For the third straight year, the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat will play each other in the NBA playoffs. For the first time, the Pacers have home court advantage, hoping that their inconsistent ways of pulling through, exemplified better with Roy Hibbert than anyone else, will be enough, finally, to find an answer to a problem no team has been able to solve in series for more than two years: Stopping LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh from moving forward.
The Pacers have been a thorn in the Heat’s side in the regular season when the two teams play in Indiana. Last season, the series dragged on for seven games before the Heat destroyed Indiana in game 7. It was one of those games that resembled almost half the games the Pacers had in this postseason. A defense that isn’t too hard to break down and an offense that is almost in a rush to make mistakes.
Two years ago Indiana had a 2-1 lead before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade vaulted into a whole new level of individual excellence, We’ve seen sparks of that, especially from James, here and there in these playoffs, like his 49-point performance against the Brooklyn Nets in game 4. The Heat will need that version of LeBron from time to time, but hopefully not a lot. When James has to play that way, it often makes things simpler for the Pacers.
The key to stopping Indiana, except for how they shoot themselves in the leg quite often? Attack Roy Hibbert. Yes, he makes an excellent rim protector, maybe the best in the league, on his good days. He’s not an exceptional shot blocker, but mostly serves as a deterrent. But as we’ve seen from Jeff Teague, Marcin Gortat and John Wall (For very short spurts), taking the ball at him isn’t such a bad idea. Fouls and early on hurting his confidence makes the Pacers into a subpar team. Obviously, drawing him out of his comfort zone is another way to go about it.
The Pacers will try different looks at James. It’ll probably be switches between Paul George and David West. James can overpower George, he can beat West when he isn’t posting up on him. Getting through him and Roy Hibbert? He’ll need big help from players. Like Udonis Haslem gave him. Like Chris Bosh can, and probably will need at an increased rate to what we’ve seen from him in the playoffs. He’ll need Dwyane Wade to liven up a little bit more, and definitely keep Wade away from situations in which he guards Paul George.
Ball movement is going to be the key to the Pacers’ series. Roy Hibbert usually plays like a 90’s All-Star center when he sees Miami, but that isn’t what beats them more than anything. It’s not even offensive rebounding, which is something the Heat almost give up on right from the get go, knowing they have more important battles to win in other spots on the court. Dominating the paint is part of that method because it forces the Heat to scramble differently to what they want, but that alone won’t win Indiana the series.
So what will? On a team level, as we said, it’s going to be about moving the ball quickly, something we haven’t seen the Pacers do too well in these playoffs. The Hawks’ defense isn’t good, the Wizards defense was inconsistent and Miami are a different level, at least in the postseason. Still, they don’t move their feet and close down gaps as quickly as in the past, which makes stretching them and creating open shots easier, if you play the right way. From here on out, it’s about making the open shots that will present themselves if Paul George and Lance Stephenson don’t hold on to the ball too much.
Miami will need to put their trust in Ray Allen who has had a very good postseason so far. They will need Mario Chalmers at his finest, and hope that Norris Cole finally wakes up from almost a season long slumber. We’ll see a bit of Shane Battier and James Jones. Michael Beasley, as of now, isn’t part of the plans. Greg Oden isn’t either. Miami are the same team they were last year. By the time this series is over, we’ll know if that’s better or worse.