NBA Playoffs 2017: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers Preview


In the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, the second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers take on the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, despite a 51-31 regular season record, would have to be considered an underachieving team as the 2017 NBA Playoffs are about to begin, as would their opponent in the first round, the Indiana Pacers.

The Boston Celtics overtook Cleveland to claim the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Cavs’ defense has been surprisingly porous this year, ranking 21st among the 30 NBA teams.

Considering that the Cavaliers are the defending NBA champions and have a star-studded roster, they have chosen to take the long-view during the regular season.

Cleveland has done what it feels is best to get ready for a playoff run, rather than trying to win every possible game during the season — thus their (relatively) underwhelming record in 2016-17.

The Cavs’ plan is to turn up the intensity now that the playoffs are here, but the question is: can they flip the switch that easily?

The Indiana Pacers were expected by some to be a contender in the East after making several good roster moves last summer. However, the season didn’t go as planned and the team ended up with the No. 7 seed, the same spot they were in last year.

The Pacers have been on a mission to score more points as a team the last two years and they accomplished that goal in 2016-17, increasing their scoring average by 2.9 points per game.

As a result of the team’s increased emphasis on offense, however, the club’s defense has slipped significantly. Indiana’s opponents scored 4.8 more points per contest than they did the previous year, so the offense/defense trade-off hasn’t been a good one for the Pacers.

Like Cleveland, Indiana didn’t meet expectations during the regular season, but those two situations were very different.

The Cavaliers had a “lesser” record due primarily to resting their stars and giving their bench a chance to grow and gain experience; the Pacers’ record slipped because their slightly improved offense couldn’t make up for an inconsistent and often sieve-like defense.

Will the Cavs just turn it on and send the Pacers home in short order? Can Paul George will his team to a first-round upset of the defending champs? Let’s take a look at how these teams match up.

Likely Starting Lineups

Point Guard

Kyrie Irving (CLE) vs. Jeff Teague (IND)

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Jeff Teague had a good first season as the Pacers’ point guard, but he is no Kyrie Irving. Irving is a big-time scorer, an excellent three-point shooter and one of the league’s rising stars.

Jeff Teague is an effective passer and has good all-around skills, including a Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (courtesy of ESPN) that is superior to Irving’s.

On the whole, Kyrie Irving is a more dynamic player than Jeff Teague, and Irving has a greater impact on a much more talented team.

Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers

Shooting Guard

J.R. Smith (CLE) vs. Monta Ellis (IND)

J.R. Smith suffered through a difficult 2016-17 season, struggling with both injuries and performance. He played in exactly half of Cleveland’s regular season games, and he produced numbers below his career average in virtually every meaningful statistic.

Monta Ellis was once one of the elite scorers in the NBA, but after 12 pro seasons, he is not the high-octane player he used to be. Ellis and Smith had very similar seasons, although Ellis is a better passer, while Smith is a better three-point marksman.

Defensive Real Plus-Minus reveals that J.R. Smith was more effective than Monta Ellis on the defensive end this past season. This is close to a push, but the more explosive scorer gets a slight nod.

Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers

Small Forward

LeBron James (CLE) vs. Paul George (IND)

Indiana’s Paul George would win the small forward matchup against most NBA teams, but Cleveland is not one of them.

LeBron James is an NBA MVP and an NBA champion; Paul George, well, aspires to be like LeBron James. Both of these players are capable of taking over games and even an entire series, but the difference is that James does those things on a routine basis.

Paul George is statistically better at the free throw line and behind the arc, but he is a tier below James overall. George is an All-Star; LeBron James is a superstar.

Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers

Power Forward

Kevin Love (CLE) vs. Thaddeus Young (IND)

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Kevin Love wasn’t able to find his niche right away upon joining the Cavs in 2014, but he had a stellar 2016-17 season.

Not only did he put up outstanding statistics, but his oft-criticized defense was rated 16th out of 94 power forwards in the league this season.

Thaddeus Young has been a good find for Indiana, supplying productivity, hustle and experience in his first season with the Pacers. Young is a respected NBA veteran, but Love is on another level.

Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers

Center

Tristan Thompson (CLE) vs. Myles Turner (IND)

To a degree, comparing Tristan Thomson to Myles Turner is like comparing apples to oranges. Their roles are completely different, but we can still isolate them individually and make a call about which team has the advantage at center.

Thompson is that guy every great team needs who does all the dirty work. He’s a rugged rebounder and an opportunistic scorer when close to the basket.

Myles Turner, in just his second pro season, is one of Indiana’s key players and has grown smoothly into that role. Turner is a skilled, athletic, hard-working player who many feel is on the verge of stardom — and he’s already a very good NBA player at the tender age of 21.

Advantage: Indiana Pacers

Sixth Man/Bench

Kyle Korver (CLE) vs. C.J. Miles (IND)

The sixth man matchup is between two of the league’s best deep shooters. There are a lot of similarities between Korver and Miles, but Korver has been shooting a scintillating 49 percent from three-point land since joining the Cavaliers.

Cleveland’s bench is mostly made up of veterans who have been quality starters on other teams. The Pacers’ bench is not as deep, but they do have a wildcard: the talented but unpredictable Lance Stephenson.

“Born Ready” has brought a new energy to the team since joining them six games ago, but he is just as capable of imploding as he is exploding.

Advantage: Cleveland Cavaliers

Coaching

Tyronn Lue (CLE) vs. Nate McMillan (IND)

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Nate McMillan has more coaching experience than Tyronn Lue, but Lue has the far superior record. Of course, much of that depends on who you have playing for you and Lue has enjoyed the luxury of coaching two “loaded” teams in Cleveland.

McMillan’s NBA coaching resume is fairly average, so he won’t strike fear into anyone on the Cavaliers’ side. Tyronn Lue has been learning on the job for two years, but he’s proven that he can push enough of the right buttons to keep his team at or near the top of the league.

Not a lot to choose from here, as neither man appears to have enough coaching ammunition to be a difference maker in this series.

Advantage: Push

Key Matchup

Tristan Thompson (CLE) vs. Myles Turner (IND)

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Realistically, there is only one position in which the Pacers have a chance to dominate a head-to-head match-up in this series, and this is it.

The Cavaliers are deeper and more talented than Indiana, but this is the spot in the lineup that Cleveland must try to limit the Pacers’ advantage.

The starting centers may be a bit under-the-radar compared to stars such as LeBron James and Paul George, but the big men have the best chance to swing this series one way or the other.

Cleveland Will Win If…

Their team remains healthy throughout the series. The fully-loaded version of the Cavs will be too much for the upstart Pacers.

Indiana Will Win If…

Myles Turner has a Herculean series, Cleveland fails to rediscover its defensive mojo and the rest of Indiana’s starting five can hold their own just enough.

Prediction:

Cleveland Cavaliers defeat Indiana Pacers 4-2.

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Source: Fox Sports

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