The Pacers are better than people think

Watching the widespread panic settle over NBA analysts and Bulls fans because the Bulls have won two close games amuses me.   The Chicago Bulls have not played their best basketball, even I am not denying that.   However, so much of the angst over these two close wins comes from the fact that the Pacers look like the worst team in the playoffs on the surface.

However, that simply isn't the case.

The Pacers had a fundamental change mid season

The Pacers changed coaches mid season after the players tuned out Jim O'Brien and struggled with his three point shooting oriented offense.   Since switching to Vogel, the Pacers have played considerably better.   Here's a look at the bottom four seeds in each conference over their last 38 games, the span over which the Pacers played with their new head coach.

I use 38 games, because it's a number where a franchise changing moment happened for the Pacers.   They switched coaches.   This number isn't cherry picked to avoid their greatest losing streak or anything like that, but is based on the point where the Pacers became a new team.

If I wanted to cherry pick, I'd say they were 10-7 over their last 17
games then say they were on pace to win 48 games if you pro-rate that
stretch out.

Of course they aren't the only ones

The New Orleans Hornets (losing David West), Denver Nuggets (trading
Melo), New York Knicks (trading for Melo), and Portland Trailblazers
(bringing in Gerald Wallace) also had franchise changing moments over
this the closing stretch that drastically altered their play relative to
the beginning of the year while the other four teams simply played
better or worse for other internal reasons.

There are some other caveats with this list.   Different teams had varying
levels of performance down the very end of the stretch due to locking
in their playoff position.   However, this includes the Pacers who
dropped their final two games after clinching their playoff spot, but
having no ability to move up either.

Without trying to guess how many games teams were going all out, and how
many they were playing while looking ahead (or outright losing on
purpose like Memphis), this is the chart.

Team Last 38 Pro-rated
Memphis 25-13 53-29
Portland 24-14 52-30
Denver 24-14 52-30
Philly 22-16 47-35
Indiana 20-18 43-39
New York 19-19 41-41
New Orleans 18-20 39-43
Atlanta 16-22 35-47

How do you feel about the Pacers when you reseed

The Pacers presently sit fifth out of the eight teams over that stretch.   While thinking of these teams.  Memphis is obviously most impressive of this group as they flat out threw their final two games.   Had they attempted to win them, they would have likely won at least one of them possibly both and been on pace for a 58 win season over the final 38.   Remember that when wanting to rip the Spurs.

Atlanta has been the least impressive, and before you dismiss this by saying "well they were locked into 5th for so long", remember 38 games ago they were in a near tie with Orlando and could have easily had home court against them had they finished the season well.

New Orleans has struggled quite a bit, largely because of the injury to David West, but they have to play the playoffs without him, so it's irrelevant to rating them as a playoff team.

In short, if you readjust your expectations of how tough these matchups are based on the play over the final 38 games, you'd expect the most likely chances for an upset would all come from the West where the 5,6, and 8 seeds are all playing better than their present record.

Just be fair in how you view these wins

Even reseeding the teams, the Bulls should beat the Pacers fairly easily right?   They're still only on pace for 43 wins.   I agree.   The Bulls have not played well, and they should still beat the Pacers fairly easily.   The Bulls problems right now are more about what the Bulls are doing than the Pacers are doing.

However, things aren't nearly as bad as people think.   When looking at the Pacers overall record, people get the feeling they're a two tiers below everyone else in the playoffs while that simply isn't the case.   38 games is not a small sample size.  It's nearly half a season.   For nearly half a season, the Pacers have played at a level above three other playoff teams over that half a season.

If there is room to panic for anyone here, it would be Orlando who lost to the Hawks once already and barely beat them in game two.   On top of that, the Hawks basically beat themselves with one of the stupidest coaching decisions in the world by benching Al Horford for the entire first half after he picked up two fouls in the first few minutes.

Horford has a foul rate that suggests if he played the entire 48 minutes, he'd be likely  not to foul out even if he only had four fouls to use and picked up no more fouls in the rest of his play that night.

The Lakers have lost a game to the Hornets and while you could say they just didn't show up for that first game, they didn't exactly crush New Orleans the second time around either.   

