The Pacers posted a 35-6 record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and ended the season with a 10-game winning streak at home.
They are hoping to duplicate that success over the next four rounds of the playoffs.
By securing the top record in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers ensured they will host up to four games in each of the first three rounds of the post season, a goal the team set out to accomplish at the beginning of the season.
The importance of home court advantage became magnified after the team fell to the Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals a year ago.
“It’s great to achieve one of our regular season goals,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said Wednesday night. “Now it’s time to perform when it really matters.”
After maintaining the best record in the conference for a majority of the season, the Pacers stumbled towards the end of the season dropping eight of 11 games before winning their last two.
Their victory over the Thunder during the second to last game of the season proved to be enough to prevent Miami from overtaking them in the standings.
After alternating victories with the Heat seven times during the conference finals a year ago, having home court advantage this year comes as a relief.
“We like our chances being able to play a seven-game series with the advantage being at home. It’s huge,” forward Paul George said. “We understand that we’re going to have to win tough games and win in some tough arenas on the road, but it gives us the great advantage of playing at home in each Eastern round. We have the best record playing at home, and we like our chances playing at home.”
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Key for Atlanta
Point guard Jeff Teague has tremendously influenced each of the four meetings during the regular season. During Indiana’s two victories over the Hawks, Teague was held to an average of 8.5 points, but during Atlanta’s two wins over the Pacers, he averaged 20 points. Atlanta was one of the few teams to escape Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a victory this season and it came on the heels of a 25 point outing from Teague.
Key for Indiana
The Pacers need to find a way to control the 3-point line. During the regular season, Indiana surrendered an average of 6.6 made 3-point field goals per game, third best in the league behind only San Antonio and Portland. Only against Atlanta, the Pacers are allowing 10.3 made shots from beyond the arc.
The Hawks are hoping Antic and his precise 3-point shooting will be able to draw Hibbert away from the basket. Antic only played Indiana twice this season, but he was able to pour in an average of 17 points on 72 percent shooting, including 60 percent form 3-point range. “I haven’t had the best games against (the Hawks), but it’s the playoffs, it’s time to change things up,” Hibbert said. “When you’re guarding a big that can shoot 3s, it’s obviously a different feel, but we have time to prepare for it.”[polldaddy poll=7977629]
Season Series: Miami won 4-0
Key for Charlotte
The Bobcats have lost 20 of the 29 games they have surrendered 100 or more points. Both teams operate at a slower pace, with the Heat actually playing at the third slowest in the league, while Charlotte boasts the ninth slowest pace in the league. By controlling the tempo of the game and trying to limit the number of possessions Miami has, the Bobcats are looking for a way to win the first playoff series in franchise history.
Key for Miami
The Heat has posted a 46-21 record in the post season since the Big Three came together during the summer of 2010. LeBron James has shot 53.5 percent from the field against Charlotte during his career, the highest percentage against any opponent to go along with 27.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists in 35 career meetings.
In three meetings with the Heat, Jefferson was able to pour in 25.3 points and 15.3 rebounds per game. Miami may just allow Jefferson to dominate in the post and keep Bosh out on the 3-point line hoping to wear him out on the defensive end. Bosh converted a career-high 74 shots from beyond the arc, after making just 87 3-point field goals during the first 10 years of his career.[polldaddy poll=7977633]
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Key for Brooklyn
Getting to the free throw line. The Raptors foul enough that opponents are attempting 25.3 fouls shots per game, the most of any playoff team other than Oklahoma City. Brooklyn is an average free throw shooting team, converting 75.3 percent of its attempts throughout the year. With numerous players capable to slashing to the rim, the Nets need to continually be in attack mode to force easy scoring opportunities.
Key for Toronto
The Nets were out rebounded by 4.8 rebounds per game, by far the worst differential in the league. In four meetings with Brooklyn, Jonas Valanciuas, the leading rebounder for the Raptors, was able to match his exact season average of 8.8 rebounds per game, but with the Nets resorting to small ball for much of the season, he could be poised for a huge series.
Williams has been limited to just 64 appearances this season and enters the post season battling In four regular season meetings, forcing him to miss the regular season finale, and allowed Washington to move into the fifth seed on the last day of the season. Lowry dominated the Nets, shooting 50 percent from the field while averaging 22 points and six assists per game and is averaging 25.6 points over his last five games.[polldaddy poll=7977639]
Season Series: Wizards won 2-1
Key for Washington
It took four seasons, but John Wall is finally ready to make his post season debut, but it comes against the stingiest defense in the league. Chicago allowed just 91.8 points per game the fewest in the league and knows just how vital Wall is to the Wizards offense. Wall led the league in total assists, with 721 assists, and the combination of his passing and scoring accounts for 40 percent of the offense. Against the Bulls defense, he may need find a way to increase his contributions.
Key for Chicago
While Wall led the league in total assists, his 295 turnovers also marked the most in the league. Chicago’s pressure defense restricts the passing lane and forces the opposition into taking contested jumpers. The Bulls were able to execute their game plan perfectly in the last meeting against Washington, as they allowed just 78 points and held the Wizards to 39.5 percent shooting from the field and 18.8 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Butler has emerged as one of the league’s most relentless perimeter defenders, ranking fourth in the league with 1.9 steals per game. During three regular season meetings, he was able to limit Beal, Washington’s second leading scorer at 17.1 points per game, to an average of 13.7 points. If Beal can hold his own against Butler, allowing additional room for Wall to operate, the Wizards may be able to pull off the upset.[polldaddy poll=7977642]