It's time for the NBA Playoffs, and for the first time in five years, the Indiana Pacers are a part of it! Let's take a moment and celebrate, because chances are, once they actually start, it's not going to be very pleasant.
The 8th seeded, 37-45 Indiana Pacers will take on the 1st seeded, 62-20 Chicago Bulls, the team with the best record in the NBA. Not surprisingly, no one is giving the Pacers a chance. No one at ESPN believes the Pacers can take more than a game from the Bulls -- most are predicting a brutal sweep. The Pacers have been called anything from this year's 'cupcake' to a 'warmup', and John Hollinger even wrote: 'as 15 outstanding teams and the Indiana Pacers get ready to tip off the league's second season...'.
There's a plethora of reasons why the Bulls will probably broom the Pacers. First of all, they won 25 more games than the Pacers and they have home court advantage. Secondly, they have one of the best defenses in the NBA, and the Pacers have not been a good defensive team under interim head coach Frank Vogel. Thirdly, they won the season series 3-1, and the 3 victories weren't even close (92-73, 99-86, 110-89), and the lone loss was in overtime. Fourth, no one on the Pacers can come close to stopping Derrick Rose. Darren Collison can't even guard below-average PGs in the NBA, and I fear it will get awfully ugly for him against the lock for MVP this season. Fifth, no one on the team can adequately guard Carlos Boozer. Hansbrough is too inexperienced, Hibbert is too slow, and Jeff Foster is too old.
But I'm here to provide hope. The Pacers are in the playoffs, which means they have a chance. Here are the top 5 reasons why the Pacers can upset the Chicago Bulls.
5. The Pacers have a new head coach
The Pacers were 20-18 under interim head coach Frank Vogel, a winning percentage (53%) that translates to a 43-win team. Sure, they had one of the softest second-half schedules of the entire NBA and only won 6 games against current playoff teams, but it's certainly better than the 17-27 they were under former coach Jim O'Brien.
Moreover, the 3 losses against the Bulls happened when Jim O'Brien was coach. They are 1-0 against the Bulls under Frank Vogel.
4. The Bulls are under pressure and untested
I think a lot of people forget that pressure can do weird things to players and teams, especially one as young and relatively inexperienced as the Chicago Bulls. Sure, the Pacers haven't even been in the playoffs for five years and are even more untested, but no one expects the Pacers to win more than a game in this series. But remember -- the Bulls have been picked to make the finals, and based on the predictions of some, they will win it all. That's a lot of pressure for a team that hasn't even won a playoff series yet.
Tom Thibodeau is a young coach and also untested. How will he respond to the pressure? What if the Pacers steal game one? What if they go on to hold home court? Will he be able to make the necessary adjustments and steady the ship? Will the players be able to handle the bulls-eye on their backs and the 24-7 spotlight? Teams that do extraordinarily well in the regular season don't necessarily win in the playoffs. We've seen that from the league leading Cleveland Cavaliers teams the last couple of years.
3. Derrick Rose is not all that
Let me make myself clear: I think Derrick Rose is a fantastic player that has exceeded expectations this season, but I think the media is overrating him. They are annointing him as the best player in the game right now, which is simply not true. He could be, in a few years, but he's not there yet. He's only 22 and still learning the game. He can still be pressured into mistakes. He can still play out of control at times. And his jumper, while dramatically improved, can still be erratic at times. I'm nitpicking, perhaps, but I think the MVP-to-be can be frustrated into a bad series.
On the other hand, let's assume Derrick Rose is all that. Let's assume he is every bit as good as the media is painting him out to be. If the Pacers can somehow manage to play focused team defense on him and contain him, does that mean the Bulls are in trouble? If Derrick Rose unfortunately suffers an injury during the series, what will happen then?
Danny Granger said he'd prefer facing the Bulls than the Boston Celtics, and he's right. The Pacers have little chance against either team, but they have a better chance against the Bulls because of their reliance on Rose, whereas the Celtics have too many experienced weapons for the Pacers. He's just being perfectly honest.
2. The Pacers can beat anyone when they are on their game
When the Pacers are off, as we have witnessed countless times this season, they are really off. But when they are on their game, they have demonstrated that they can beat any team in the NBA. Apart from the Bulls, the Pacers have beaten the Miami Heat, the LA Lakers, the Dallas Mavericks, the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics, amongst others. Some of their big wins have come on the road.
The Pacers are young and unpredictable, but that makes them dangerous against a team like the Bulls. They'll play hard and they'll be physical, and they'll have absolutely nothing to lose. What if they click again like they did at the start of the season when they were slaying giants left right and center? What if they catch fire again like that historic game against the Nuggets where they shot the lights out?
It's the NBA Playoffs, and like Kevin Garnett once said, anything is possible.
1. I have lost my mind