May 11, 2012, 10:18 AM EDT
Miami 46-20 (2 seed)
Indiana 42-24 (3 seed)
Miami Heat 3-1, although the Pacers won the last meeting (during Miami’s March slump) and in the second to last it took Dwyane Wade heroics in overtime to get the Heat the win in a game the Pacers rightfully think they could have won. The first two games Miami ran away and hid.
While there are bumps and bruises on both sides, neither team has a serious enough injury that will cause a player to miss games. Which is pretty amazing for this time of year.
OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)
Miami: offense 106.6 (8th); defense 100.2 (4th)
Indiana: offense 106.7 (7th); defense 103.1 (9th)
THREE KEY HEAT:
Chris Bosh: As one of the “Big Three” you kind of always expect him to be one of the key players, but in this case it’s about the defensive end of the floor — Miami likes to go small with Bosh at the center spot, but that will match him up with 7’2” Roy Hibbert. Bosh is going to have to get some defensive stops and help the Heat win with their fast, small lineup.
LeBron James: He was the best player in the first round of the playoffs — 27.8 points per game with 6.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists. But the Pacers will provide a tougher test, where he will be asked to guard former All-Star David West a lot, which is a more complex task than people realize. People are overlooking the Pacers, who are good, but what they lack is a guy LeBron — or anyone who can stop him.
Mike Miller: He could see a lot of minutes in this series with a mismatch — the Pacers like to hide David West on defense and Miller could be the matchup, which means Miller may get some quality perimeter looks. Also, The Pacers are going to try and make this a grind-it-out, slow series and if they do get the Heat in the half court and clog the lane Miller’s ability to get points from beyond the arc will be key.
THREE KEY PACERS:
Roy Hibbert: Size is the key for the Pacers in this series — Miami doesn’t have anyone who can guard 7’2” Roy Hibbert inside (Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony are too small) and he can play right over the top of them. He had 15 points and a dunk on LeBron in the Pacers regular season win and he is key one of the keys to making their offense work against the Heat.
David West: He is the other key to making this work for the Pacers. He’s the guy that sets the screens for point guard George Hill, but then he likes to slip them early and slide inside. What makes him dangerous is he can shoot — either at the rim or with a very good midrange game — plus he is an excellent passer. When he gets the ball inside and kicks out (and the Pacers are knocking down their shots) they are hard to stop. Miami has athletes but they can’t run as fast as the ball is passed.
George Hill: He is the guy that makes the Pacers offense go since taking over the starting point guard role, but he (and Danny Granger) are going to be severely tested at both ends in this series because of the athleticism the Heat bring to the table. If the Pacer perimeter players get away from the game plan and the Pacers stop playing inside out they are toast in this series. Size is the Pacers advantage. Hill has to keep the Pacers on task.
Big vs. small. Up-tempo vs. grind it out. This series is a contrast of styles and interesting matchups, and if Heat fans think they will roll through Indiana like they did the Carmelo-led Knicks they are in for a surprise, the Pacers are a better team and present a lot more challenges.
Indiana runs its offense through Hibbert and West, both by getting them the ball in the block or getting the ball to West rolling after he sets the pick for George Hill. Both are not easy to defend for the Heat and if you bring the double on West (and Hibbert) they will pass out to open three point shooters who can knock down shots. Miami has athletes who can disrupt and create turnovers but the Pacers are more disciplined than the Heat and if they don’t turn the ball over and grind it out they can win games.
The flip side of that big lineup is that Hibbert is in trouble trying to guard Bosh 15 feet from the hoop, and the Pacers do not have guys who match up well with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Danny Granger will try but he is going to struggle with Wade and Granger — the Pacers leading scorer in the regular season — may find points hard to come by.
In the end, the Heat are going to learn how to impose their small-ball style on this series and make enough defensive plays to win. It will not be a cake walk but they are the better team.
Heat in six. Miami wins but the Pacers gain respect.
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