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NBA Playoffs: Indiana Pacers vs. Cleveland Cavaliers series preview

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The Cavaliers have been waiting for this moment all season long. Playoff time has finally arrived.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

After a rather up-and-down regular season (the resulting chronic stress has me feeling roughly five years older), the Cavs are FINALLY back to playing playoff basketball again. What a weird regular season that was, and here I thought it couldn’t get any weirder than last season, but the moment has arrived at last. It’s time for the Cavs to flip the switch. Let’s get into it.

Who: Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers

When: Saturday, April 15, 3:00 P.M.

Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio

Where to watch: ABC

Enemy Blog: Indy Cornrows

Music: Flip the Switch – The Rolling Stones

What 2 Watch 4:

  • The Cavs didn’t exactly end the season the way they had hoped, as they went from blowing out the Boston Celtics on the road to blowing back-to-back games against the Atlanta Hawks in the strangest ways imaginable. From there, the Cavs basically relented the No. 1 seed to Boston and settled for the 2 seed.
  • The good news: LeBron James has had the 2 seed five times in his career. He has advanced to the NBA Finals all five times.
  • The other good news: The team is, for all intents and purposes, healthy. Kyrie Irving made us all feel uneasy last week when he exited the game with an injury against the Atlanta Hawks last Friday, and he talked after the game about how his surgically repaired left knee has been prone to flare-ups. While he did go off for 45 in their next game and seems to be fine now, it’s definitely something worth monitoring going forward.
  • As for Tristan Thompson, he played against the Toronto Raptors in the season finale, and he looked rather spry and energetic in his 18 minutes of game time. Tristan has missed the last four games after having played in 447 consecutive games prior, not to mention he’s made deep postseason runs the last two seasons and he effectively played the entire season without a backup. This time he’s had off could be a blessing in disguise, as he was clearly worn out from his heavy workload; he was laboring through it to keep his consecutive games played streak alive. He was finally able to get some key down-time and should be fresh and ready to go for the playoff run. He will have to play with a brace for a while as his sprained right thumb continues to heal, but it likely won’t hinder his ability to play his role effectively all too much.
  • The last time the Cavs played the Pacers, both teams put on an absolute show. On April 2, in a 2OT thriller, the Cavs outlasted the Pacers 135-130 in Cleveland. LeBron James and Paul George had an epic duel down the stretch, as LeBron went for 41-11-14 while George dropped 43-9-9 in one of the most entertaining (and strenuous) games of the season.
  • There are many interesting names to watch out for on the Pacers side. For starters, Paul George is a really good player. He’s all but bounced back from his devastating leg injury from a couple years back and looks as good as he ever has, not to mention he has a history of being a big-time playoff performer, especially when he’s going against LeBron.
  • Speaking of going against LeBron in the playoffs, Lance Stephenson. Yep, here we go again. It’s unclear how much Pacers head coach Nate McMillan plans to play Stephenson in the playoffs, but you can be assured he will be up to his old antics whenever he gets out there, vainly attempting to get in LeBron’s head (or his ear, I guess). I wouldn’t expect Lance to have a sizable impact in this series from a basketball standpoint, but when you put Lance Stephenson and J.R. Smith on the same basketball court at the same time, you never know what could happen.
  • Myles Turner is someone I’d pay close attention to in this series for the Pacers. The 21-year-old had a breakout sophomore year, averaging 14.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game on 51-35-81 shooting splits. Tristan Thompson should be a really good matchup for him in a battle of talented former Texas Longhorns big men.
  • On the Cavs side, it’s time to flip the switch. No need to continue biding time and waiting for meaningful basketball to commence again. The time is now.
  • Consistency is the name of the game. The Cavs looked very strong and consistent to start the season, but have faltered over the last few months of the season (28-8 in their first 36 games, 23-23 in their final 46 games). They’ve had stretches here and there where they’ve looked flat-out unstoppable, but they just weren’t able to string together strong performances during the latter part of the season.
  • The Cavs weren’t playing all too consistently headed into the playoffs last season either, and they went on to win their first 10 games of the postseason on their way to their second straight Finals appearance and their first championship in franchise history, so you never know what could happen.
  • Another key in this series for the Cavs is effort and intensity. They can’t treat this series like the Pacers are just a pushover; they need to get into playoff mode now. The Cavs have not played well in the latter half of this season and they need to use this series not only to boost their confidence and morale, but to establish their defensive principles and begin running offensive sets they’ll want to utilize going forward.
  • Cavs head coach Ty Lue has said that the Cavs have been holding back some of their offensive and defensive schemes, as many great teams tend to do in the regular season. That being said, the Cavs finished second-worst in the NBA in defensive rating and finished with a 12-15 record post All-Star Break, so suffice it to say the Cavs don’t exactly have the luxury of resting on their laurels like they’ve been able to in past seasons.
  • From here on, every game is a playoff game, and the Cavs need to play like it from the get-go. They’ve had plenty of time to rest, and they’ll have plenty more before the second round if they can handle their business.

Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction:

Paul George and the Pacers will play admirably and find a way to steal a game in Indiana, but the Cavs will finish them off in Cleveland and will advance to the next round. Cavs in 5.