Previews: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers
How They Got Here
: The Cavs helped, to be sure. The teamís sensible and dignified reaction
toward winning its first championship mostly carried over into the regular seasonís first weeks,
and you can forgive the fits and fulminations that filled the 2016-17 seasonís middle months after
considering the idea that LeBron James and Co. are clearly rather sensitive about their window to
win a second straight title.
LeBron especially has proven prone to throwing a bit of a fit over things he canít change, as fans
would hope (from a franchise player who cares) even after acknowledging that LeBronís midseason
moanfests were clearly less than productive, that they did not and never could move that proverbial
needle all that much. The Cavs lost 15 of 26 to finish 2016-17.
This didnít get in the way of a good year in total, even if it will mean the Cavaliers enter the
postseason with a win total (51) lower than repeat champion in decades past from Miami, Los
Angeles or Chicago. The last time a defending champion entered the playoffs with a win total this
low, LeBronís 54-win Miami Heat dragged their way toward the playoffs and a Finals defeat in 2014
before James decided that his time and Miami had reached an end.
Those are the obvious announcements. Whatís leaked into your typical coverage is the news that
the Cavaliers have ranked amongst the leagueís worst defensive teams over the seasonís final
month and a half, and that they also enter the postseason with a defensive ranking (21st) that
only reminds of the 2001 Lakers and 1995 Rockets among recent champions in his heft.
The backers will point to the teamís absurdly-great offense, the scads of injuries to key players
throughout, and the fact that even after the proverbial needle stayed where it was, the flip has yet
to be touched by design Ė save for a few moments of regular season brilliance.
The wagering types will point to a more important fact: Cleveland enters the 2017 postseason fully
healthy. Thereís a nick here and there Ė Kyrie Irving is minding a knee injury, Kevin Love had
midseason knee surgery, LeBron James led the NBA in minutes per game at age 32 for some reason
Ė but the team appears to be ready for the chance to beat your four times in seven tries.
: Itís the Pacersí role to take things to seven tries, or five and then six, and itís a
role past Pacer teams seemed curiously suited for.
This yearís unit? Even after 82 games and nearly seven full months together, weíre still not sure
what to make of this group.
Created in response to what team president Larry Bird felt was a stilted, too-slow approach, Bird
infamously hired slow-down maestro Nate McMillan last summer before what turned out to be a
42-win season. Hilarious to both basketball and wordplay dorks, the Pacer pace dropped seven
slots to below league average at 18th out of 30 teams under McMillan in 2016-17.
This isnít to say the former SuperSonics and Trail Blazers coach didnít do a good job, because he
did: Indianaís offense shot up ten spots and though they took fewer threes this season (fourth-
least in the NBA, weird for a team hurriedly built for pace and space under Bird), the Pacers
ranked in the top five in three-point percentage. Indiana dropped out of the top five and into the
ranks of the mediocre (where theyíve only improved to offensively, as well) on defense, and the
squad responded with three fewer wins than during Frank Vogelís uneasy 2015-16 run.
Perhaps this is why Paul George has been significantly upset all season long, confused by his teamís
construction. If anything, George should be commended for limiting what could have been a
boisterous, daily approach to the confusion, and McMillan has done a fine job creating something
somewhat average out of this roster. Even if the Pacers were maddening in their inconsistency
The Pacers decided to do something about that maddening inconsistency by signing Lance
Stephenson to a three-year contract with just a few weeks to in the regular season, much to
The regular season run got off to a sordid start in Indianapolis, just a week into the season,
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