Pacers' Hibbert works against Heat's Andersen during the fourth quarter in Game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference Final basketball playoff series in Indianapolis

Heat/Pacers Game 5 preview: Hibbert is Heat’s big problem


Forty percent. That is the key number.

So far in the Eastern Conference Finals the Indiana Pacers have grabbed the offensive rebound on 39.9 percent of their missed shots — four out of 10 times they miss, they get a second chance. A fair amount of the time that is an easy tip-in or put-back for two.

Those easy extra points, combined with the Pacers ability to get the ball inside — and with that draw fouls and get to the free throw line 35 times a game (the average this series) — has Indiana scoring enough points to have the series tied 2-2 with the heavily favored Miami Heat.

Thursday night’s Game 5 is the obvious swing game and if the Heat a shot to repeat as champs the task before them is obvious but not simple — if they can’t keep the Pacers’ huge font line of Roy Hibbert and David West away from the offensive glass, keep them from owning the paint, the Heat will be facing elimination on Saturday night.

The rebounding woes for Miami are not all on Chris Bosh (who takes the brunt of blame) — Miami has been a team rebounding squad all year. Particularly on the offensive end, where Bosh is used to space the floor and is not in a position to grab a rebound. Everyone — Chris Andersen and the good rebounding wings of the Heat, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade — need to grab a lot of boards. And Bosh, too. The Heat have to put a body on Hibbert and West and take back the paint if they want to win. Miami needs to disrupt Hibbert’s offense, he shot 10-of-16 for 23 points in Game 4.

Miami also needs to get production points out of Wade, Bosh and the rest of the role players.

Indiana is a very good defensive team — they are going to make things difficult for LeBron James. Paul George is a good one-on-one defender, to start. In Game 4 he got help as the Pacers did a good job of throwing different looks at LeBron, including double teams when he dribbled a couple times in the post. That will return.

But when you focus on LeBron it has to open up lanes for Wade to drive, midrange jumpers for Bosh and threes for Ray Allen and Shane Battier. The issue for the Heat is haven’t made the Pacers pay outside of Game 3.

Indiana meanwhile has found what works and grown in that identity — they believe they hold the Heat in check and win. Indiana is relying heavily on its starting five, but that unit has been the best lineup in this series by far. The Heat have not had an answer.

The reason Miami is the favorite to win the NBA title is the belief they have another gear. When tested they can improve their level of play to one nobody else can match — they haven’t lost back-to-back games since mid-January. When they lost the first time in this series they came back with a dominant performance — when Udonis Haslem is hitting midrange jumpers there is nothing you can do to stop Miami. They could pull that off again.

If not, they will be playing for their season Saturday night, because you know Indiana isn’t backing down in Game 5.

Hawks’ Thabo Sefolosha on not guilty verdict: “Justice was served”

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Friday morning, a New York jury found Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. The charges stemmed from the night in the final weeks of last season when Sefolosha and then teammate Pero Antic went to a New York club after arriving in town, and while there Pacers’ player Chris Copeland was stabbed outside the club. In his clash with police, Sefolosha suffered a broken leg that required surgery and kept him out of the playoffs.

The New York prosecutor tried to make this go away with a plea deal of just day of community service and six months probation. But Sefolosha had the means and mind to fight the charges, got his day in court and won. This is what he said in a statement after the verdict, released by the Atlanta Hawks.

“This morning’s verdict ended a long and emotional period for me.  Justice was served and for that I am eternally grateful to the judge and jury for their quick and deliberate decision….

“It’s troubling to me that with so much evidence in my support that this case would even be brought to trial and that I had to defend myself so hard to get justice. It pains me to think about all of the innocent people who aren’t fortunate enough to have the resources, visibility and access to quality legal counsel that I have had.

“It was important to me as a man, a father to two young girls and as a role model, to stand up for what I believe in and have my name cleared of any wrongdoing.  Today’s verdict will not make up for the pain and trauma my family and I have suffered over the past six months or bring back the opportunity to have played in the Eastern Conference Finals and have a shot at an NBA title, but it does bring me some peace and closes a painful chapter in my life.

“Now I look forward to returning to the team and focusing solely on my rehabilitation for the upcoming season so that I can get back to playing the game I cherish so much.”

While Sefolosha says he is focusing “solely” on his rehab, the win in the criminal case would bode well for a potential civil case if he wanted to sue regarding his treatment and the broken leg.

Hawks’ coach Mike Budenholzer — who testified at the trial and was amused by parts of it — released this statement:

“Thabo is a man of great character and we are proud that he took a principled approach to proving his innocence. We are extremely happy for him and his family, and we are very pleased with today’s verdict in his favor.”

Byron Scott doesn’t care about exhausting Lakers in preseason

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The Warriors use wearable technology to track players and have rested them when the data revealed fatigue. Gregg Popovich is holding relatively healthy Spurs out of practice. Heck, Popovich doesn’t even send himself to every preseason games.

Meanwhile, with the Lakers…

Lakers coach Byron Scott, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

“I don’t necessarily care about tired legs in preseason,” Scott said. “I think everything that we’ve done thus far will pay off at the end of the day. You’ve got some guys that might have tired legs and [are] a little worn out, but all the running as far as getting into that physical condition that we need to get into, I think in December and January, it will pay off.

“So I’m not necessarily worried about guys having tired legs in preseason. They’ll just have to kind of fight through that fatigue part of it. And I think mentally it gets them a little stronger anyway.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers coach has a reputation for demanding a lot of running in the preseason. It’s important in his mind because the Lakers will be better conditioned than other teams down the road.

Players, predictably, aren’t as enthused about it.

Bresnahan quotes just two players, Brandon Bass and D'Angelo Russell, and neither expressed much resistance to Scott’s methods. But I trust Bresnahan to read the team’s pulse.

I also think Scott is right: Fighting through fatigue builds mental toughness. But it also makes players tired, and it’s not the only way to instill toughness. The Warriors are tough. The  Spurs are tough. They didn’t have to run their players into the ground to get that way.

Scott loves to project himself as old-school and anti-analytic. Thankfully for the Lakers, his actual methods aren’t as bad as he conveys. For example, he said the Lakers would take an absurdly low 10-15 3-pointers per game last season. In reality, they hoisted nearly 19 per game, 25th in the league. That might not have been enough for that roster, but at least it wasn’t leaps and bounds below the norm.

So, I’m not convinced Scott is pushing the Lakers as hard as he wants everyone to believe. But he’s  clearly giving them a bigger workload than many teams.

If the Lakers are playing relevant games late in the season, this could come back to bite them. On the bright side, they probably won’t have to worry about that problem.