Our next first round matchup features the eighth seeded All-Time Indiana Pacers vs. the 25th seeded All-Time Orlando Magic. Despite the seeding disparity, these two teams are closely matched, and each holds several advantages that could swing the series.
Depth and Positional Flexibility: Every bench player on the Pacers roster made at least one All-Star game during their time in the ABA/NBA. They have a clear advantage here, as only one of Orlando’s bench players made an All-Star team. Indiana also has several players who can play multiple positions, including George McGinnis, Paul George, and Billy Knight, so they’ll throw many different looks at Orlando. McGinnis, Detlef Schrempf, and Rik Smits also have the ability to make Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal uncomfortable on defense by playing on the perimeter and dragging them away from their comfort zone in the paint.
Hack-A-Superman: O’Neal and Howard are poor free throw shooters, and Indiana has enough bodies to resort to this gimmick to slow down the Orlando pair, and try to get one or both of them out of the game.
Perimeter Length: Orlando may have the biggest starting guards and wings in this tournament, but Indiana is better suited than most to defend them. Starting guards Vern Fleming (6’5”) and Reggie Miller (6’7”) have great height for their position, and off the bench, 6’9” Paul George, 6’6” Billy Knight, and 6’9” Danny Granger can all compete against the height of Anfernee Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, and Rashard Lewis. Expect George, the best defender of the group, to see a lot of time guarding McGrady, while Fleming and 6’4” Don Buse will hound Hardaway all over the court.
Size and Strength: Although Indiana has the length to compete with Orlando on the perimeter, they don’t have the bulk to compete with them down low. Consider the size of the defenders who will attempt to guard the 7’1” 325lb Shaquille O’Neal:
Mel Daniels – 6’9” 220 lb
Jermaine O’Neal – 6’11” 226lb
Rik Smits – 7’4” 250lb
Let’s not forget that Shaq has the 6’11” 240lb Dwight Howard playing next to him, who the 6’8” 235lb McGinnis will have to contend with.
Playmaking ability: Orlando has elite perimeter playmakers in McGrady and Hardaway, something that Indiana lacks. These two will pressure the defense and create easy opportunities for their big men and three-point shooters. Indiana will have to work harder to create their points, since they don’t have playmaking guards who can break down the defense. Expect Indiana to diversify at times by running their offense through frontcourt playmakers Roger Brown, George McGinnis, and Detlef Schrempf, and by running Miller off screens to free him up for perimeter looks.
Orlando’s twin towers vs. Indiana’s fleet of big men: O’Neal and Howard have the ability to physically dominate the Indiana front line. Indiana can counter by trying to tire them out with fresh legs and 30 fouls between their five big men. Indiana will try to force Orlando to downsize by attacking their big men on the perimeter, and getting one or both into foul trouble.
This series goes back and forth. The championship experience of Daniels and Brown, and Miller’s ability in the clutch lead Indiana to several close victories. However, Orlando’s size and strength prove too much for the Pacers. Much like the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals, Orlando advances.
Orlando wins four games to three.
Orlando faces the winner of the All-Time Heat vs. the All-Time Jazz.