INDIANAPOLIS – Will the Pacers win a playoff series for the first time since 2014?
That’s the goal for Indiana as the Orlando bubble now shifts to postseason mode.
For the 5th straight year, the Pacers have made the playoffs after another overachieving regular season in going 45-28 and earning the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
What are the key storylines in facing the Miami Heat in Round 1?
1. Elephant In The Room
It’s the stat above.
While the Pacers have overachieved in recent regular seasons, including this one, they haven’t advanced out of Round 1 of the Playoffs since 2014.
More than 20 teams in the NBA have won at least one playoff series since the Pacers last did.
This is a tremendous opportunity to end that drought.
Yes, not having Domantas Sabonis hurts, but this is still a necessary step for the franchise and what Nate McMillan pointed to before the start of the season in wanting to ‘prove’ something after falling short in the last few playoff appearances.
2. T.J. Warren’s Run
First, a major hat tip to what Warren has done so far in the bubble.
No one thought we’d see individual players come to Orlando and all of a sudden have a major ascent to their game.
But that’s happened to Warren, who did sit out the final two games of the regular season finish to rest his plantar fasciitis injury that he’s played through this year.
Of course, with Warren’s incredible run in Orlando, that means he is rising up opposing team’s scouting reports.
This is N.C. State type of attention Warren will be getting in the playoffs, as he experiences an NBA postseason for the first time in his 6 professional seasons.
3. Halfcourt Offense
Miami is one of the more well-connected defensive teams and the Pacers have struggled to crack that in the halfcourt.
The Heat are able to switch pretty easily thanks to the versatility of big man Bam Adebayo and they even use a good amount of zone, as well.
When both teams were at close to full strength last Monday, the Pacers had issues in finding any flow in the halfcourt.
This is where the loss of Sabonis particularly stings, because the Pacers cannot take advantage of the lack of height Miami brings.
4. Victor’s Level
At various times during the regular season finish in Orlando, we saw more and more flashes from Victor Oladipo willing to attack.
He’s still not at that All-NBA/All-Star level, but there are moments in which Oladipo has looked like a capable lead role guy.
The Pacers need more of that in the postseason with attention growing towards T.J. Warren.
Oladipo shot it over 40 percent from the floor (and from three), until a woeful shooting performance against the Rockets last Wednesday. He was getting to the foul line more in earlier bubble games, but didn’t attempt a free throw in 37 minutes against Houston (he was 2-of-12 from three in that game).
He looks spry, even though his finishing in the paint remains a question.
If nothing else, watching Oladipo play at least four more games gives the Pacers extra evaluation for a player nearing the end of his current contract.
5. Bench Unit
This group has probably been the most disappointing aspect of the Pacers in the bubble.
Clearly, not having Domantas Sabonis integrated with the reserves has stymied an effective unit this regular season.
Doug McDermott and Justin Holiday have struggled with their shots, although they did shoot it much better last week in the final two bubble games.
Nate McMillan has thrown various starters into that bench group to try and spark things.
Earlier in the regular season, the Pacers often had a nice advantage when the second unit got into the game. If they can get back there, that would be huge in offsetting a starting lineup without Sabonis.
6. Myles Turner Staying On The Floor
Another sore eye in Orlando has been what opposing big men have done to the Pacers.
From Thomas Bryant, Dwight Howard to Joel Embiid, the Pacers have been dominated by other centers.
Of course, a brunt of that falls to Myles Turner, who has battled some foul trouble, as well.
Turner must realize the severe defensive drop off the Pacers suffer when he goes to the bench and Indiana has to turn to the inexperienced Goga Bitadze, or the undersized JaKarr Sampson.
When Turner is on the floor, he must do a better job of disrupting the opposing center from feasting in the paint and/or on the offensive glass.
Rebounding as a whole has been a big issue for Indiana and a group effort needs to be had there for things to improve.
Game 1: Tuesday (8-18) at 4:00 PM, TNT
Game 2: Thursday (8-20) at 1:00 PM, ESPN
Game 3: Saturday (8-22) at 3:30 PM, TNT
Game 4: Monday (8-24) at 6:30 PM, TNT
Game 5: Wednesday (8-26), TBD
Game 6: Friday (8-28), TBD
Game 7: Sunday (8-30), TBD