Heat's James and Pacers' Stephenson prepare to play during the fourth quarter in Game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference Final basketball playoff series in Indianapolis

Heat/Pacers Game 6 preview: Indiana must get back to scoring to stay alive


After four games where the Pacers owned the offensive glass, got to the free throw line and used those things to score on the Heat at a shocking rate, Game 5 was a radical departure.

Indiana grabbed the offensive rebound on just 18.8 percent of their missed shots (it had been 39.9 percent for the first four games) as Miami made a point of putting multiple bodies near the glass. The Heat rebounded like a pack.

After getting to the line an average of 35 times a game the first four games, Indiana got just 15 free throws in Game 5.

Miami switched up its pick-and-roll defense, not trapping with their big men but rather working to get back and cut off passes to the post out of that play.

And, after a decent first half with those techniques, they cranked up the pressure in the final 24 minutes, using their athleticism to disrupt.

The result was 13 Indiana points in the third quarter, an offensive rating of just 90 points per 100 possessions (it had been 11.6 through four games) and a Pacers loss. While we all were focused on LeBron dominating on offense it was the Miami defense that was the unsung key to Miami’s Game 5 win and a 3-2 series lead.

And that defense is the big key to Game 6: can the Pacers get back to scoring enough to beat the Heat?

The Pacers’ defense will do its part — even if LeBron James can essentially be a trump card to that for stretches — but it is the offense that is the question mark. If Miami’s aggressive defense can keep the Pacers to 79 points again, this series is over.

Part of that is going to have to come from George Hill and Lance Stephenson, the guard pair that was 2-of-11 for 5 points in Game 5. Miami’s strategy involved at times pulling guards in to front bigger players (just for a second while Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen recovered), there is room for Hill and Stephenson to exploit that and they did not. They must.

Indiana also will need big games from its big men — Roy Hibbert and David West need to be on the glass, Paul George needs to be setting guys up and getting his. They all need to be aggressive and getting to the line.

Indiana has an added size advantage with Andersen suspended for the game. They have to take advantage.

I think you will see better Pacers offense. Not great, but better.

Can Miami outscore them? You can bet on LeBron James having another great game, the question again is will he get help. Dwyane Wade will do what he can, but he is grounded by his knee injury. Chris Bosh is going to have to have his best game of the series. Then somebody else needs to step up, too — Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem maybe. Although what Miami really could use is Ray Allen or Shane Battier knocking down threes. The offense from those two has been missed.

Expect a close game in this one. And as Phil Jackson is fond of saying, close games can turn of a trifle. Those kinds of games can go either way. We will see if the desperation of Indiana will be enough to force a Game 7.

Kevin Love unsure about opening-night return

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He’s back in practice with the Cavaliers, but there’s still no clarity on whether Kevin Love will be available for the season opener. Love had shoulder surgery in April after suffering a torn labrum in Game 4 of the Cavs’ first-round series against the Celtics, and doctors initially gave him a timetable of four to six months for a return. The six-month end of that is right around opening night (October 27), but Love still doesn’t know whether he’ll be able to play against the Bulls—although he is hopeful.

Via the Sporting News‘ Sean Deveney:

“I feel pretty good,” Love told Sporting News. “As far as the opener goes, I am not completely sure. I’ll probably get with the doctors and see what they have to say. I know that my six-month post-op is coming up here pretty fast. As far as getting the strength back, getting the range of motion, I feel pretty good, so I am looking forward to getting into some more contact, getting into a rhythm and getting out there as quickly as I can.”

Love has been cleared for 3-on-3 practices, but not yet for 5-on-5. If it were up to him, he’d be back on the court, but he understands he needs to follow the rehab protocol for his injury.

“(Six months is) just a ballpark figure that has generally been thrown out there by anybody who has talked about the rehab process for this kind of an injury,” Love said. “I like to think that I am ahead of the game, but there’s different tests and the due diligence that the doctor will go through and the training staff will go through. So all I can do is go out there every day and attack my rehab and hopefully I will be able to go out there and help these guys as soon as possible.”

At the very least, the Cavs will be without Kyrie Irving (still recovering from knee surgery) and Iman Shumpert (out up to three months with a wrist injury), and probably Tristan Thompson too, unless his contract situation changes unexpectedly. So having Love available would be some much-needed good news. But it’s more important that Love (and everyone else) is healthy for the playoffs. If he’s not ready to play, there’s no need to rush back for an October game.

Greg Smith fails physical, will not join Pelicans

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With both starter Omer Asik and backup Alexis Ajinca out injured for the rest of the preseason (and maybe a little longer), the Pelicans are looking for a center to put next to Anthony Davis for a stretch. That could include a handful of regular season games.

Greg Smith was going to be that man, but the 24-year-old failed his physical, reports the Times-Picayune.

The New Orleans Pelicans were set to sign power forward Greg Smith, but sources said Friday night that he failed his physical examination and will not be joining the team.

And so the search goes on.

The problem is, there are not quality big men still out there on the market, there is a limited supply and just about anyone worth having is spoken for. A few with non-guaranteed contracts may be waived as we get closer to the end of training camps, but that is likely a couple of weeks away.

With both Asik and Ajinca expected back in a few weeks, it’s not worth making a trade or some big move to bring in a center, the Pelicans are just going to have to live with what is out there.