NBA Playoff Preview: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (2 seed)
Indiana 42-24 (3 seed)

SEASON SERIES

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.

KEY INJURIES

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.

OUTLOOK

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.

PREDICTION

Heat in six. Miami wins but the Pacers gain respect.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).