A repeat of the Eastern Conference finals from last season was expected, but the momentum and situation for both the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers, who have home court advantage, is a bit different than most assumed it would be. As game 1 approaches, the defending NBA champions will probably look to be more than just LeBron James and four other guys, while the challengers will be hoping Roy Hibbert wakes up on his good side.
But first, a little bit of history. This is the third consecutive time the Heat and Pacers have met in the playoffs. Both times the Miami Heat came in with home court advantage, and both times they pulled through. In 2012 it was a 4-2 Eastern conference semifinals victory, coming back from 1-2 down. In 2013 it was the conference finals, and the Heat needed seven games to make it out of there.
Over the last two seasons it’s dead even between the teams, meeting 14 times in the regular season and the playoffs. Each team has won seven games, with the offensive numbers slightly better for the Heat overall in terms of points per game and shooting efficiency. We’ve seen the series split 2-2 in the regular season, and it seems home court means a lot: Miami are 6-1 at home, 1-6 on the road through these two years, and the same (obviously) goes for the Pacers.
And for the now? The Heat have had a comfortable playoff so far. Eight wins in nine games, losing only once in the semifinals series against the Nets. LeBron James is averaging 30 points per game while shooting 56.4% from the field. Dwyane Wade who was rested well during the regular season is averaging 17.9 points on 50% from the field, looking good to go for a physical series which also means plenty of minutes for him. Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen proved their worth in the series against the Nets; Chris Bosh seems to be there when the team needs him, whether it’s for scoring or something else.
The Pacers have been up and down in these playoffs, twice losing the series opener at home before coming back with a vengeance, sort of. Roy Hibbert is averaging 8.5 points per game, but the Pacers need more from him. He is not their top scorer, but a confident Hibbert means being hard to get by on defense and dominant, especially against the Miami Heat, offensively. He averaged 22.5 points in the two wins over them but only 5.5 points in their two losses. He averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
Miami can learn from Atlanta, who had lineups with five shooters on the floor to force Hibbert out of his comfort zone and stretch the defense. This might mean we’ll see more of Udonis Haslem on the court instead of Shane Battier, or at least in the starting lineup. The Pacers haven’t seen the Heat show weakness in the playoffs, but Wade’s knees is something Lance Stephenson is targeting, in a non-violent way we hope.
Paul George will need to play quickly and so will George Hill. When the Pacers move slow their offense looks disastrous, and their defense can’t keep them in games. Maybe it’s not fair to pin it all on Roy Hibbert, but it seems that his mood and efficiency on given nights is what makes the difference between a win and a loss. He hasn’t had a good series opener so far, and it’s time that changes.