Playoff Preview: Cleveland vs. Indiana

Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 50-32

Offense: No. 5

Defense: No. 29

Head Coach: Tyronn Lue (29-10 playoff record)

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

2017-18 SUPERGLOOO Leaders (season total in parentheses): LeBron James 28.53 (1798.26); Kevin Love 21.08 (724.89); Jeff Green 18.03 (688.45); Kyle Korver 20.50 (672.23); Larry Nance 20.60 (609.85).

Prolific Playoff Performers (career total in parentheses): LeBron James 33.80 (6426.93); J.R. Smith 15.55 (1013.34); Kendrick Perkins 11.00 (772.06); Tristan Thompson 18.83 (749.47); Kyle Korver 13.03 (737.27); Kevin Love 27.10 (732.83).

The 5,000 Minute Rule: LeBron James 38,644 minutes with Cavaliers; Tristan Thompson 16,367; Kevin Love 9785; J.R. Smith 9033.

 F LeBron James  36.9  27.5  8.6  9.1  .621 true shooting %
 C Kevin Love  28.0  17.6  9.3  1.7  2.3 3-pointers per game
 G George Hill  27.0  10.0  2.7  2.8  .415 3-point %
 F Jeff Green  23.4  10.8  3.2  1.3  .540 2-point %
 G Kyle Korver  21.6  9.2  2.3  1.2  .436 3-point %

Key: MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; RPG rebounds per game; APG assists per game; SUPERGLOOO metric from Player Efficiency Rating, On and On-Off plus-minus ratings; * denotes injured player may miss playoff games.

 G J.R. Smith  28.1  8.3  2.9  1.8  .375 3-point %
 F Rodney Hood  26.9  14.7  2.6  1.4  .381 3-point %
 G Jordan Clarkson  23.3  13.9  2.7  2.7  .352 3-point %
 C Larry Nance  21.5  8.7  6.8  1.2  .605 true shooting %
 C Tristan Thompson  20.2  5.8  6.6  0.6  .562 2-point %
 G Jose Calderon  16.0  4.5  1.5  2.1  .643 true shooting %
 F Cedi Osman  11.0  3.9  2.0  0.7  .586 2-point %
 C Ante Zizic  6.7  3.7  1.9  .2  .746 true shooting %

Indiana Pacers

Record: 48-34

Offense: No. 12

Defense: No. 14

Head Coach: Nate McMillan (14-24 playoff record)

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

2017-18 SUPERGLOOO Leaders (season total in parentheses):Victor Oladipo 29.78 (1583.04); Thaddeus Young 18.83 (1022.43); Darren Collison 21.80 (916.51); Bojan Bogdanovic 15.05 (772.57); Myles Turner 19.85 (759.26).

Prolific Playoff Performers (career total in parentheses): Lance Stephenson 17.78 (589.54)

The 5,000 Minute Rule: Lance Stephenson 9066; Darren Collison 6608; Myles Turner 6076.

 G Victor Oladipo*  34.0  23.1  5.2  4.3  2.4 steals per game
 F Thaddeus Young  32.2  11.8  6.3  1.9  1.7 steals per game
 F Bojan Bogdanovic  30.8  14.3  3.4  1.5  .605 true shooting %
 G Darren Collison  29.2  12.4  2.6  5.3  .610 true shooting %
 C Myles Turner  28.2  12.7  6.4  1.3  1.8 blocks per game

Key: MPG minutes per game; PPG points per game; RPG rebounds per game; APG assists per game; SUPERGLOOO metric derived from Player Efficiency Rating, along with On and On-Off plus-minus ratings; * denotes injured player may miss playoff games.

 G Cory Joseph  27.0  7.9  3.2  3,2  1.0 steals per game
 C Domantas Sabonis  24.5  11.6  7.7  2.0  .514 field goal %
 G Lance Stephenson  22.6  9.2  5.2  2.9  0.6 steals per game
 F Trevor Booker  17.0  6.3  4.7  1.2  .516 field goal %
 G Joe Young  10.5  3.9  1.2  0.7  38 3-point %


Who knows if Cleveland will return to its standard playoff lineup of center Tristan Thompson, forwards Kevin Love and LeBron James, alongside guard J.R. Smith and some point guard not named Kyrie Irving. After all, this quintet-turned-quartet is the one holdover from the Cavaliers’ last three Finals teams.

The new-look Cavs seem to be more forward-thinking lately, in the sense they play forwards all over the court nowadays. Now you see Cleveland making Kevin Love a center and Kyle Korver a guard just so they can get four forwards on the court at any given moment. These type of moves have allowed Coach Tyronn Lue to utilize even more efficient combos, while also working in forwards Larry Nance and Jeff Green into the lineup whenever he can. That, in turn, gets Cleveland’s five best players this season on the floor together so they can play a majority of minutes together: James, Love, Nance, Korver and Green. Notice that next time they are playing.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

By experimenting with a developing center, 21-year-old Ante Zizic, the Cavs are also stepping into the future, which looks bright when you consider Cleveland also has Brooklyn’s lottery pick in the 2018 Draft. If Zizic becomes playable in these playoffs, Cleveland could be downright dangerous. That is why mentor Kendrick Perkins was brought in, to help counsel the rookie center.

On the flip side, Indiana does not have the type of wings that require Cleveland to counter with 2s and 3s. After all, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and J.R. Smith can be used well enough to defend Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison when necessary.

Another thing to watch out for: Look for Cleveland to play as many one-guard lineups as it can get away with for two reasons: 1. the Cavs’ guard play has been horrendous this season, with only Jordan Clarkson giving their corps any sense of relief; 2. Again, the Cavs’ five best players are all forwards. Indiana will have no problem whatsoever shutting down Cleveland’s guards, because every NBA team did that this year. Cleveland’s forwards are another matter, with that quintet being the engine to the Cavaliers’ offense. That’s the key to their winning.

The Cavs know they no longer can win with D—heck they rank 29th in defensive efficiency in 2017-18. But they do know that having three or four of those aforementioned forwards on the court at all times should keep their offense running smooth as possible.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Conversely, Indiana will try to outscore Cleveland with their own Eastern Conference version of Russell Westbrook in the form of All-Star combo guard Victor Oladipo. In transition, both he and Darren Collison are impossible to stop. But that is just going to have to be something Cleveland lives with, since the Pacers have no answer for LeBron or Love, for that matter, though young Myles Turner will give it his best. Assuming Lance Stephenson gets LeBron whisperer duties, Oladipo will likely be kept fresh by guarding the Cleveland point guard not named LeBron James.

We don’t anticipate this series being as closely contested as some of those Pacers-Heat series from a few years ago when LeBron suited up in Miami. After all, defensive stalwarts Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George are long gone from Indy. And George Hill actually suits up in Cavaliers wine and gold. But should Indiana’s lack of playoff experience not be such a hinderance in the playoffs, then they do stand a puncher’s chance of winning. After all, the Cleveland team was not much better than Indiana throughout the course of an 82-game schedule.