The Celtics came down to the final possession with New York having the ball and a chance to win in consecutive games.   The Knicks failed to finish things off both times, but those games were a coin flip down the stretch, and Boston can't figure out a way to score on the Knicks defense.   Seriosuly, think about that. 

Final thoughts

My point is not that the Bulls are kicking ass and taking names.   They're not.  They have a lot of things they can improve upon, and they will need to play better in order to win a title this season.

However, they aren't playing as bad as people think, because the Pacers are better than people think.    I'm not impressed with either of the opponents they'd face up against in the second round either, as neither of them have been particularly impressive.

I think the Bulls ultimately fall in a six or seven game series to Miami in the ECF.   I think right now, I'd probably pick Miami to win the title over the Lakers which is exactly what I predicted in preseason as well.    Over that stretch, my confidence in the Bulls has grown tremendously. 

I originally thought they'd likely lose in the second round of the playoffs in a hard fought series, but have a very legitimate chance to win in that second round.  I now think they'll lose in the ECF in a hard fought series but with a very legitimate chance to win that series.  

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  • Yeah, I agree. Too much is being made out of this series. I'm not in panic mode at all. To me, tonight will be a huge indicator of how well we're playing. We're probably gonna get the Pacers' absolute best, and we'll be on a couple days' rest, and super motivated as well. A win or loss, and the margin of victory or defeat will say a lot. If we lose by a comfortable margin, I'll officially be nervous. Not for this series necessarily, but definitely for the next one.

    I think the least impressive team has to be the Celtics. I'm kinda stunned the media isn't making more out of this. Maybe it's because the New York media wants to make this series more epic than it really is, but I think either of those teams would probably get swept, or lose in five games if they played the Bulls or Heat right now. Just terrible basketball.

  • In reply to Juiceboxjerry:

    I think the media wants to pretend the Knicks are a much better opponent than they are, and so they're not viewing two close games against the Knicks as a huge issue, but I agree with you.

    Of course, if I was a Boston fan, I'd already be thinking it was over before the playoffs started, so I wouldn't be nervous so much as already trying to figure out how to rebuild because this era is over.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Great analysis as always Doug!

    The Pacers are better then people give them credit for as are a few other teams you mentioned with major personel changes mid to late season!

    I wish the Lakers were facing Portland instead of the weakened New Orleans without West.

    I have a strong feeling the Pacers will draw out this series so that is why the Bulls must punch them in the jaw right away in the 1st quarter tonight like Phil Jackson likes to say!
    The Bulls going up 3-0 will draw out the series to 4 or 5 games and give the Bulls, especially Rose and Deng some much needed rest for the 2nd round!

    GO BULLS!!!! :-)

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Great Analysis!
    The problem with the national media is they seem to be one step or two steps behind in their analysis. And obviously they do not follow the Bulls as closely as you do. For example, Skip Bayless is giving opinions on every sporting event as if he is the primary analyst for that event. Or even Broussard from ESPN for that matter.
    Indy is a good match-up for the Bulls and they even beat the Heat once and played them close in the other two games. I remember the Heat saying Indy is a bad match-up for them.
    I agree about Miami. They are the only team which gives us fits. But that said, if the Bulls are in a confident position(that's what it seems to turn on this team) at that time, they can beat them.
    Boston and Lakers have one last hope this year. If Aaron Gray is dominating Gasol, I don't know what Noah/Asik can do if Gasol plays like what he is doing.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Yes a lot is being made out of how the Bulls are being challenged by the Pacers and rightfully so. The Pacers have been playing respectful basketball since their coaching change and have proven to be a very worthy opponent. The Bulls need to be prepared for the crowd in Indy cause their fans do get loud when they are really cheering their team. I will be in Indy for game 4, not at the game but at an event were there will be huge Pacer supporters while a few others and myself will be cheering for the Bulls, should be very interesting and fun. I'm really looking for the Bulls to take the heart from the Pacers with a commanding 3-0 lead and make me and my group public enemy #1 while we are there in Indy. If the Bulls can't pull out the win, I hope they at least scare the Hell out of the Pacers and their fans. So here's to hoping the Bulls can make my weekend in Indy a good one and make the rest of Bulls fans a little more comfortable with a big road win.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Have fun in Indy in game 4, I'm going to game 3 today!

