Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be doing series previews for each and every matchup. For more in-depth analysis, check out our Eastern and Western Conference Preview Articles, which covered the conferences at-large. Find all of our NBA playoff content here and on Twitter (@GamblingPodcast and @NBAZachB).
Series Prices and Game 1 Line
Indiana Pacers +475 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers -650.
G1: IND @ CLE (-6.5), O/U 212.5, +245/-305.
Regular Season H2H (3-1 IND)
11/1/17: Indiana 124, Cleveland (-10) 107. Over 217.5.
12/8/17: Cleveland (-3.5) 102, Indiana 106. Under 221.5.
1/12/18: Cleveland (-1.5) 95, Indiana 97. Under 221.
1/26/18: Indiana 108, Cleveland (-6) 115. Push 223.
Facts and Figures
Cleveland Cavaliers (#4)
- 50-32 Overall. 31-50-1 ATS. 39-41-2 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Lebron James, 27.5 PPG.
- Best Stats: Lebron James Exists (#1), 54.7% Effective FG (#3), 12 3-PT/Gm (#3).
- Worst Stats: +0.9 Scoring Margin/Gm (#14), 41.8 Opp. FG/Gm (#30), 47.4% Opp. FG (#28), 11.7 Opp. 3-PT/Gm (#28).
- Notable Injuries: Rodney Hood, Achilles – Questionable for Game 1.
Indiana Pacers (#5)
- 48-34 Overall. 47-35 ATS. 31-49-2 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Victor Oladipo, 23.1 PPG.
- Best Stats: 24.8 Opp Pts in 3Q/Gm (#2) , 47.2% FG (#6), 8.8 STL/Gm (#3).
- Worst Stats: 19.2 FTA/Gm (#27), 53% Opp. FG (#27) 9 3-PT/Gm (#25).
- Notable Injuries: None.
Key Overall Matchup
Will Cleveland’s defense be bad enough that the door opens for Indiana to simply outscore them?
Cleveland’s defense has been rightfully described all year as atrocious. That starts and ends with their effort, which has been flat-out embarrassing some nights. But it also has a lot to do with the lack of elite defenders on this roster. They don’t have anyone, outside of Lebron James who was terrible this year on defense but undoubtedly deserves an upgrade in the postseason, who can shut down an explosive guard. They don’t have a rim protector who can clog the paint and make up for their lack of perimeter defense.
The stats back up the product on the floor. Cleveland was in the bottom of the league in just about everything defensively, made even more embarrassing when you consider the fact that half the league was trying to lose games for the last two months. Cleveland gives up 110 points per game, allows its opponents to shoot 47.4% from the field, and posted a 109.5 defensive rating during the regular season, better than only the 21-61 Phoenix Suns. One stat startled me when preparing for this preview: out of all players in the league who appeared in at least 20 games and played 20 minutes per contest, JR Smith, Lebron James, Kevin Love, George Hill, and Tristan Thompson were all amongst the 20 worst-rated defenders in the NBA. There are over 300 guys in that criterion-pool, and five of them are getting heavy minutes. Just awful stuff from Cleveland defensively this year.
The good news for Cleveland is they have playoff Lebron, which means they will undoubtedly be an offensive juggernaut that should put up 110+ on a nightly basis. Indiana’s defense is good, not great, but nowhere near the historic level of defense that would be required to slow down a Lebron-led offense where he’s surrounded by elite three-point shooting. Cleveland should have no trouble scoring the ball, yet a lot of trouble getting stops against Indiana’s pick and roll heavy offense.
The question then becomes whether Indiana’s offense against Cleveland’s defense can become a bigger mismatch than the other way around. It’s not impossible, but Indiana will have to be up in the 120s on multiple nights of this series.
Key Individual Matchup
Victor Oladipo vs. Lebron James
When we look back on this series, the margin by which Lebron outperforms Victor Oladipo will probably tell the whole story. Oladipo was the most improved player in the league this season, emerging from the Westbrookian hostage situation to take the reins of this Indiana team and lead it far beyond anyone’s expectations. He is not better than Lebron James, however. In fact, he’s not even close. Luckily for ‘Dipo, he doesn’t have to better than Lebron, he just has to statistically equate him on at least four nights of the series.
If Lebron and Oladipo are equally leading their teams offensively and rendering both impossible for the other team to stop, we will likely have high-scoring yet close games that come down to buckets in the final minutes. Lebron can’t be stopped, indeed, but there have also been times this year when Oladipo has looked like one of the most clutch guys in the league. If he can’t be stopped either, it doesn’t matter that he won’t do it as gracefully or dominantly as Lebron does. Once you pass a certain threshold of elite play, differences on the margin matter way less.
Can Oladipo go toe-to-toe with the King? Or, will Lebron be a God amongst men in this playoff series as he has in so many before? If it’s the first option, then Indiana might just have a chance. If Lebron overwhelms the entire moment, it’s still going to be Cleveland’s series despite their atrocious defense.
Indiana is elite at 47-35 ATS. Cleveland is atrocious, going 31-50-1 ATS.
Indiana is 6-9 ATS and just 5-10 SU as a home dog. The under is 10-5 when Indiana is a home dog.
Cleveland is 11-25 ATS as a home favorite.
Indiana wins if…
They score 110+ more often than they don’t; Victor Oladipo is unbelievable and especially so in the fourth quarter; Lebron James misses a few big shots; Cleveland’s defense doesn’t improve from the regular season.
Cleveland wins if…
Lebron is Lebron; they defend at a reasonable level.
Cavs in 5.