The time has finally arrived, NBA Playoffs are here once again, and even though many are tipping a third Cavs-Warriors Finals matchup, things are looking much more competitive this year round.
Storylines such as how far Boston can go as the first seed, Brodie vs. Beard in the first round, and if the Cavs can get it together and make a third straight Finals will be the major focal points of the upcoming weeks.
Just like last year, I'll be bringing you previews of every first round matchup and beyond, giving you all the info you need to know before settling in for an NBA binge over the next month and a half.
We'll be starting off with the first series on the playoff schedule, the second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers going up against the seventh-seeded Indiana Pacers.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
Regular seasons series: Cavaliers won 3-1
Things for the Cavaliers have been vastly different compared to last year, with their second half of the season struggles well documented.
The Cavs went a woeful 12-15 after the All-Star break this season, easily a LeBron-led team's worst stretch in recent memory. Cleveland did well enough towards the beginning of the season, which was their metaphorical life jacket towards the end of the regular season, keeping them afloat at the top of the Eastern Conference standings up until the very last day of the season against Toronto, where they took a 98-83 loss, handing the first seed to the Boston Celtics.
Even despite LeBron's career-best numbers in the rebound and assist categories (8.6 and 8.7 respectively), a combination of complacency, off-court drama regarding management's ability to acquire players for the franchise, and the very big issue regarding resting the big 3 in critical games led the Cavs to a 51-31 record on the year, six less wins than the year prior.
On the other side of the coin, Indiana's season has been mediocre at best, posting a record of 42-40, scraping into the Playoffs on the final day of the regular season due to their win over the Hawks, putting them a game over the eighth-seeded Bulls.
If you happen to be a Pacers fan, you have the right to be disappointed with your team's performance this year. A team consisting of a 26-year-old Paul George, Jeff Teague, Myles Turner and Monta Ellis is much more capable than .500 ball in my opinion, and they have shown glimpses of what they are capable of during the season, going on a few winning streaks.
The Pacers did bring in crowd favorite Lance Stephenson towards the end of the season, and 'Born Ready' was extremely happy to return to the city of Indiana, where he played 22 minutes a game in 6 appearances for the Pacers, posting 7.2 points and 4.2 assists per game.
There are two major focal points of this first round series
The first, and most obvious will revolve around the Cavaliers. Can they suddenly turn on 'the switch'? Will LeBron find his Playoff mode straight away in Game 1 and completely demolish the Pacers? Usually, these questions aren't raised when discussing LeBron-led teams in the playoffs, as it's pretty much a formality at this point of his career, but the Cavs' recent struggles will bring doubt in many fans' minds, as well as instill hope in many Pacer fans. If they don't manage to get into the playoff groove immediately, and drop a game or two to Indiana this series, expect a lot of hate and hyperbole to be thrown LeBron's way. Many will be stating that the rest days he took were all for nothing, and LeBron's run of 7-straight Finals is over.
The second thing many people will be watching out for will be Lance Stephenson's performance against LeBron and the Cavs. Many of you will remember Lance's antics against LeBron and the Heat back in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, which I believe made him a household name to many NBA fans. I for one will definitely be keeping an eye on Lance and his behavior, especially when on the court with LeBron. Who knows, we may get 'The Blow 2.0'.
Even though the Cavaliers had an ugly end to their regular season, I believe that Indiana will pose little to no threat to LeBron and Co.
Cleveland had a relatively easy time dispatching of the Pacers in their season series, only dropping one game, their first meeting of the season. That's not to say it'll be a cakewalk for them though. The Cavs will be getting into the swing of playoff mode and may need some fine tuning, and it'll be during this period that the Pacers will most likely steal a game at home inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The battle between Paul George and LeBron James is looking very tantalizing, evidenced by their most recent matchup, a double-overtime thriller in which Paul George had 43 points and James had a 41-point triple-double.
The difference will be Kyrie, who should make light work of Jeff Teague, just like he did last year in the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta. The difference in skill between these two will be made even wider, as Jeff Teague is coming off a left ankle injury he sustained against the Hawks. With little recovery time, he may be a liability on defense due to the injury.