Pacers First Round Preview vs Cavaliers

Pacers first-round preview against LeBron and the Cavaliers.

For the fifth time in seven years, the Indiana Pacers will face LeBron James in the playoffs -- the most recent encounter took place last season when the Cavaliers swept the Paul George-led Pacers. Despite being swept, it was one of the more competitive first-round series last season. The margin of victory for those four games was a total of 16 points. Could this be the postseason where the Pacers finally defeat LeBron?

Indiana won the competitive regular season series (3-1) this year -- all except the first game (a 17-point win for the Pacers) were decided in the fourth quarter. However, fans should not place too much stock in those regular season wins, because we all know LeBron’s teams are entirely different animals in the postseason. Plus the two teams haven’t faced each other since the Cavs roster overhaul at the trade deadline.

Keys to victory

Make LeBron Work

LeBron averaged 29 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in the four games against the Pacers, with shooting splits of 55/19/79. Now everyone in their right mind knows that LeBron James is the best player on the planet and that there’s no “stopping” him. The only thing you can do is make him work for every shot and make things as difficult as possible, which the Pacers were able to do to a certain degree.

In their three regular-season losses, LeBron attempted over 20 shots per game, compared to only taking an efficient 17 shot in their lone win. The Pacers must look to replicate that success in the postseason.

Nate McMillan will attempt to send different looks and defenders at LeBron but expect to see Thaddeus Young and Lance Stephenson spending the bulk of the time guarding him. Between the two players, Stephenson has a better track record when comes to “success” at guarding LeBron -- he is the only player on the roster that matches well with him physically. With their “rivalry” dating back to LeBron’s days with the Heat, Stephenson has been the only player in recent memory that has been able to get in LeBron’s head and force him to play uncharacteristically.

Attack the Cavs Bigs

The Cavs defensive struggles have been well documented this season. But to their credit, they have slightly improved defensively since the trade deadline, after acquiring younger and more athletic players (109.9 vs. 108.9 DRtg). What hasn't changed, however, is the poor defense from frontcourt members Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

When it comes to defending the roll man, Love and Thompson are rated “below average,” according to Synergy, giving up 1.16 and 1.14 points per possession, respectively. More specifically, both players struggle to defend the pick n’ pop (1.31 and 1.08 points per possession, respectively). Luckily for Indiana, Myles Turner has excelled in the pick n’ pop, scoring 1.01 points per possession and posting a 51 effective field goal percentage.

If the Cavs decide to switch on the picks to eliminate the pick n’ pop, the Pacers could attack the bigs in isolation like the clip below.

Victor Oladipo should be able to feast on the Cavs big men in the event of a switch on a pick-and-roll, as Love and Thompson allow 1.22 and 1.37 points per possession in isolation situations, respectively.

Myles Turner Needs to Show Up

For the Pacers to with the series, Turner will have to be the third best player on the court (behind LeBron and Oladipo). As I mentioned earlier, Turner will play a pivotal role on the offensive end in the pick n’ pop game. The only problem is that Turner has struggled mightily over the past ten games, averaging just over 7 points per game, with shooting splits of 33/20/81, and pulling down less than 4 rebound per game.

If this Myles Turner doesn't show up, Indiana may be playing their final game of the season next Sunday. Indiana needs him to outplay Kevin Love and make his presence felt on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.


I expect the Pacers to be competitive in this series, not laying down easily against LeBron and company. However, LeBron will be too much to handle for Indiana and will send the Pacers to an early offseason after six hard-fought games.

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