For the first time since 2004, when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, the third-seeded Indiana Pacers will begin their playoff run at home. The Pacers will face the sixth-seeded Orlando Magic in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Magic will be without All-Star center Dwight Howard, who recently underwent surgery in Los Angeles to repair a herniated disk. It is unlikely that he will attend any of his team's playoff games. Howard's surgeon has advised him not to travel and to spend the next three weeks in Los Angeles to undergo rehabilitation treatment.
At the start of April, Orlando held a one-and-a-half-game lead over the Pacers for third place in the Eastern Conference. Since then, the Magic and Pacers have gone in opposite directions. With Howard out of the lineup for all but two games, Orlando suffered their first losing month of the season with a record of 5-9 during the month of April. The Pacers, powered by seven straight wins between April 9 and April 19, had the best month of their season by winning 12 of 15 contests.
Indiana Pacers versus Orlando Magic Eastern Conference First-Round Schedule
Game 1: Saturday, April 28, Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers, 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Game 2: Monday, April 30, Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV
Game 3: Wednesday, May 2, Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV
Game 4: Saturday, May 5, Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic, 2:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Game 5: Tuesday, May 8, Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers, TBD (if necessary)
Game 6: Friday, May 11, Indiana Pacers at Orlando Magic, TBD (if necessary)
Game 7: Sunday, May 13, Orlando Magic at Indiana Pacers, TBD (if necessary)
The Magic and Pacers met four times during the regular season with Orlando winning the season series 3-1. Howard played in all four of those games. But since Superman will not even be in the building during this series, Orlando will have to get some magical performances from some of their non All-Stars if they hope to keep pace with Indiana during the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
Orlando will likely try to create that magic from behind the three-point line. During the regular season, the Magic made (10.2 per game) and took (27.0 per game) more three-pointers than any other team in the NBA. Their 37.5 percent three-point shooting percentage ranks third in accuracy from that distance.
However, many of those three-point shot opportunities were open looks that were created by opposing teams double-teaming Howard in the post. With Howard out of the lineup, it is unlikely that the Pacers will send many double teams during this series.
Indiana's All-Star center, Roy Hibbert, who stands 7'2", should have no problem defending the Magic's 6'9" Glen Davis (who will likely start in Howard's absence) one on one. That will allow the Pacers' wing players, namely Paul George and Danny Granger, to stay attached to Orlando's three-point shooters.
Without Howard in the lineup, most of the Magic's three-point shot opportunities will be contested. Unless Orlando's three-point shooters can find a way to consistently make contested shots, the Magic will find it difficult to win even one game in this series.
Prediction: Pacers 4-0
Mark is a lifelong fan of the NBA who has loved the game of basketball ever since his first trip to an NBA arena. Mark has watched more basketball games than anyone can count and has more than 100 articles about the NBA published on the internet. Mark also shares his random NBA musings and game-by-game predictions on RandomNBAFan.com.
Information from NBA.com's 2012 Playoffs Schedule; ESPN.com's Surgeon for Dwight Howard of Orlando Magic 'optimistic' center will play next year, Orlando Magic 2012 Schedule, Indiana Pacers 2012 Schedule and 2011-12 Regular Season NBA Team Stats was used for this article.