For those of you hung up on the Bulls & Heat in the east and the Thunder & Lakers in the West (and the Spurs too, I guess) just stop…..because you may just be in for a huge surprise. There are two “other teams” out there that have a fortunate road all the way to the Conference Finals.
The Indiana Pacers are the next team in the standings behind Chicago (1) and Miami (2). Team rotations usually shrink in the playoffs to a solid seven or eight. The Pacers happen to have o]arguably the most talented roster 1 through 7 in the entire league. Hill, George, Granger, West, and Hibbert start the game while guys like Darren Collison (former starter at PG) and Tyler Hansbrough (Psycho-T) round out this studly and versatile septuplet. If you take a look at this team’s path as the 3rd seed, it could be a deeper run than most people think.
Indiana starts by facing the starless Magic…who are as one dimensional as any team in recent memory. Orlando will shoot the 3-pointer first, second, and first again…. The Pacers shouldn’t have much trouble here. Should the Heat get past the Knicks, Indiana will face Miami in the second round. If you’ve had NBA League Pass over the past couple of years you know that the Pacers always seem to play the Heat well. It’s just not a good matchup for ‘The Heatles’. Indiana has an All-Star center to take advantage of Miami’s weakness at the five spot, and plenty of athleticism on the wings to deal with Lebron James and Dwyane Wade (cue Paul George and Danny Granger).
Looking even further down the road, have you ever noticed that PG George Hill looks a lot like Derrick Rose physically? From behind you may not be able to tell them apart. Who better to try and slow down last year’s MVP (other than turf toe) than G-Hill. Am I picking Indiana to face Chicago in the 3rd round? I wouldn’t go that far…yet. But in a week or so I may be closer to making that pick.
The West has it’s own possible contender sleeping in the weeds…the Memphis Grizzlies. They are pretty much the same team as last season except for one, not so minor, addition: Rudy Gay. This is a major upgrade from last year’s squad. The only reason they sit at 4th and not higher is that Zach Randolph missed most of the season with a knee injury. Well, Z-Bo is back along with Gay. I feel sorry for any team who has to face them.
They have the experience and homecourt advantage against the Los Angeles Clippers in round one. A win there will set up a dynamite second round battle. We all remember how this team dismantled San Antonio in the first round last year. Well, should they get past the Clips, they’ll face the same athletically challenged front line of Gregg Popovich again this time. Some may say the Spurs are “on a mission” and itching to get payback…..I think the opposite. The same matchups problems and disadvantages are still there for SAS. Memphis is bigger, stronger, and more athletic inside. They force turnovers on defense and, when you actually get a shot up, don’t give up many second-chance opportunities. Mike Conley can chase Tony Parker, Tony Allen can frustrate Manu Ginobili, and Marc Gasol will at the least neutralize Tim Duncan inside. On the other side, who will guard Gay and Randolph for the Spurs? rookie Kawhi Leonard and stiff Tiago Splitter. The stage is set for another upset in Texas…..
Every year in the playoffs some teams get a beneficial route through the bracket…..the stars aline just right and a team rides the momentum all the way through. I think there are 2 squads this year (Pacers and Grizzlies) getting all the way to the third round…..and maybe even beyond.