Here are five keys to the first round matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers.
The playoffs are set. The Cavaliers will be taking on the Pacers in the first round, in what should be a pretty fun series. There’s a lot of star power with Paul George matched up with LeBron James. With Lance Stephenson back in town and a lot of call-backs to James first go around against George and the Pacers back in 2013, but this is a completely different Indiana team. Roy Hibbert’s verticality has been replaced with Myles Turner’s versatility. Jeff Teague’s relentless attack has replaced the steady hand of George Hill. This isn’t the same ole Pacers.
Of course, this isn’t the same LeBron either. He’s older now. He can’t just barrel his way into the paint and dunk on whoever is in the way. He has to play it smart on both ends of the floor. He has to exploit matchups and kick-start a Cavs team that slept-walked through the entire back half of the season. If anybody can do it it’s him.
5. The Cavaliers defense
If there’s one area Cleveland has struggled with this season it’s the defensive side of the ball. They finished the year giving up 108 points per 100 possessions. The longer the season went on the more they struggled on that end of the floor. Some of this had to do with personnel, but an even larger part of it had to do with effort. It’s no secret Cleveland decided to take off the second half of the season and their defense suffered for it. Now that they’re in a playoff series though, there’s an expectation for it to flip back in to place.
Defense in the playoffs is different than the regular season. It’s schemed more towards a specific opponent than the regular season. With actual roles to play, and games that matter, Cleveland’s struggles theoretically should evaporate. However, flipping the switch isn’t as easy as just trying more. The Pacers have a legitimate star in Paul George. Scheming to stop him won’t be easy and that’s where Indiana can take advantage of the Cavs. Teams that play Cleveland late will have to face a much more locked in team that has worked out any issues they went into the playoffs with. Indiana however gets to go right at them when they’re at their weakest point. This is a huge advantage for Indiana.
This is an area that could completely swing the series in Indiana’s favor, or it could be what helps Cleveland finish it quickly. LeBron typically finishes the first round as quickly as possible to earn some extra rest, but if he’s going to do that again he’ll need the Cavs defense playing at top level.