Saturday evening the Magic will open up their sixth straight Playoff appearance and 14th Playoff appearance in the last 19 years. But, for sure, this season has the most uncertainty. The Magic won the season series agains the Pacers but had a little guy named Dwight Howard dominating the paint to do so. It is safe to say this uncertain season is going to end with an uncertain postseason.
Everyone is 0-0 and the same 16 wins away from a championship. So... I am saying there is a chance.
Yes, many Magic fans already have their eyes on the offseason. But there is still a Playoff series to get through. And it should still be a decent one.
The Pacers are very much like the Magic of 2008, flying under the radar with a balanced offense and a strong defense. So, of course, the Magic get their date with them.
Orlando Magic Daily: Roy Hibbert struggles against Dwight Howard. With no Howard in for the Magic, how heavily involved will Hibbert be in the gameplan? What does Indiana need from Hibbert to win this series?
Pacers Pulse: Theoretically, Hibbert should always be heavily involved in the Pacers' offense no matter who they play, but he has had a history of disappearing from games despite his 7-foot-2 frame. This season Hibbert has shown a lot of improvement, and without Howard, the Pacers will no doubt force feed him the ball often and let him go to work against the Magic's slew of 6-foot-10 forwards, none of whom should be able to seriously trouble him. Hibbert is also an underrated passer for a big man, so if the Magic decide to converge on him that could open it up for the Pacers' shooters. Indiana just needs Hibbert to be himself and the Pacers should be fine, but how aggressive he is could decide how close the series gets.
Pacers Center: The Pacers will need to get Roy Hibbert heavily involved with the absence of Howard. Hibbert has played great down the stretch for the Pacers, and for them to have a strong shot in this series, Hibbert will need to consistently provide 13 points and 10 rebounds.
OMD: Indiana kind of came out of nowhere this season after sneaking into the Playoffs last year. What was the biggest difference this year? What helped the Pacers get over the top and become such a strong team this season?
PP: A variety of reasons. The additions of David West and George Hill obviously helped a lot in terms of providing more firepower and a stabilizing force on and off the court. West in particular has become the team's mental anchor, something they sorely lacked last year. Paul George is developing into a star. After a rough start, Danny Granger is finally learning that he doesn't have to force up shots every night. Even more minor additions such as Leandro Barbosa and Lou Amundson have had an impact. And of course, a full year with new coach Frank Vogel has developed their chemistry and given this team more confidence. A very easy schedule to finish the season also helped.
PC: The biggest difference is Frank Vogel having the job full-time over Jim O'Brien. The players did not care for O'Brien. Also, the addition of George Hill, David West, Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa have really helped the team with their veteran leadership. The media says the Pacers are young and inexperienced in the playoffs. But Hill has made playoff runs with the Spurs, West with the Hornets, and Amundson/Barbosa with the Suns. David West brings a calming influence to the team and they look to him when they need a basket. Expect them to go to West in late game situations.
OMD: The Magic are obviously a different team without Dwight Howard. With the roster the Magic will use for the postseason, what should concern the Pacers most?
PP: The truth is, the Pacers still have a lot of concerns even without Dwight Howard to worry about. The Magic have a lot of weapons who can suddenly get hot and pour in a bunch of points,. The three-point line will have to be well-defended. Ryan Anderson is going to be huge for the Magic if he can get going. Jason Richardson and J.J. Reddick can both catch fire from the outside. And [Hedo] Turkoglu's veteran craftiness and experience can still give the Pacers' younger players a lot of problems on the defensive end. If the Pacers take the Magic lightly (which they've said they won't), an upset is certainly not out of the question.
PC: Ryan Anderson and J.J. Reddick. Anderson is a bad matchup for West and it has shown in the previous games. Paul George although a good defender, and with his length should be able to stay with Reddick, has had trouble letting 3-point shooters get open when being run off picks. Ray Allen, J.J. Reddick, Kyle Korver have all been able to get hot against Paul George.
OMD: Like the Magic a few years ago, the Pacers are still flying under the radar. Could this team be a Playoff surprise and make a deep run? What would Indiana need to happen to get to the Finals this year or in the next few years?
PP: Unlike a lot of other Pacers fans, I think the Pacers are still a few steps away from being able to get past the second round in the East. As far as they have come this year, I feel they simply don't have what it takes to beat either Chicago or Miami four times in seven games. Can they surprise people and knock them off? Sure they can, but barring major injuries to key guys on those teams or unless everything comes together for the Pacers like it did for the Mavs last year, I just can't see it happening.
To get to that next level the Pacers need more development from their young players and an additional piece or two, though at the moment it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is they need. Steve Nash?
PC: I don't think the Pacers are a Finals team yet, but I do think they can make a deep run in the postseason. Pacers fans are expecting and hoping for a first round win, and then maybe a really competitive series against the Heat in Round 2. If they are able to keep the core players intact, and use the playoff experience, I think in the next few years they can make a strong push for the Finals.
OMD: I am all about history, what is your most vivid memory of the mid-90s battles between the Magic and the Pacers in the Playoffs? Are there any parallels to this team and those teams?
PP: I remember when the old Reggie Miller/Rik Smits teams battled Shaq/Penny back in the day, the most painful of which was that seven-game series which saw Shaq go on to get swept by the Rockets in the 1995 Finals. Of course, my favorite memory was the Pacers first round sweep over the Magic in 1994, which established the Pacers as a force to be reckoned within the East. It's hard to find any genuine parallels -- those Pacers teams were of course way better than this team.
PC: My most vivid memory between the Magic/Pacers battles of the 90's is the Memorial Day Miracle. Penny Hardaway had just hit a shot to take the lead at MSA [Market Square Arena], and Rik Smits nailed a buzzer beater at the elbow to win the game. There are a lot of parallels to this team. Many compare it to the 93-94 team for the Pacers that made the playoffs the year before, then went deep into the playoffs the following year. Roy Hibbert is constantly compared to Smits, and although they aren't the same players, Granger gets compared to Reggie Miller.
OMD: Prediction for the series. Who wins, how many games and who is the MVP and unsung hero?
PP: With all due respect to the Magic, the loss of Dwight Howard is too much to overcome. The Pacers' inexperience could lose them a game or two, but with the way the two sides are playing right now I predict a five-game series win for the Pacers. Even though Danny Granger or Roy Hibbert could average more points, the MVP will be David West -- he has erupted into beast mode as of late and even when he's not putting up big numbers his experience and stability will still be invaluable to the team. Unsung hero? Leandro Barbosa. With George Hill moved to the starting lineup he will be the key for the Pacers' bench squad, and I believe he will deliver.
PC: I think the Pacers will win this series. A lot of analysts are predicting the Magic don't have a shot, but I think it will be more competitive than people think. I think it will go six games, the Pacers are too young to sweep any team in the playoffs. MVP will be Danny Granger and the unsung hero will be Tyler Hansbrough with a big game at some point.
OMD: Many thanks to Pacers Pulse and Pacers Central for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Game One is Saturday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN and FSFlorida.