This has to be the least exciting end to an NBA season in recent memory. The eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are already set. Some teams are jostling for seeding in hopes to avoid the Miami Heat, but there's not much else going on in the East. In the Western Conference, we have just one race for one playoff spot. The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers are fighting for the eight spot, as most Cavaliers' fans know. But outside of those few teams, it's a pretty quiet end to the season. Lots of teams have injuries and are just trying to cut their losses or rest up before the playoffs. Tonight, we've got two teams limping towards the finish line.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (24-52) vs. Indiana Pacers (48-29)
When? 7:00 PM Eastern
Where? Bankers Life Fieldhouse -- Indianapolis, IN
Where on my eyeballs? Fox Sports Ohio / NBA League Pass
Tickets? Cleveland Cavaliers tickets
The Pacers have been the best defense team in the NBA for much of the season. And they really turned it on in the second half of the year. They got some bad news going into the playoffs when they found out that Danny Granger would be out for the entire season after having knee surgery. But they've been without Granger for so long now that they seem to have adjusted to his absence. Paul George and, to a lesser degree, Lance Stephenson have stepped up in that role on the wing. Missing Granger is obviously a negative, but I don't think it will be a huge problem for the Pacers anymore.
Indiana is coming off two consecutive losses. The first loss was understandable, as it came against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The second loss was pretty inexcusable. The Pacers lost 104-85 to the Washington Wizards. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence when you consider the fact that the Pacers are going to be playing against actual playoff teams in just a few weeks. You've gotta beat teams like the Wizards. And if you make the logical jump from that point, you've gotta beat teams like the Cavaliers if you're the Indiana Pacers. I absolutely guarantee that the Pacers view this as a game in which they need to right the ship. They've lost two in a row and they cannot lose a third, especially to a team that is 24-52. They will be coming out with fire and determination to not only beat, but to demolish, the Cavaliers tonight.
Roy Hibbert is really huge
I have maintained that, despite what the New York Knicks are doing, the Pacers are the team best equipped to beat the Miami Heat. I'd feel better about their chances if they had Danny Granger, but in my mind, they are the best challengers regardless. And the biggest reason (literally) for that is Roy Hibbert. He's enormously huge and, in my opinion, the Defensive Player of the Year. There's nobody in the NBA that alters shots and denies drives to the rim as well as Hibbert. And as a result, the Pacers have the best defense in the NBA. But that's just one man's opinion.
Following that same thought, Hibbert will have a big impact on Kyrie Irving. When we think about how to defend point guards, we usually look at the other point guard. But in reality, the big man defenders arguably have a larger impact. Aside from maybe a few point guards, no one can really stay in front of Kyrie. But once he gets past his defender, he still has to score around the big man defending the rim. Kyrie has been in a tough slump lately and he mentioned the opposing bigs as a main reason why his shot isn't falling:
"I feel like I'm worrying a little too much about the bigs in the paint as well. For example, my floaters; I'm shooting them a little too high. I'm worried about the bigs instead of going in and finishing. I'm conscious of it."
So it's obvious that Kyrie has been able to identify a big reason for his recent slump. But with Roy Hibbert standing in the paint, it's gonna be hard to fix that tonight.
(If you didn't notice, that whole part about Roy Hibbert and protecting the rim is probably the best argument for drafting Nerlens Noel)
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction
Let's try not to get embarrassed. And I mean that in the best way possible. The Cavs are probably not going to win this game (for all of the reasons that I mentioned previously). But if the past two games are any indication, the Cavs will come out with strong energy and intensity. They won't just quit, or at least I hope. The Pacers are going to win 98-86.
Oh and we have to watch Tyler Hansbrough, so really, everybody loses.