LeBron James, Dwyane Wade

Pacers can’t be soft in Game 6 or Heat will eliminate them


Miami does not have Udonis Haslem Thursday night, suspended for his hard foul on Tyler Hansbrough last game.

Danny Granger will be out on the court for Indiana but playing with an ankle he described as swollen like a small softball.

These are serious setbacks for both teams and how they deal with it — whichever team has its guys step up — will win Game 6.

That may be harder for the Pacers, which is bad news because down 3-2 this is an elimination game for them. Larry Bird described the Pacers as soft after last game and if they play anything like that again on Thursday they will be golfing Friday.

Granger is key at both ends of the court — the Pacers were -21 last game after Granger landed on LeBron James’ foot and rolled his ankle, taking him out of that game.

We still find out early how well Granger is moving — look for the Heat to try and isolate him on LeBron James (Granger’s primary defensive assignment this series). LeBron will (or at least should) go right at him. Not pull up for the jumper if Granger lays off, drive and see how he moves. If it’s not well expect the Heat to go at him all night.

That will put more pressure on Roy Hibbert, who has to protect the rim and paint but without picking up fouls.

Miami needs to do this to get James going — without the threat of Haslem to spread the floor and add scoring it’s going to be harder for the Heat to get points, particularly in the half court. James, Dwyane Wade and other guys — Shane Battier, Mike Miller — need to knock down jumpers in the half court because the Pacers will pack the paint.

Miami will want to run and if they can use pressure defense to create opportunities to get Wade and James in the open court they can run away with this game. Like they have the last two. Indiana has to slow the pace again.

Indiana needs someone to step up with a huge game on the perimeter — Darren Collison, George Hill and Paul George need to have good nights. David West needs a monster night inside. The Heat have nobody who can stop Hibbert, feed the man the rock.

There are no secrets left in this series, just a lot of bad blood. It feels like a playoff series. It feels like a war of attrition.

The Pacers need to play their best game or it will be their last this season. But right now the Heat are vulnerable, win this and in a Game 7 anything can happen.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.