and I also think their odds of winning Game 6 aren't crazy low. I think that the third time can be the charm in Miami, which brings us to a Game 7 in Indiana, which I think they would win if they get to that point. I may sound overly optimistic, but all I'm saying is that there's a chance the Pacers win this series, and a chance is all the Pacers need.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord for NBA news. My personal twitter handle is @slamdunk406
Monday, May 19, 2014
Western Conference Finals Preview: Do The Thunder Have A Chance To Beat The Spurs Without Serge Ibaka?
The Western Conference Finals tips off in about an hour, so I will have to write my preview for this series pretty quickly. Just like the Eastern Conference Finals, the top two seeds have advanced to the Conference Finals: #1 San Antonio Spurs against the #2 Oklahoma City Thunder. Going into this series, the number one story is the absence of Serge Ibaka, the Thunder's top defensive player and rim protector. He is sidelined with a calf injury and he is expected to miss the entire series. While it is true that I picked the Spurs to win this series with a healthy Serge Ibaka, I did think that the Thunder had a decent chance of winning the series. Without Serge Ibaka, I just don't see how they can win this series for both defensive and offensive reasons.
First off, the absence of Ibaka means that they will rely heavily on rookie center Steven Adams to play defense, who has evolved into one of the more surprising rookies this season. Even with Adams' success, it still is a lot to ask a rookie to fill the shoes of one of the league's premiere defenders. A defender who was so valuable that he was chosen as more valuable to the Thunder than James Harden. Filling the void left by Serge Ibaka will be a team effort that will also require Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, and Hasheem Thabeet to step up. Can those guys step up? They can, but not enough to make up for Ibaka's absence in my book.
As for the offensive side of the coin, the Thunder are also hurt by Ibaka's absence since he is their third scoring option behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. As a matter of fact, without Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson is the only other player on the Thunder who has been scoring in double figures this whole post season, and his scoring average is just a shade above 10 points per game. The Thunder will really need Caron Butler to have a big series to help make up the difference for Ibaka's absence on the scoring end.
In addition to having problems with their player personnel, perhaps the biggest problem the Thunder have is the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder rely heavily on two players to carry the load, whereas the Spurs rely much more on 6 or 7 guys to pitch in and play as a great team unit. I think the fact that the Spurs are such a contrasting style of team is what makes them such a difficult matchup for the Thunder. The Spurs may be led by Tony Parker, who is the best point guard in the NBA during the playoffs, but they don't need him to put up 30 points per game like the Thunder need Kevin Durant to. The Spurs can win without their best player playing well, and that is what makes them so scary. They have a system that works and they have the parts to make that system work even when one of the parts is having a rough night. If Tony Parker is off, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard can pick up the slack, etc. There is no easy answer to the question "How do you beat the Spurs" since they beat you in so many ways. They beat you with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker slashing and attacking the rim; they beat you with Danny Green and Marco Belinelli knocking down threes; they beat you with Kawhi Leonard playing tough defense on the perimeter; and most importantly they beat you with Gregg Popovich out-coaching your coach.
I hate to say this, but if the Oklahoma City Thunder had Gregg Popovich as their head coach and not Scott Brooks, then I'd probably pick the Thunder to win this series. But instead, the Spurs have Gregg Popovich (the greatest coach in NBA history as far as I'm concerned) and the Thunder have Scott Brooks, a coach who is yet to prove that he really can get the most out of his roster. I think the fact that the Spurs have Popovich is what puts the nail in the coffin in this series.
The reason why the Spurs beat you in so many ways is because Gregg Popovich knows his players really well and schemes to bring out their strengths and hide their weaknesses. With Serge Ibaka out, Popovich's job just got a whole lot easier. He can have Tony Parker attack the rim more, he can have Duncan get even more touches down low, etc.
Going into this series with a healthy Ibaka, the only advantage the Thunder had was perhaps having the better overall roster. But without Ibaka, they lose that advantage as well, which really means that there is little to no chance of the Thunder winning this series without their #3 player. I have the Spurs winning this series in 5 games.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord
Sunday, May 18, 2014
For those of you who don't know, the Eastern Conference Finals tips off Sunday at 3:30 PM ET on ABC and the teams facing off will be the #2 Miami Heat and the #1 Indiana Pacers. After some uncertainty along the way (due to the Pacers going stupid), we have ended up with the Eastern Conference Finals matchup that we foresaw back in December once it was clear that the Bulls weren't going to contend. The only question was which team was going to get the #1 seed and the Pacers ended up being the team to get it. But even after getting the top spot, many are still very skeptical of the Pacers' chances of winning this series against the Heat after their very up and down post-season. What I will do is argue that despite their flaws and shaky play, the Pacers should be favored to win this series.
The number one reason why the Pacers should be favored to win this series is pretty obvious, which is that they have home court advantage in this series. I wrote an article on here earlier in the year that said if the Pacers got home court advantage over the Heat, they should be slight favorites, while if the Heat got home court, we might as well hand the Heat the Eastern Conference Finals trophy. What this means is that home court advantage is really important. Well, at least to me it is. If there was anything that had to give the Pacers some sort of confidence and hope throughout the playoffs, it was the fact that they knew that if they get to a Game 7 against the Miami Heat, Game 7 would be in Indiana. I think this was in the back of their minds throughout their struggles and it gave them the confidence to turn things around. They knew they were much better than how they were performing, and I think what they could point to as inspiration was having that top seed.
