Preview: Pacers must take back paint to even series with Heat

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In their Thursday press availabilities, the tones between the Heat and Pacers were different.

Indiana may have lost Game 1 but there was an optimistic “we can beat these guys” vibe around the team. Miami may be up 1-0 but there was more of a “that was not us, we can play a lot better” sense from the team.

They are both right.

This was never going to be an easy series for Miami — Indiana is a grinding, physical squad, and their size and defense were always going to be a challenge to Miami. That said, the Heat can and will play better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1.

Expect the Heat to throw different looks at David West, trying to keep the proficient big man from going off from the midrange as he did in Game 1. Also look for the Heat to get their catch-and-shoot three point shooters better looks.

But there are two real keys to Game 2 to watch.

First, points in the paint — Miami had 60 in Game 1. Indiana’s defense is designed to run teams off the three-point line and make things difficult around the basket, on the season they allowed about 35 a game. The Pacers want to force you into midrange jumpers. And in Game 1 Indiana did a pretty good job protecting the arc — Miami was just 5-of-18 from three.

But the paint was another issue. First the ability to space the floor with Chris Bosh and the shooting bigs of the Heat pulls Roy Hibbert and West out of the paint. Miami guards would blow by their defenders and the path to the rim was open. Second, when Miami drives the lane and Hibbert slides over to cut off the drive, Hibbert’s man makes a sharp cut to the basket — the result is LeBron James dumping it off to Chris Andersen and the Birdman is getting buckets at the rim. Often that came because the Heat ran pick-and-rolls using West’s man as the screener and once the ball handler was attacking Hibbert was left with only difficult choices.

Indiana needs to do a better job cutting of those drives out at the point of attack off the pick. Then they have to protect the rim better — and keep Miami off the offensive glass. The Heat grabbed the offensive rebound on 38 percent of their missed shots in Game 1, that is too many for the team with the size advantage to give up.

Second, the Pacers just cannot turn the ball over 20 times again. Which will not be easy — Indiana was second in the NBA in turnovers per possession during the regular season and the Heat’s defense is designed to force turnovers. The Pacers allowed too many live-ball turnovers (13) and if that happens again they will not be able to stop the 12-0 kind of runs the Heat bury you with. (Indy got away with it because the Heat were turning the ball over at the same rate.)

George Hill and Lance Stephenson had rough games and they are going to have to play better in Game 2. Another 4-for-19 performance, 0-of-7 from three, will not cut it.

The Pacers know those two can play better, they know as a team there is room for improvement.

They are going to have to have it, because the Heat are going to get better as well.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.

Report: Other small-market teams championing Pacers’ tampering allegation against Lakers

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The NBA, at the Pacers’ request, is investigating whether the Lakers tampered by making impressible contact with Paul George.

Bob Kravitz of WTHR

In fact, there’s word that other small- and mid-market team officials have reached out to the Pacers and told them, “Good for you. Fight the good fight.”

Small-market teams whine too much about the disadvantages they face, but tampering isn’t really a market-size issue. Remember, under Mitch Kupchak, the Lakers were known as the only team that didn’t tamper.

The Lakers have advantages because George is from the area, and Los Angeles offers immense marketability. That’d be true whether or not they contacted George or his agent before he officially became a free agent.

I understand the desire to take down the big, bad Lakers – especially now that they appear poised to become truly big and bad again. But it’s hard to find a team that can cast a stone at them from anywhere other than a glass house.