The first game of the NBA playoffs will be at the home of the defending NBA champions, where the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James will try to show that their second seed is only a technicality against Paul George and the Indiana Pacers.
Expectations: The Cavaliers, obviously, want to go through the East as quickly as possible, en route to a third consecutive final and 7th in a row for James. The Pacers are just happy they’re in the playoffs, although to show Paul George that he’s on the right path towards a championship, it might be time for them to win a playoff series for the first time since 2014.
Stars: The Cavs didn’t plan on overworking James this season, and while he did get rest (played 74 games), he also averaged more minutes than anyone during the season (37.8). He finished with 26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. The Cavs need him even better in the playoffs, especially in the finals. For the Pacers, it’s been George with 23.7 points in a season in which it felt like he was slightly stepping in the same spot instead of moving forward.
Hired help: Look no further than Kyrie Irving (25.2 points per game) and Kevin Love (19 points and 11.1 rebounds per game), who seem healthy and ready to pick up the big three monicker, while getting help from all the veterans James helped attract to the team, hoping it clicks when it matters. The Pacers don’t have a serious scoring option beyond George. Jeff Teague had 15.3 points a night and Myles Turner with 14.5, Indiana didn’t make the offensive jump they hoped for, while regressing defensively.
Prediction: The last game between the two teams went to double overtime, but overall the Pacers don’t present a serious matchup problem for Cleveland. While George often raises his game in the playoffs and he has a decent cast at his side, game 1 is going to be difficult for him to walk away with an upset win on the road. Cavs should be up 1-0 at the end of game 1.