Miami Heat's James drives through Indiana Pacers' defense during their NBA Eastern Conference final basketball playoff in Miami

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


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.

Sixers to retire Moses Malone’s number next season

Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone

Kobe Bryant‘s pregame tribute video stole the show in Philadelphia, but Tuesday night was Moses Malone tribute night. The former league MVP and Hall of Famer passed away in September, and his legacy was honored by the Sixers during a halftime ceremony. During the festivities, Malone’s son announced that his No. 2 will be retired by the organization next season.

There’s no question that Malone, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, deserves to have his number retired. The only relevant question is: why didn’t this happen years ago? The ceremony next season should be good, but it would have been better if they had done it when Malone was alive to participate in it. No Sixers player has worn No. 2 since Malone anyway, but it’s been over 20 years since he last wore a Sixers jersey. Why couldn’t they have found some time in those two decades to have a ceremony and hang a banner?

LeBron James with two-handed halfcourt bounce pass for assist (VIDEO)

LeBron James
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Perhaps LeBron James‘ most underappreciated skill has been his passing. He is rightly hailed as the most unselfish superstar of his generation, but being a willing passer is only part of it: he’s also as good at it as any point guard in the league. Case in point: this two-handed halfcourt bounce pass on Tuesday night, finding Richard Jefferson for an easy dunk:

Kobe gets great introduction, loud ovation in Philadelphia

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Kobe Bryant‘s relationship with his hometown of Philadelphia had its rocky sections — the Kobe’s Lakers beat the Sixers in the 2001 Finals, and then Kobe was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game —  but all was forgiven on Tuesday night.

In his final trip to Philly, he was given a framed Lower Merion High School jersey — that’s Kobe’s school, in case you forgot — and it was presented by Dr. J.

Then the fans welcomed him like you see above.

That pumped up Kobe, who scored 13 first quarter points on 5-of-10 shooting, his best quarter of the season.

Rumor: Nets testing trade waters for Bojan Bogdanovic

Bojan Bogdanovic, Otto Porter Jr.
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If you play for the Brooklyn Nets, and your name is not Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, expect you will come up in trade rumors this season.

First up on the block, Bojan Bogdanovic. The report comes from Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.

Bogdanovic is in the first year of a three-year, $11 million deal, which isn’t bad for a guy playing nearly 25 minutes a night and scoring 8.4 points per game. There is a lot of potential in his game, if developed in the right setting — he’s a good shooter out on the wing who works well off the ball. He seems to have regressed this season, but how much of that is due to the Nets and their guard play (and just generally struggling) is up for debate.

Is there going to be interest in him? Probably. As always, it is about the price, what the Nets will demand. Whether the Nets can get anything back they want is up for debate.

Right now a lot of GMs are testing the waters for players, judging the market. That is a long way from a trade happening. But don’t be shocked if the Nets make a deal or two before the February deadline.