For starters: Take a gander at ESPN’s Pacers-Bulls Series Page.
…I’d make a lousy coach.
I’ve read other playoff previews. I’ve sorted through stats. I’ve made an honest effort.
Still…I can’t find a single reason to fear the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana has the worst record (37-45) of any of this year’s playoff teams. I keep hearing that the Pacers made a strong run under coach Frank Vogel. And, sure, 20-18 is better than the 17-27 record they had under Jim O’Brien. But the Pacers are only 13-15 since the All-Star break.
Admittedly, that stretch includes a home win (in overtime) over the Bulls.
It also includes losses to the Kings, Pistons, Raptors and Timberwolves.
Now, the Pacers are facing a Bulls team that ranks first in Defensive Rating (100.3), first in Opponents Effective Field Goal Percentage (.463), third in Defensive Rebounding Percentage (.762) and fourth in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (.294). The Bulls flat out stop people from scoring and they control the boards.
That’s a solid formula for victory. Especially against lesser teams.
This is where I give the biggest of kudos to fellow TrueHoop Network blog Eight Points, Nine Seconds. Jared Wade and Tim Donahue have done a truly epic job of compiling charts and providing analysis in their multi-part series preview. Honestly, the effort they’ve put into their preview makes me feel like somebody who showed up to an AP calculus test naked. That’s not my way of tricking you into picturing me naked and/or doing math.
I’m saying you should probably get over there and read over what they have to say.
However, it’s meaningful that Wade and Donahue have crunched the numbers until there was nothing left to crunch and there’s nothing to support the notion that the Pacers are anything more than a man walking to the gallows. To beat the Bulls, Indy will have to buck every conceivable statistical trend and outplay Chicago in ways they haven’t played on a consistent basis all season.
If you want even more intelligent analysis from the TrueHoop Network, Sebastian Pruiti of NBA Playbook has put together a series preview complete with offensive breakdowns, defensive breakdowns and a look at each team’s x-factor. Spoiler Alert: Luol Deng is Chicago’s x-factor. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is Indiana’s.
See why I’d make a lousy coach?
I wouldn’t know how to make the Bulls take the Pacers seriously.
And maybe that’s Indiana’s biggest advantage. Being the underdog can be pretty good motivation. Just as…the Bulls. They’ve been playing with a chip on their shoulder all season.
Then again, maybe Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau could use the following tidbit as motivation. Donahue writes: “Digging deeper shows that the Pacers Offensive improvement comes from focusing on two specific areas: offensive rebounding and getting to the line. Under Vogel, Indiana has moved from 25th in ORB% to 8th, and from 28th in FT/FGA to 3rd. They were rewarded with an increase in offensive efficiency of 3.5 points per 100 possessions.”
So, under Vogel, Indy has been crashing the offensive boards and earning foul shots.
We already know the Bulls dominate the glass at both ends. They also rank 8th in Opponents Free Throw Attempts (1898) and Opponents Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt (.222).
See what I mean? I can’t find a single clear-cut advantage for the Pacers.
And I’ve really been looking. So have a lot of other smart people.
I know the Pacers won their last game against the Bulls, back on March 18. But it’s worth noting that Chicago was playing the second of back-to-back road games (they had won the previous night in New Jersey). It was also the Bulls’ third game in four nights. The Pacers were coming off a day of rest.
There were mitigating factors. That’s all I’m saying.
All these things said, the Pacers are 24-17 at home. I think there’s a very real possibility that they could win a home game against a Bulls team that isn’t really playoff tested…
…I know. I know. I’m grasping at straws here.
Let’s bottom line this: The Bulls are better across the board. The Pacers did well to make the playoffs, but they are sorely over-matched. Unless something goes drastically wrong — and, hey, it could — Pacers-Bulls will be the least exciting of this year’s first round match-ups.
Unless you’re a Bulls fan.