If there’s one team the Miami Heat are destined to have trouble with, the last couple of seasons have showed us it should be the Indiana Pacers. It’s a good thing that they meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals, showing us the degree of difficulty scale in the NBA Playoffs is actually something that works.
The Miami Heat have lost only one game so far in the postseason, cruising through their first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks without LeBron James needing to be amazing. It was a bit tougher, or at least rougher, as they dealt with the Chicago Bulls in five games, but there was still no need to bring out the best (offensively) from the best player in the world. The Indiana Pacers have needed six games in both their series, showing a lot of offensive versatility and parity, while remaining undefeated in their home games.
In their three meetings during the regular season, the home team won each time, and all games were decided by 10 points or more. The Indiana Pacers won the first two (87-77, 102-89), as their second win kicked off the winning streak that nearly broke the all-time record. The Heat, during that winning streak, paid back the Pacers with a 105-91 win.
So what do you need to know heading into the series? Paul George won’t be able to handle LeBron James the way he did Carmelo Anthony. James, even when the Heat lost to the Pacers, was good, which is somewhat of a minimum for him. In the second win for Indiana over Miami, George was the primary defender on 14 of James’ 25 plays. LeBron ended up scoring 70% of his field goals with George on him, being able to push him down low in a way David West couldn’t.
But the key for Miami’s victories isn’t James playing like an MVP, or at least not scoring like one. It’s about what they’ve been doing very well so far in the postseason, and that’s spread the ball. When the Heat lost 87-77 to the Pacers, besides the big three, only 11 more points were scored on 27.3% from the field. When the Heat beat the Pacers by 14 points in March, Mario Chalmers got to be the man in the spotlight, scoring 26 points. Chris Bosh had 24 and Dwyane Wade scored 23. James only had 13.
The Heat wouldn’t mind seeing something like this again. Chris Bosh on the floor means Roy Hibbert has to step outside his comfort zone, or try something different, by putting David West or Paul George on Bosh, and leaving Udonis Haslem open while Hibbert tries to stay as close to the basket as possible, denying the Heat their cuts into the middle and easy shots. They’re leading all teams in transition offense so far in the postseason with 1.31 points per possession. The Pacers will need to be very weary of the Heat’s gambling on defense, which means keep going for the lazy passes that turn into easy two points.
Working Roy Hibbert and giving George Hill the ball in pick & rolls has worked well in the series vs the Knicks, but this is a completely different team. The Pacers have a huge edge when it comes to rebounding, but the Bulls had that as well, and it didn’t work out. Paul George is going to need to shoot better than the 40.4% from the field he has so far in the postseason. Lance Stephenson, who’ll be spending a lot of time on Dwyane Wade, will need to wear down the not 100% healthy fading star. And the depth problem the Pacers have been facing will be even more evident when they play the Heat, who don’t have the best bench in the NBA, but it is an experienced one, with plenty of title pedigree on it.
Prediction – Something like last season, maybe even a bit tougher for Miami this time around, but the NBA champions till advance, probably in six games.