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Thanks Doug, and lets hope we both have fun in Indy with 1 or 2 wins
    by the Bulls.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Wow, a close second to the drama of actually watching the end of the season and the playoffs is watching you flip flop about where the bulls are vis a vis the rest of the league.

    Miami has one big win against an inferior opponent to that of the bulls and now they are going to be your pick to win it all? Miami was tied with 2 minutes to go in game 1. And Philly is about the worst matchup possible to use to judge where Miami is right now because they have no interior presence and they let Miami run. And remember, Philly didn't have any huge midseason change and they are only 4 games better than Indiana over that stretch. Hibbert and Hansbrough would be giving Miami fits right now in ways that Philly can only dream of.

    As for the bulls, playing a slow-down, have to make good in the crunch time style of game is only going to help them. The fact that they have executed so well down the stretch is the only thing to take away from the first to games that this team has played as overwhelming favorites with all the associated pressure. If the bulls win tonight, it will show that they are figuring things out and gaining a healthy respect for what the playoffs require. If they lose, everybody should go back to freaking out because life as we know will be over shortly...

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    I've been very consistent with my love for Miami all season long. I picked them to win it all in preseason, I said not to dismiss them when they struggled early. I was scared of them passing us for the #1 seed and not worried about Boston.

    there's nothign flip-floppy at all about my view in Miami. I've always said it would be a really close series between us and them, and maybe at times I'd pick us or pick them, but I've always called it roughly a toss up.

    Probably the only thing that's really changes is early on, I thought we'd have no chance against them, and now I think it's a toss up.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Doug's right, he's been very consistent about his fear/respect of Miami.

    I'm just not seeing it though. 12-0. That's my favorite stat. Bulls 12-0 over their last 12 games against top 4 seeds from both conferences. (not really cherry picked either, as that coincides with Boozer's acclimation to the lineup, and everyone getting Thibs' system down). I have a hard time seeing any team beat us twice let alone 4 times/7. I do however say Bulls in 7 in that series.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I expected a tough series, and now I expect a sweep, and that just shows you how tough this Bulls team is, and how they've been all season. They grind it out, win some tough games. This is who they've been all season. I like my team.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I don

  • In reply to BullsMan:

    +1

  • In reply to BullsMan:

    It's 7 games. If you said "I don't see how the Bulls lose an 82 game series to anyone" I'd agree, but in a short playoff series luck plays a major role. A couple of bad shooting nights and you can easily lose even if you're the better team.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    That's my point. The Bulls are good enough to overcome bad shooting nights. That is what separates them from most other teams. Missing shots? Then lock-down on D, and make sure the opponent misses their shots too. This team has defined itself as a group that will fight until the end, and with the way Rose is playing, they will usually have that little extra push to get them over the top.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    Good thing that OJ Mayo trade didn't go through on the trade deadline or we probably would've really been down 0-2.

  • In reply to BullsMan:

    I completely agree with you BullsMan!
    I don't see any team beating this Bulls squad in a 7-game series. Any team facing the Bulls will have hell winning a game. It won't be easy for them and they will be made to sweat against this Thibs juggernaut, The Lakers, Miami and whoever, all have great fear for this Bulls team because they will find ways to beat you. THIBS IS THE MAN!

  • In reply to BullsMan:

    Miami can definately beat us 4 of 7. In fact I would not be utterly shocked if they swept us. I am not saying that they will, but it would not be a huge shock, whereas the Bulls sweeping Miami would be absolutely stunning, 3-0 not with standing.

  • In reply to BullsMan:

    Your last paragraph pretty much sums up my expectations for this Bulls season, both going in, and now.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Yes its nerve racking to win in the last 3 mins of the first 2 games but I say good.

    Its good that the Bulls are having their struggles in the more intense Playoff atmosphere and still winning
    Its good that the Bulls have the opportunity to address the defficiencies against the Pacers. I say this without disrespecting the Pacers as I believe they stand a very good chance of winning tonight - and if they do again good.

    The Bulls are never going to go 16-0 in the playoffs; is it not better to have to deal with adjustments and loses against the Pacers and learning from them without truly being threatened? Or should we blowout the Pacers in every game and learn nothing about what it takes to win playoff games.

    I am a diehard Bulls fan (who else wakes up at 2am to watch every game online? I must be mad lol!!!) but also know they are inexperienced and to be able to beat the veteran playoff teams they will need to learn how to make adjustments between games and/or after loses to win a series. Are the Lakers or Spurs worried about losing one at home? Not as much as the Bulls (and us fans) would be because they have been their seen it done it and have the t-shirt already.

    So thank you Pacers for making a fight of it and if you win to night - good for you; but also good for the Bulls. As schaum says above, we know our team far better than any analyst. Will we be writing the Bulls off because they lose a game (or even 2) to the Pacers? I know ESPN (HEATlovers) will make it the headline if the Pacers win and say how this just shows that the Bulls are not ready for the Finals.

    Well like every TRUE Bulls supporter knows a loss against the Pacers would not be as big a deal as the media would spin it.

    I still believe; but I NEVER believed we could go 16-0!!

    Enjoy the wins; learn from defeats and success will follow.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    If the games were in Indiana I could almost accept the argument. But the Pacers were bad on the road before and after the coaching change, and they're going up against the best home team in the league. I really don't think they qualify as a good team for the first two games. If both teams played to their home and road form the Bulls would have won by an average of 18 points. You can't really spin that as being a team that should give the Bulls competition.

    On the road we'll see, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Bulls split the two games given Indiana's home differential and the Bulls road differential is pretty similar.

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    BULLS WILL SWEEP!!!!!!

  • In reply to DontLetsStart:

    The Pacers are a worthy opponent. In these first two games, the MVP, homecourt, and Collison

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    you have consistent on Miami, but todays post represents somewhat of a flipflop on indy, I don't think that you gave them much credit for being a better team than their record prior to the series starting.

  • In reply to bullshooter:

    Who knows exactly how good the Bulls would have been, not saying a 62 win season is bad...but how many wins could we have had with Boozer and Noah not getting hurt and playing KK as are starting SG the whole season! Hmm? :-)

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to smiley:

    The injury situation for the Bulls is often overstated too. They had five guys - Asik, Bogans, Watson, Korver and Deng (!) who played all 82 games. Derrick and Ronnie played 81, Taj played 80. That's actually a VERY healthy ballclub.

    Not saying the frontcourt injuries didn't make a difference but I don't think they could do a whole lot better than that healthwise.

  • In reply to Redwhitenblack:

    I Completely Agree!
    At C/PF Bulls are SO DEEP! No one expected three under $2mil guys (Thomas, Gibson, Asik) to perform so well. So while Noah and Boozer had significant injuries, Bulls were almost unaffected. Also, Boozer and Noah were never injured simultaneously. So Bulls have always had 4 of their 5 C/PF. Given Bulls depth, Noah and Boozer

  • In reply to Edward:

    I think the "almost unaffected" part is a little misleading.

    We played well and didn't have a large number of injuries, but according to at least one measure ...
    http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1631

    We were a top 5 team in terms of how much we had to overcome due to injuries.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Well Doug - my preseason pick was Lakers over Heat and I have been taking a lot of venom here for insisting it will still happen. I have been accused of being a Laker fan and a Heat fan just because I am not predicting a Bulls title

  • In reply to bulls6:

    It is all speculation and trying to do the best guess. We all know that what happens in the first round doesn't mean it will translate to the second round. All we know now is Indy is not a push-over as everybody expected it to be...(most people thought we will beat Indy like how Orlando beat Atlanta last year). Plus, we were #1 seed and peaking at the end when almost all the top teams(except Miami) seem to have losing streaks.

    The Lakers might come out of the west more by default and not by any merit. If they were in the East, I doubt they would even make it to the conference finals.

  • In reply to bulls6:

    I don't think picking the Lakers or the Heat to make it to the finals is a bad pick cause I mean the Bulls are a very good team and we all want them to get to and win the finals but imo I feel that the Bulls lack of scoring sometimes will hurt in the long run. The Bulls defense and Rose can carry this team only so far while teams like the Lakers and Heat have more than 1 consistent scorer and they both play damn good defense as well, and before anyone start to get ignored with what I'm saying, the point I'm trying to make is... in a series adjustments are made and unless Rose can get some consistent help in scoring the Bulls just may not make it out of the east. I just hope that as the Bulls get further in the playoffs that Thibs can make the right decisions in his rotations and the Bulls can get out of the funk that they have been in... hopefully it's just the matchups of the Pacers.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Miami has shown some flashes of good defense, but as a team they are not that great. James and Wade can be great one on one defenders, but they don't have a good defensive scheme and Bosh is all about himself, he doesn't care about defense.

  • In reply to bpmueller:

    On the contrary, the Heat have a very good defensive scheme, and Bosh has become an above avergage help defender, far better than Boozer.

  • In reply to bpmueller:

    97-98 Bulls, two close games with the Nets. A team featuring Kittles,Van Horn and "the alien" Sam Cassell. All those guys were young at the time, gave a hard fight. We Won by 15 in game 3, I think that is the most comparable Bulls championship team to this team. I see no reason to even worry about these games right now. Yes, I'm about 90 percent sure this Bulls team will make it to the finals. Its been said a billion times, first round series are in general tougher then second round series. Because teams all think they have a fighters chance, Indy is playing tough. Ill give them that, I see another ugly win tonight. Then a blow out on Saturday.

  • In reply to gibby6385:

    http://fantastiksports.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/sam-cassel-et.jpg

  • In reply to bpmueller:

    I agree the Pacers are better than most think. The coaching change mid-season stalled their growth and it took until the end of season/playoffs to effectively install Vogel's new system. I like Vogel as a young and up and coming coach. His knowledge of the game impresses me everytime he speaks. I would take the Pacers roster over the Sixers moving forward right now. Collison is a key for them though. If he can't go in either game, I could see us sweeping them.

  • In reply to bpmueller:

    The Heat are scary good defensively when the want to be, and in the playoffs they want to be.

    Not sure that the Bulls can handle the Heats best effort for 48 minutes.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    A NBA team with reasonable talent that accepts coaching can be a tough out. That's what the Pacers are.

    I expected this to be a tougher series than a lot of folks thought, but it's been even tougher than I expected. Panic? Nah.

    Nice job, Doug.

  • In reply to Nossem:

    Certainly no need to panic. I've watched nearly every game this year. The Bulls just havent blown too many people out this year. Not a surprise these games are close...certainly closer than I would have thought but I expect all the games to come down to execution in the 4th quester no matter who the Bulls play. It's like the MO of playing Miami. They linger around until the end and then make plays to win it.

  • In reply to Nossem:

    I think we forget, our Bullies have been struggling for a bunch of games at the end of the season. Only "good" game was beating up on the Celtics, now revealed as more of a paper tiger than we thought.. We're clearly still struggling, in spite of "winning ugly" (didn't the White Sox coin that phrase in 1983?). It's not a coincidence and not the "fault" of the probable COTY. Try these scenarios we've all seen and discussed before.

    Joachim probably re-injured his thumb and has little precision on his tip-ins, isn't grabbing rebounds, and is missing passes. May not be in game condition either. Boozer seems to have no post moves and no lateral quickness, relying on his jumper and no real defense. Both recovering from ankle injuries and clearly not at strength nor working together well. In response, Thomas gets more minutes (also protecting Asik from ticky-tack rookie foul calls and hiding his poor free throwing). Thibs seems to be experimenting with Boozer positioning more for rebounds that Jo would have once gotten, allowing Jo to roam out further from the basket on defense or leak out on offense. Also extra minutes for Boozer costs Taj some time, but clearly Thibs wants Booze in form and confident.

    And if Ronnie is hurt, it's likely to be Bogans who picks up many of his minutes; if his thumb is bad enough to affect his defense as well as his offense, he's no benefit to the bench. So Thibs is probably doing what we've wished for all season: making situational adjustments to his rotations. And for Bogans, I just keep repeating msyelf: no-one else on the Bulls provides hard-nosed defense (and defensive coaching), calm veteran presence and at least some decent 3-point threat; if HE has a really bad night I look for The Butler to get a showing, but not otherwise. Korver can get into foul trouble SO easily, and Thibs wants him available and aggressive in the fourth quarter, so just forget about his starting this season... unless you all really think that more early offense is worth sacrificing our game-long defensive intensity.

    That said, the extra minutes seemed to work for Boozer in the second game. Jo has been more active. Korver has been cool under pressure. Let's hope Ronnie is healing! As you all are realizing, the Pacers are playing free and hard in the eighth spot. We're still winning, winning Ugly, and - hopefully! - still getting better game by game... or not, I suppose, tonight will tell a lot. Yes, we DO need to get better than we've been for the last several weeks. And I think we have been doing so... at least, that's clearly the intention of Thib's rotation changes... Let's pray for a sweep, and Orlando and Atlanta to beat each other up for seven games so our injuries have time to heal and Thibs can get some good practices in!

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    ...and the Bulls are 32-6 over their final 38...which is a prorated 69-13. I get that you are trying to say the Pacers are a legit NBA team, but they have just been less bad over that time period.

    After their loss to Chicago on 1-29-11 (when O'Brien got fired), they went on a 7-1 run against bad teams (the only playoff team they beat was Portland). So, lets not cherry pick that stretch.

    So, let's not make anything big out of what Indiana has done...They are 13-17 over their last 30, which is a 35 win pace. They are bad, have been bad, and were only less bad for one short stretch during the season.

  • In reply to Dionysus:

    They've been solid for 38 games, since their coaching change. Doing 30 games is cherry picking because there's no reason to pick 30 games except that it fits the point you want to make. It's like me picking 17 games and saying they're 10 and 7 with 5 wins against playoff teams and saying they're playing great.

    38 games isn't cherry picking as it's a time of a fundamental change with their team. As a side note, average teams typically beat bad teams and lose to good teams, so this isn't surprising.

    My point isn't that the Pacers are great, my point is that they're no worse than the Knicks, Hornets, Hawks, 76ers or other average teams in the bottom end.

    The Bulls should beat an average team (and of course, they have), and they are struggling. However, they shouldn't be judged more harshly than the Magic or Lakers as an example.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I am sorry to have used the words cherry pick.

    The 8 game stretch after the coaching change represents 6 games they should have won regardless of the coach, which to me is not indicative of any improvement due to the change. They have not played much better since the coaching change, only slightly worse.

  • In reply to Dionysus:

    They were 17-27 prior to that stretch, I don't think those are games that you can say a 17-27 team would win regardless. They were one of the teams, at that point, that you beat.

  • In reply to Dionysus:

    Also lets keep in mind that Indiana is still a playoff team, I know the East is top-heavy and that Indiana did have a losing record but when the Bulls were the 8 seed last year I don't think that any Bulls fans thought that the Bulls couldn't play with the Cavs even though they were the 1 seed and had the MVP.

    The Cavs an elite team whereas the Bulls were not but we still felt like we could still play them hard and hope for a slim chance at an upset, just like these Pacers are doing to us.

    At the end of the day the Pacers are an NBA team, one that had to fight to win the last seed in the playoffs, and the fact that the Bulls had to work hard to get these 2 wins is nothing to be ashamed of

  • In reply to Dionysus:

    A lot of people get upset if anybody criticizes the Bulls because the Bulls won 62 games. So what...San Antonio won 61 games and a lot of experts are picking them to lose in Round 1 and Memphis tanked to get them. The two big issues with the Bulls are 1)playoff experience - raise the level when schemed/options are taken away and adjust. 2)lack of a consistent secondary scorer -- this is less of an issue because we have been getting it from Deng,Boozer or Korver in turns. It is good in that those guys are not talented enough to be consistently great scorers but one of them does show up usually along with Rose.

    The point is sometimes it looks like Indy has a more balanced set of scorers and 3pt shooters. Only Korver and Deng can score 3 pointers for us.
    Noah, Boozer and Rose have to stop making risky passes against Indy or Miami(LeBron, Wade will have a field day if the Bulls pass like they did in Game 2)

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Do you think they're going to blow it up this summer?

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