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.

Josh Allen’s old tweet: ‘I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks’

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Josh Allen, a quarterback from Wyoming, could be the No. 1 pick in tonight’s NFL draft. But his recently unearthed high school tweets – which include using the n-word with an ‘a’ at the end – are the sports story of the day.

And there’s an NBA tie.

Via Ryan Young of Yahoo Sports:

I hate LeBron!!!!! #LeBronSucks

— Josh Allen (@JoshAllenQB) June 7, 2011

Damian Lillard went down this same road with LeBron James, and they got past it.

But it would be a little more awkward if the Cleveland Browns – who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks – take Allen. Then, Allen will face more scrutiny over this tweet – the most innocuous of the bunch.

Donovan Mitchell tells Thunder fans, Jazz teammates Utah not returning to Oklahoma City this season

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The Jazz blew a 25-point second-half lead in Game 5 last night, extending their series with the Thunder. Up 3-2, the Jazz are still in control. They can close out in Game 6 tomorrow in Utah. Blow that, and they must return to Oklahoma City for Game 7 Sunday.

But Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t plan to do that.

Gabe Ikard of The Franchise 107.7:

Jake Edmonds of KUTV:

A confident proclamation that rallies his team or youthful exuberance run amok?

The narrative will be decided after Game 6. That’s just how this is done.

Report: Grizzlies moving toward keeping J.B. Bickerstaff as coach

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From the moment Robert Pera opted to retain control of the Grizzlies and end a prolonged ownership saga, it seemed interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff would remain Memphis’ coach.

Lo and behold…

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Bickerstaff did a decent job before the Grizzlies started tanking. But that was a small a sample, and his prior work as Rockets interim coach was uninspiring.

To be fair to Bickerstaff, those were both difficult situations. He’s an experienced assistant who might be ready for this challenge.

To be less fair to Bickerstaff, this looks like Memphis taking the cheap route. The Grizzlies didn’t appear to conduct much of a coaching search, if any. Nor has Bickerstaff been mentioned with other openings. It probably won’t cost as much to hire him as it would a more-established option.

Memphis seems to be operating under the belief that a healthy Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will right the ship next season. And they might. But given the age and injury history of those two, I wouldn’t assume they stay healthy and productive all season. Even if they do, they’d have to carry an underwhelming supporting cast – with limited room for upgrade this summer – in a deep Western Conference.

The Grizzlies want Bickerstaff, who’d be a first-time non-interim head coach, leading that team trying to win now? That doesn’t seem like the right risk-reward balance – at least until considering his salary, and even then.

Rumor: 76ers increasingly confident about signing LeBron James

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LeBron James-76ers rumors have been mainstream for the better part of the year.

And they’re not going anywhere.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

I now fully understand why whispers about the Philadelphia 76ers and their growing behind-the-scenes confidence that they can woo LeBron to Philly this summer are getting louder.

Why shouldn’t they be increasingly confident? Led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers have already won a playoff series. The Cavaliers are mired in a tight first-round series with the Pacers, and LeBron’s supporting cast has mostly stunk.

This has the makings of LeBron’s previous free agencies – when he left barren Cleveland for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010, when he left aging Miami for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with the Cavaliers in 2014. Whatever motivations and narratives attached to LeBron’s decisions, he has left sinking teams for better-positioned ones.

The 76ers are good enough to fit that. They also have the cap flexibility to acquire him without sacrificing roster strength.

That LeBron has positioned himself as a mentor to Simmons – who shares an agent, Rich Paul, with LeBron – would only make signing with Philadelphia easier. LeBron could sell the narrative of teaching and grooming Simmons. LeBron, who cares about his legacy, must explain why he’s again leaving his hometown team in a way that won’t alienate everyone – not easy considering his homecoming message upon his return. Working first-hand with his protégé would look understandable, maybe even commendable.

All that said, growing confidence could be going from a 1% chance to a 10% chance. That’d be a 10-fold increase while leaving Philadelphia a big underdog.

LeBron’s free agency is still a huge unknown – including, at least in part, to LeBron himself. But I believe he has already started to consider options, even if he hasn’t made up his mind. And when that happens, signs could emerge behind the scenes. Perhaps, the 76ers have a read on those.

Or maybe they’re seeing what we’re all seeing: The 76ers are rising while the Cavs are just trying to keep their heads above water. Which situation would LeBron choose?