So what if the Pacers are a sub-500 team. So they’re an 8th seed. So what if the Conseco Fieldhouse might actually seat more Bulls fans than Pacer fans. This is the 8th seed, the very seed we have held for the last two seasons going into the playoffs. We took one favorite to 7 games and made our statements in another. These first round series should be the easiest of the post-season for a #1 seed, but only if the Bulls come prepared. We know this is serious business come tip-off.
We know the Pacers like to go small in a hurry. They love to take chances on defense, and they are an inexperienced, underachieving team. Each position has shown promise as the season comes to its close. There are a good few reasons why the Bulls have to be completely polished and ready to win game one.
Collison has become more efficient throughout the season. His FG% is up, and his minutes stay relatively high. He has been attacking more in Indiana’s run to make it into the playoffs, and his foot is still on the gas. Rose outmatches Collison in every category, with the exception of Darren willing to take a back seat on offense to play his heart out on defense. He was Chris Paul’s backup during his rookie season, and he knows how to manage the floor exceptionally well for a 2nd year player. Collison isn’t effective at creating shots for his teammates, but he has facilitated through his teammates well. He also has exploded for a handful of 20+ point games this season against respectable opponents.
In his role at starting shooting guard, George uses his length and athleticism to exploit the smaller shooting guards. His natural position is at Small Forward, but due to the log-jam at the position, George sees minutes where he can get them. George is excellent in the transition, and he’s a very sneaky defender. His main weakness has been drawing contact and getting to the line. He is a finesse player that only has short spurts of getting physical in each game. He will make plays, big plays. The real question is, can he make those plays on this level, and at this stage.
Past all-star and still one of the most effective SFs in the game, the Granger and Deng matchup will become the key in this series. Granger will get to the line and he will shoot well from beyond the arc. What he won’t do, is shut out Luol Deng. While Ronnie Brewer has been outstanding as a defender this season, Granger has effectively put Brewer into uncomfortable positions on both ends of the court. Look for Granger to open the playoffs with a reminder to the world, that he is still a special player and the Pacers are still very much so his team.
Hansbrough had a great game against the Bulls in their last meeting. He shot .632 and scored 29 and grabbed 12 boards in a very physical game. That was not a normal performance from Tyler, although his youth and gaining momentum suggests that he should be able to have a lot more big performances. The only question from the Bulls would be whether or not that performance was a fluke, or if he causes Boozer and Gibson serious problems. He’s effective at scoring, he’s effective at getting to the line, and he’s effective at making defensive stops. The second year player from North Carolina was among the best in college basketball during his final season as a Tar Heel. Maybe he’s a late bloomer, and late bloomers either show up in the playoffs due to their work ethic, or they improve each game. Look for the Bulls to matchup Hansbrough on Noah, and watch Kurt Thomas take about 8 charges from Tyler in this series.
Early on this season, Hibbert was an eary candidate for Most Improved Player. He started to slump around the new year after an ailing knee caught up with him. When he feels good, he plays excellent, and when he doesn’t feel too good, he’s still just over 7’2″and always a shot blocking presence(11th in the NBA). Hibbert may not be fast enough to keep up with Noah and Asik, but his quickness as a big man is very under rated. The Bulls wont attack Hibbert as much in the first half, unless he gets unexpectedly hot, early. In the second half, the Bulls will over-focus on Hibbert, leaving more opportunities off the wings, which in turn, readjusts the balance in Hibberts favor. The sooner the Bulls can frustrate Hibbert, the sooner the Pacers will put the full load onto Granger. Hibbert has posted just over 3.3 points per game in the 3 losses agaist the Bulls, and 15 points in the late season win.
Indiana rotates between 3 ‘Sixth Men’, Making it more of a 6th, 7th, and 8th man with an honorable mention here.
Mike Dunleavy gets the most minutes off the bench, but Josh McRoberts plays a bigger role against teams like the Bulls, making it hard to point out who is their true 6th man. The Bulls are similar, in ways that have Taj, Brewer, and Korver splitting that same role. Expect different matchups in each game off the bench from the Pacers.
Dunleavy is regaining his stride after suffering a broken thumb earlier in the season. He can be a defensive liability, but his ability to stretch the floor helps Indiana’s second unit score quick buckets to get them back into games. Mike Dunleavy plays the passing lanes as good as any Small Forward the Bulls have faced this season. The Bulls can exploit line-ups quick when he is in if Coach Frank Vogel doesn’t adjust his rotations quick enough.
An explosive 6’6″ Shooting Guard from Kansas, Rush is as streaky as they come. In 3 games against the Bulls, Brandon Rush was held to a mere .259 from the field and saw his action purely on what he adds to the Pacers team ability to get second chance baskets. Look for him to be one of the fist guys to come off the bench to help the Pacers go small in their lineup. Rush will occasionally come in for bigmen, Hansbrough or Hibbert to allow the Pacers to go small.
McRoberts is a physical player that can come in do a little of everything. He is a respectable passer and an effective shooter. He has his favorite spots on the floor and as he gets tired, he will camp for his shots. Look for McRoberts to steal offensive boards early and throw a few hard fouls late in the game. He has excellent size and he can stretch defenses, but he is untested in the playoffs. Josh could show the Bulls a new level of his play and exploit Boozer in late game situations.
Ford is a sleeper. He can be dangerous, some say that he chooses not to play at another level, some say his legs aren’t what they used to be, but who knows. The Bulls can’t let T.J. expose the lanes. Depending on which T.J. Ford shows up, expect the Bulls to get caught off guard for a few drives before completely locking him down. Ford’s defense is much like his offense. When he chooses to show up, he can create fits, although against taller and vertical guards like Rose and Watson, Ford is quick to capitalize off petty turnovers. Ford is also great at getting contact and getting a few quick calls.
The Pacers rely on their small rotations often and they don’t have a lot of playoff experience. James Posey is 34 years old and won a ring, being part of the Miami Heat in 2006. He can exploit teams without a legitimate wing-forward presence off the bench, just not this season against the Bulls. Other than Posey, the rest of the bench is not going to make a real name for themselves this post-season. Pacer fans might have fan favorites, but as far as the Bulls are concerned, the remaining bench is irrelevant.
This Pacers team has a lot of weapons, and they are playing hard at the right time of year. While their coach hasn’t been linked to brilliance, much credit has to go out to the Pacers for grabbing that final playoff spot, when at some point, it seemed like nobody wanted it.
The series is expected to start on Tuesday, April 19th at the United Center. The dates are still TBA officially until after the regular season wraps up.