As for what home court advantage does in this series, it's pretty simple: The Pacers get the edge to draw first blood in Game 1 and the edge to close out the series in a Game 7. The two most important games in a 7 game series is Game 1 and Game 7, which is why home court advantage is so important. Game 1 because the winner sets the tone for the series and has around a 75% chance of winning the series. Game 7 is obviously the most important game if a series gets to that point since the winner wins the series and the loser is done. The fact that home court advantage ensures home court for both games is why a team wants home court advantage. They want the edge to draw first blood and the edge to close out the series in a Game 7.
As for the actual basketball part of this series, we have seen that the Pacers' style of play gives the Heat tremendous problems. David West and Roy Hibbert (who has awoken from his basketball coma) give the Heat problems inside and Paul George can defend and contain LeBron James as well as anybody in the NBA. In addition, Lance Stephenson plays like a madman on the court (in a good way), which makes things really tough to plan for if you are the opposition. The Pacers do two things really well which is defending and rebounding, which is the formula to beat the Heat since the Heat can't rebound.
Now while the Pacers do matchup well against the Heat, there are reasons why the Pacers are yet to beat the Heat in a 7 game series, which means there is reason to pick the Heat in this series. First off, the Heat have LeBron James. Yes, this is stating the obvious, but having the best player in the series is a huge advantage to have in any series, and the Heat have that checkmark by a wide margin. The Pacers' best player is Paul George, who is really talented, but isn't on the same level as LeBron James. He's not even close. If LeBron James has a big series, the Pacers will be hard pressed to find a way to answer LeBron.
In addition, the Heat have been way more consistent throughout these playoffs. There has been no question that the Heat would get to this point. They dispatched of the Bobcats rather easily, and they had only moderate trouble with the Nets. The Pacers on the other hand were taken to 7 games by the Hawks and for a while looked to be on the verge of complete self-destruction. So while it is true that all appears to be well with the Pacers, there is good reason to think that the bad Pacers could show up again, which means the Heat win easily.
Lastly, the Heat have championship experience and have been to three straight NBA Finals' winning two straight titles. The fact that the Heat have won the titles that they have and have beaten the Pacers is huge in this series because they have reason to have belief in themselves since they've actually won titles and gotten over the hump.
That being said, what makes this year different is that the Pacers have home court advantage in this series and they also have been a surprising 5-1 on the road in this post season. Losing a game in Indiana doesn't at all spell doom for the Pacers, but having Game 1 and Game 7 (If Necessary) in Indiana does spell hope for the Pacers. The bottom line is that I think that with home court advantage and prior knowledge of the Pacers taking the Heat to a Game 7 last year, the Pacers should be slight favorites to win this series in 7 Games. It may not be the popular opinion, but I do think it is the opinion that makes the most sense overall. They've shown to be able to play the Heat really tough and now that they actually get home court advantage, it's time to show the Pacers some love and give them the edge to win this series even with all the recent troubles they've had.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord
Saturday, May 3, 2014
Yes, I know the title of this article sounds crazy, but it’s actually true. The Washington Wizards could make a very deep run in the NBA Playoffs this year! How deep? Well, how does Eastern Conference Finals sound? That’s right, with the Indiana Pacers on the brink of complete self-destruction, the main benefactor of all this could be the Washington Wizards who are presently awaiting the winner of the Pacers/Hawks series after dispatching of the Chicago Bulls in 5 games.
The Wizards already are a dangerous team as it is with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, and Nene. With they way those guys are playing and the way the Pacers are playing, there’s no reason to not think the Wizards could get to the Eastern Conference Finals and take out the Pacers IF the Pacers get past the Hawks. If the Pacers lose Game 7 against the Hawks and it’s the Wizards vs. the Hawks, then I think with home court advantage and a more healthy line up, the Wizards should be clear favorites to win that series and get to the Eastern Conference Finals where they would presumably face the Miami Heat.
There is still plenty of playoff basketball left, and the odds are still good that we see a Heat-Pacers series to decide the East. But I really am a fan of these Wizards and they exceeded my expectations since I had them taking out the Bulls in 6 games. If they do somehow get to the Eastern Conference Finals, they will be one series away from the NBA Finals and while I assume they’ll see the Heat, there is a chance that the Nets take out the Heat, which would set up a Wizards/Nets Eastern Conference Finals with the Wizards getting home court. If they just hold serve, they could find themselves in the NBA Finals!!
Like I said, there is tons of basketball left, and I’m getting way ahead of myself, but if I was a fan of the Washington Wizards, I would be beyond excited about the draw that my team has gotten in the playoffs. With good odds at getting past whoever wins the Pacers/Hawks series, the Wizards definitely could be on the verge of pulling off one of the more surprising playoff runs in recent memory.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord