(make sure to check out the full-bore series preview from earlier, if you haven't already)
This week I corresponded with Tom Lewis of the fantastic SBNation Indiana Pacers blog Indy Cornrows, with some questions on how the season has gone for his Pacers and what we can expect in the upcoming series.
My questions are in bold, his responses in quotes:
1. The Pacers midseason coaching change from Jim O'Brien to Frank Vogel seems to have brought pretty significant changes, with more defined roles and the team generally playing harder. What in particular have you seen different in the team from style of play to changes in the rotation?
Frank Vogel likes to project the Pacers now as a smash-mouth team that starts inside and then works out which is vastly different than the team's approach under Jim O'Brien which focused on playing at a fast pace and shooting three-pointers early and often.
Now the Pacers work to get the ball in the lane either by passing into the post or driving into the lane which draws more trips to the line. Danny Granger in particular is much more inclined to force the ball in the lane now as opposed to forcing up three-pointers.
As for the playing rotation, Vogel has turned to a more defensive-minded player in Dahntay Jones off the bench instead of James Posey and also given a larger role to Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George. All three of those players, bring more energy to the court even if they lack the experience to consistenly produce.
2. In the preseason, the acquisition of Darren Collison seemed to be a masterstroke by Larry Bird in that he didn't have many assets to deal yet still landed what projected to be a long-term starter at the PG position. What's your evaluation on Collison's first season as a Pacer overall? and while he may be physically overmatched against Derrick Rose, how can you see him faring in the series?
Overall, Collison's first season has been a disappointment based on a few different stretches in the season when he struggled mightily with turnovers while also struggling on the defensive end. Collison has finished the season playing quite well at times and definitely trending in the right direction. Sometimes we forget he is still 23 years old and Vogel is the fourth coach he's worked under in his two years in the NBA.
Collison will be a key to any success the Pacers have against the Bulls. He'll definitely need help at the defensive end in dealing with Rose, but I don't think he'll be expected to defend Rose, let alone all by himself. Collison's impact will have to be at the offensive end, pushing the pace and applying pressure on the defense while being able to knock down the mid-range jumpers his quickness can create. When that shot is falling, it really opens up the offensive options for everyone else.
3. What's the mood like in Indianapolis? Has the fanbase been so ready for a return to the playoffs that even backing in is fine, or do they (or you) think it would've been better long-term to get another high lottery pick instead? Are you worried that Bulls fans are going to fill up Conseco Fieldhouse with MVP chants?
There's certainly no consensus but I think the young core of players for the Pacers has shown they are worth backing and rooting for and any playoff experience is a great thing to help with their development. The last four lotteries haven't been kind to the Pacers so a playoff appearance is much more appealing than moving up a few spots in the draft for yet another young player that likely won't be demonstrably better than the young player they can get at 15.
Bulls fans will be out in full force in Indy without a doubt. I've likened it to a high school atmosphere in the past where fans of both teams are chanting back and forth. Game 3 should be a blast with an electric Fieldhouse regardless of the breakdown of fans. Game 4, though could be brutal if the Bulls are going for a sweep. I have a feeling Bulls fans will be more motivated to get in the building than Pacers at that point.
4. Outside of the greatest upset in NBA playoffs history, what would you like to see from the Pacers (or certain players in particular) in this series to consider it a success?
Lack of consistency has been a killer for the Pacers all season, so the baseline level of success is if they can bring a consistent effort and even some consistent production for every game. The Pacers shooting consistency often impacts the effort consistency which can be maddening. It's easy to bring the effort when shots are falling, but finding a way to compete when buckets are a challenge would be a positive step for the Pacers.
Like I said, that's the baseline for success, admittedly a pretty low bar. Winning at least one game in addition to playing well throughout the series is really what I expect, though. The Pacers have shown they can play well enough to beat any team in the league with wins over the Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Mavs and Bulls. Consistency, or lack thereof, is the killer with this crew though so how much they can sustain that winning level of play in this series will determine the level of success.
Thanks again to Tom, he has a fantastic blog that you should all get familiar with, this coming week in particular.