Frank Vogel will kill me already for calling this an upset despite his Indiana Pacers being down 1-0 in their playoff series with the Miami Heat.
Undoubtedly, though to many NBA observers, a Pacers victory in their second-round matchup with the Heat would be nothing less than an upset of monumental proportions. Miami after all is the world beaters with the supposed cake-walk to the NBA Finals thanks to Derrick Rose’s injury and Chicago’s subsequent elimination.
The Celtics, even, are the real opponent awaiting the Heat, not the third-seeded Pacers.
Face Indiana at your own risk though. This is a team that is feeling extremely confident after a virtual sweep of Orlando in the first round, closing out the five-game series with four straight wins. What the Pacers lack in experience (and maybe some poise), they make up for in athleticism and versatility. The Pacers were a matchup nightmare for the undersized Magic and had plenty of time to experiment.
While the Heat had several blowout victories against the Pacers during the season, the Playoffs ARE a different animal as both teams will likely learn in this series. Frank Vogel is one of the best rising coaches in the league and he is already learning the battle of words and posturing that comes with being this deep in the Playoffs. This is a team that has strengths where the Heat have weaknesses — point guard, center and bench depth.
So maybe the Pacers should not be dismissed so quickly.
Vogel, for one, continues to brashly display his confidence in his team as they prepare to face off against the top remaining seed in the Eastern Conference. He isn’t short on belief or bravado when it comes to his Pacers.
“I think we’re just embracing the challenge,” Vogel told the Associated Press. “I feel like we are one of the best teams in the league. We are not viewing this in any way, shape or form like a David-vs.-Goliath type of meeting. We are not the underdog here. This is two heavyweights going toe to toe.
“I don’t think we’re underdogs by any means. Miami has more recognition, honestly, with their big three guys, but I think we’re a good team as well.”
Certainly, the Pacers have done their fair share of flying under the radar. Indiana earned the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but there was definitely a movement among many Magic fans and probably some Hawks fans to “tank for sixth” and avoid a matchup with the experienced Celtics. It seemed Boston was the team everyone wanted to avoid in the first round. Of the top four seeds, Indiana seemed the ripest for an upset.
The Magic, even without Dwight Howard, learned to be careful what they wished for. Indiana very realistically could have swept the undermanned Orlando team and virtually did.
In a record sense and a dominance in the first round sense, Vogel is right this is a heavyweight fight. Most people probably would not consider it such because the Pacers were not on TV very often and were not one of the featured teams int he league. Their lone all star this year was the unassuming Roy Hibbert, whose production dipped considerably in the latter half of the series.
There are reasons to doubt that this will be a cake walk for Miami to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Reason number one is the exact same reason the upstate Magic had trouble in the first round. Roy Hibbert and David West are a formidable post duo and are opportunistic on the offensive glass. Hibbert is especially adept at using his long arms to negate bad positioning on the offensive glass for tip ins. He will not have the same post looks he did in the first round going up against Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier, but if he is motivated to play strong, he could be a handful.
West, on the other hand, WILL be a handful. He will attack the glass aggressively and he will be able to defend Chris Bosh successfully. The Pacers relied on West and ran a lot of their offense through West in the first round because of that height advantage. But West was a big key defensively in limiting Orlando’s 3-point opportunities and containing Most Improved Player of the Year winner Ryan Anderson.
The other advantage is at point guard. The Pacers start a very solid player in George Hill at point guard and then brings the speedy Darren Collison off the bench. Collison would probably be starting on most teams in the league. He took control of Game Five against the Magic and propelled the Pacers out of a fouth quarter deficit to run away with the game and clinch the series.
Miami is going to be have to be prepared for wave after wave of athletic, hard-working, hustle-filled play from this Pacers team.
Is that enough for the Pacers to win the series?
That is tough to say. The Heat still have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Paul George and Danny Granger are capable defenders, but James and Wade are really good basketball players (if you did not know). Those are two players that will overwhelm many teams and the Heat are no pushovers defensively. Indiana is probably a little too inconsistent offensively to pull of this upset.
The experience though will make Indiana a dangerous team in the coming years. This may not be the Pacers’ year to beat the Heat, but don’t be surprised if the series goes longer than you think.