The Cleveland Cavaliers will try their hardest to keep the NBA championship in Ohio, but their recent struggles will surely make them susceptible against the Indiana Pacers in their Eastern Conference first round best-of-seven showdown.

What’s at stake?

In what will be the most important season for LeBron James legacy, the Cavaliers entered this year’s postseason with less momentum than they had during their championship run. The Cavs lost their final four regular-season assignments and ultimately lost the top seed in the East to the Boston Celtics. Cleveland has never been this vulnerable in the last three years, and many NBA analysts think their decline was caused by their porous defense (ranked 20th at 107.2 points allowed per game).

The Pacers, meanwhile, have somewhat underachieved this season despite adding a bevy of All-Star caliber players (Jeff Teague, Al Jefferson and Thad Young) last summer. Paul George is still playing terrific in year no.2 off that gruesome leg injury. Unfortunately, Larry Bird might have overestimated the progress of big man Miles Turner (14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds), who turns out to be pretty much raw.

The Cavs are trying to become the first team since the LeBron-led Miami Heat to win back-to-back NBA titles. On the other hand, the Pacers are just looking to advance into the next round with a morale-boosting upset over the reigning champs.

Players to Watch:

Cavaliers: LeBron James treats this postseason with make-or-break implications on his career. Many NBA writers feel LeBron needs to put up one of the best postseason campaigns in history for him to win his fourth NBA championship ring and perhaps surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all time.

Top Videos of the Day

Pacers: The first-round series vs. Cavs is also huge for George’s career moving forward. The All-Star forward has been mentioned in several trade rumors the last six months, including a potential move to Los Angeles Lakers in 2018. George have matched up really well against LBJ in their previous playoff battle, and it will be interesting how much PG13 had improved since that back-to-back East Finals face-off.

Prediction:

The Cavaliers might have been shaky as of late, but no one should ever question the experience of a champion. LeBron James has never been eliminated in the first-round of playoffs, and that streak will continue when Cleveland overcomes Indiana in five games.