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Game 1 Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers

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Only twice in the last 20 years has a seven seed upset a two seed.

Most recently, it was Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs knocking off the Dallas Mavericks in 2010. Going back even further to one of the most memorable postseason rivalries ever, the Allan Houston and Larry Johnson-led New York Knicks upset the Miami HEATin 1998.

Needless to say, history isn’t on the lower seed’s side here in the 2-7 matchup, but you never know what can happen in the NBA playoffs.

#2 Cleveland Cavaliers

There may not be a team in the association happier to see the regular season end than the Cavaliers. After seeming to finally find their stride with a four-game winning streak—culminating with a completely dominant victory over the Celtics in Boston with high stakes—Cleveland fell back into its bad habits.

The very next game, the Atlanta Hawks embarrassed the Cavs on their own floor with four of their starters resting. With a shot at redemption two days later at the Philips Arena, Cleveland surrendered a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose its second straight game to the same team.

With the top seed in the Eastern Conference slipping away, Tyronn Lue decided it was best to rest Kyrie Irving, who has been dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee, and LeBron James to end the season.

Cleveland has been in a funk for a few months now. Since March, they’ve compiled a 10-14 record and lost home-court advantage along the way.

Luckily for Cleveland, James does not play nonsense when it comes to this time of year. Regardless of how poor the outlook of this team looks going into the postseason run, his track record alone tells us that the Cavs will “flip the switch,” as he likes to put it, and kick it into gear.

While the Pacers are seemingly a favorable matchup for Cleveland, they enter the playoffs with a lot of confidence.

#7 Indiana Pacers

For the second straight year, the Pacers come into the postseason as the seventh seed in the East. They certainly had to earn it this time around, too.

Sitting two games under .500 and deadlocked with the Miami HEAT on April 3, Indiana turned on the gas and ripped off five straight games to finish 42-40. It will be the franchise’s sixth playoff appearance in the last seven years and the first under head coach Nate McMillan.

As previously mentioned, the Pacers are rolling headed into their matchup with Cleveland. Paul George has found his groove at the perfect time and has been absolutely sensational.

In the final six games in April, the All-Star forward averaged a league-high 32.8 points per game while shooting 54.8 percent from the field. He also knocked down 42.4 percent of his threes in this stretch, a mark that was second-best in the NBA behind just Stephen Curry among players taking at least nine shots beyond the arc per game. The accomplishments earned him Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors.

Though George is the main reason for Indiana’s recent surge, there have been contributions all around. Since the tail end of March, Thaddeus Young has come to life to provide Indiana with an additional scoring threat and a rebounding boost to the starting five. Jeff Teague’s been a true floor general by taking care of the basketball as he has all season long. Myles Turner is protecting the paint and showing promise.

Outside of the nostalgia, Lance Stephenson has even gotten in on the act in his return by giving the Pacers some toughness on the perimeter and has been impacting the game in all areas.

Still, the bigger picture paints Indiana as a team that can score a lot of points, but gives up a ton as well. It’s an inconsistent, but poised team that could give the Cavs a fight in the first round if they stay hot.

SEASON SERIES: CLE 3-1

Who Wins Game 1?

James vs. George should be a classic one-on-one battle as we’ve seen this year, but there will be some other player matchups in this first round (LeBron vs. Lance, Teague vs. Irving) that’ll surely invoke some fun memories.

An underlying factor to this series will be the battle between the two former Texas Longhorn big men, Tristan Thompson and Turner. If Thompson can neutralize the sophomore center on the offensive glass, Cleveland will have a much easier time getting out in transition, an area where they thrive in.

The Cavaliers will have to set the tone early in this series, which they certainly understand. After resting in the final two games of the season, the big three should be good to go and locked in to get out to an early getaway in Game 1. Indiana will cut it down in the second half and maybe even take the lead back since Cleveland is prone to letting teams back into games, but a late take over from James and Irving will push the wine-and-gold to victory to finally get the monkey off the team’s back.

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About Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.