In the first half of the season a first round matchup between the Bobcats and Pacers would have seemed like a participation trophy. Like, "Thanks for playing, here's your participatory sweep!" Now? Not quite so much. The Pacers have regressed from their early season tear, but have since lose seven of their last 10 and won seven of their last eighteen overall.
A big reason behind their slide can be attributed to their regression on the defensive end; Indiana has gone from allowing 85.2 points per game in November to 94.0 in March, and yet still remain top two in the league in that category. Even on offense, they've gone from 101.2 points per game in February, when their skid began, all the way down to 89.2 in March. Add the in-fighting and public comments by players about the locker room and the Pacers appear to have issues.
With all that being said, is there an opportunity for the Bobcats here? Let's examine.
Like the Pacers, the Bobcats want to force the opponent to play their game. We all know the Bobcats aren't going to try to beat you with their blazing shooting, which is fine because the Pacers are the best team in opponent field goal percentage this season.
No, the Bobcats - like the Pacers - want to try to grind their opponent into submission. Both teams are in the bottom-third in the league in pace, and this is especially beneficial to the Bobcats. Because they play at the pace they do, the Bobcats protect the ball better than anyone else-- number one in both fewest turnovers committed and lowest turnover percentage. Conversely, the Pacers are among the league's biggest offenders of turning the ball over, and this could mean several good opportunities for Charlotte.
We've already established that the Bobcats and Pacers like to control the game, and one thing both do similarly is on the glass. Each of these teams subscribes to the newish belief that getting back on defense is more important than trying to get every offensive rebound. Offensive rebounds are important, but so is ensuring that your opponent isn't beating you in transition. For instance, the Bobcats are the 27th ranked team in offensive rebound percentage and the Pacers are 22nd, but these teams are one and two in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, respectively.
While both of these teams appear to be pretty similar, there's still the concern that the Pacers are the sleeping giant despite their late-season slump since they still have the same talent. Roy Hibbert, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and others are still on the team and the Pacers do have the experience. I would expect the Bobcats to give the Pacers a challenge for five or six games, but ultimately bowing out in round one. The reason being that the Pacers are 33-5 at home and 19-18 on the road; meaning they would have to win out at home and steal one in Indiana, which is a tall order.
But don't take my word for it. Here's Ian Levy of Indy Cornrows with more:
Six weeks ago the Pacers didn't fear the Bobcats, but things have taken a turn for the frightening. The Pacers have taken two of three from Charlotte this season and their narrow point differential in those wins, just +2.0 points per 100 possessions, could be chalked up to difficult shooting nights. But the Pacers have been busily stacking up tough shooting nights for the better part of two months now and what looked like a clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals now appears infinitely more rocky.
The Bobcats are an unsettling potential matchup because they're essentially just a shaggier, grimier, sweatier, mirror of the Pacers. For both teams a conservative defensive approach keeps lead footed big men hovering in a narrow swath of territory, just scraping the edges of the free throw line. The idea is to encourage mid-range jump shots, a quick decision both offenses typically fall all over themselves to make. The Pacers offense has cratered to the point of being an extinction-level event and a cheery invitation to hoist 18-footers over Al Jefferson's outstretched arms is not the recipe for fixing anything.
On the other end Jefferson presents all sorts of problems. If there's a soft fleshy spot to be found in the Pacers defense it's around the low post. Jefferson worked them over to the tune of 23.7 points on 55.2 percent shooting in those three games this season. But it hasn't just been shoving low-post physicality back down the Pacers' throats that has worked for Charlotte. They've also been able to exploit mistakes in the pick-and-roll and generally moved the Pacers around in some uncomfortable ways.
I would expect a series between these two teams to be physical, but not in the violent, I-want-to-smash-your-face-while-my-tiny-balding-coach-clings-to-my-leg kind of physical. I mean the kind of physical that comes from two teams determined to grind each other down to a nub. The Pacers are deeper, more talented and more disciplined (in theory). But they're also emotionally exhausted, playing horribly and sniping at each other in the locker room after games. I'd like to think they're just building suspense for a championship run but the Bobcats are exactly the kind of team that could take them down a peg or two, or four.