INDIANAPOLIS — The
will enter their first-round playoff series against the
as underdogs. How do the teams compare?
's offensive stats are up since
's absence facilitated ball movement and forced the Magic to run more pick-and-rolls. Nelson is an undersized, but hard-nosed, player with 34 career postseason starts.
has started just nine games this season and only nine postseason games. He's a solid defender with a 2.79-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. This is a big postseason for Nelson, who could become a free agent this offseason. EDGE: Magic
to shift back to the 2 spot now that
has returned from injury. Once one of the game's most explosive leapers, Richardson has turned into more of a spot-up shooter.
, now in his second year as a pro, is 6 feet 8 and is one of the league's most improved players. George had a team-high 108 steals during the regular season and has good shooting range. EDGE: Pacers
Turkoglu, a notoriously up-and-down player, looked surprisingly sharp with his shooting and ball-handling during his return from a fractured cheekbone Thursday, and the Magic need his size. But even he acknowledges the playoffs will be a tougher test.
is Indiana's go-to scorer, averaging 18.7 points per game. Granger will be an exceedingly difficult cover for anyone on the Magic roster. EDGE: Pacers
This is one of the series' most intriguing matchups.
's weakness is his defense, and he'll face a tough test from 6-foot-9, 240-pound
wants more focus defensively from Anderson and more defensive rebounding, but Anderson is a superb 3-point shooter who stretches the floor. West doesn't stretch the floor, but he's rugged and savvy. EDGE: Even
has played superbly at center with Howard out. He's perfectly willing to set multiple screens to jump-start the Magic's pick-and-roll game, and he has averaged 15.9 points on 50.8 percent shooting as Orlando's starting center. He's a willing, gritty defender. But he is nursing a sprained right ankle, and at 6 feet 9, he will face a significant height disadvantage against 7-foot-2 All-Star
. EDGE: Pacers
Aside from shooting guard
and small forward
, the Magic are woefully thin on their bench.
, both 6-10 but inexperienced, will need to play huge roles on the inside. Backup point guard
has been unproductive offensively. The bench is one of Indiana's strengths. Forward
provide energy. The backcourt tandem of
could start for some teams. EDGE: Pacers
Van Gundy has faced his most challenging season given the Magic's Dwightmare. But he seems liberated now with this group of players. Van Gundy is one of the league's best-prepared coaches and owns a 47-35 career playoff record. Indiana's
should finish in the top three in the
Coach of the Year voting. But Vogel has coached just five playoff games. EDGE: Magic
Magic players have pulled together with Howard out. Nelson has become more vocal. And Davis, always vocal, earned some respect for his recent play. The Magic are huge underdogs, so what do they have to lose? Still, the Pacers won 12 of their final 15 regular-season games. Indy has momentum, is better-rested and owns homecourt advantage. EDGE: Pacers
Almost no one thinks the Magic will win this series. The Pacers have a significant size and depth advantage, and the Magic's defense has been awful without Howard. But Orlando has competed tenaciously without their All-Star center. The series will be closer than many people expect. PICK: Pacers in 6.