Pacers host Howard-less Magic in Game 1 of first round

The Orlando Magic, seeded sixth in the East, will not have All-Star center Dwight Howard when they begin their first-round series against No. 3 Indiana on Saturday.

The Eastern Conference's big bullies this time around figure to be Chicago and Miami with Boston and Rajon Rondo creating a little fear thanks to a late- season run and some impressive veteran leadership. An Orlando team anchored by Howard used to be among those East powers but these days the Magic are trying to press on without their cornerstone.

Howard had season-ending surgery last week on the herniated disc in his back and is expected to recover in four months.

While the big man's absence has likely eliminated a serious distraction in the Orlando locker room revolving around his trade demands as well as his deteriorating relationship with coach Stan Van Gundy, it's also magnified just how dominant the Howard was as a defender. Orlando was 4-8 overall without Howard and struggled mightily to stop teams from scoring.

The Pacers, meanwhile, are the "newbies" on the scene making significant noise for the first time since Reggie Miller was building his Hall of Fame resume in Indy.

In fact, Indiana has the type of length, and depth that could cause major headaches for anyone, something the injury-plagued Magic are sure to figure out quickly in this series.

The Pacers won 11 of 14 heading into the postseason and it's always nice to enter the dance on a roll, just ask the St. Louis Cardinals over in Major League Baseball or the NFL's New York Giants.

Coach Frank Vogel's starting lineup features four players at 6-foot-8 or taller, making the half-court a virtual nightmare for opposing offenses.

"I think (the Magic's) their chances are slim," NBA TV analyst and former player Chris Webber said on a recent conference call. "I don't think they can handle the inside presence of the Pacers' players without the shot-blocking presence of Dwight Howard."

On the injury front Orlando figures to get a lift with the return of forward , Hedo Turkoglu, who had cheekbone surgery for a facial fracture on April 7 and will play with a mask. Glen Davis, meanwhile, sprained an ankle last week but is expected to start at center for Howard in Game 1.

Indiana's lone injury concern is reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, who is nursing a sprained left ankle and should be a game-time decision.

The Pacers, who finished behind the Bulls in the Central Division, haven't moved past the first round of the playoffs since 2005. They've met the Magic twice in the postseason, the last time in 1995 with the Magic winning in seven games in the East finals.