Pacers/Heat Game 7 preview: Win or go home

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The Miami Heat are at home, they have the swagger that comes with having hung a banner, they are battle tested, and they have the best player in the world on their team. He’s the trump card.

The Indiana Pacers are confident, they have the blueprint on how to win against the Heat, they are big and able to pound Miami inside, and they have a defense that can keep them in any game.

Miami is playing for its legacy. Indiana has a confidence that comes from having beaten Miami in Miami once this series — and if Roy Hibbert hadn’t been watching the final moments of Game 1 from the bench, they might have ended this series already.

Miami vs. Indiana Game 7 — winner goes on to the NBA Finals, loser goes fishing. One game, win or go home.

The keys to this big game remain what they have all series.

Indiana’s offensive rebounding is the key barometer for them — when Hibbert and David West are getting offensive rebounds and second-chance points the Pacers’ offense can score with the Heat. In their wins Indiana has grabbed the board on close to 40 percent of its missed shots, they need to do that again. Indiana will also try to use that size by getting the ball inside, getting their big men looks and ideally drawing fouls and getting a lot of free throws. Hibbert has averaged 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds a game this series to lead them. Paul George has been brilliant and he is the perimeter player that stirs the drink.

LeBron James has been fantastic this series as well — he’s averaged 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game (and usually one flop). He’d average more assists but his help on offense has been inconsistent at best — Dwyane Wade has looked grounded because of the bone bruise on his knee, while Chris Bosh has been overmatched much of the series against the larger Pacers front line. Someone — Wade, Bosh, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem — has to step up, knock down shots and be a second scorer with LeBron for Miami to win. Indiana has chased Miami off the three-point line all series, the Heat need those threes that fueled their powerful offense all season. And they have to rebound — like a pack, as they did all season. Miami cannot let Indiana dominate the glass.

The Heat’s advantages are they are at home, where those role players they need tend to be more comfortable and play better. They also get Chris Andersen back following a one-game suspension for foolishly shoving and challenging Tyler Hansbrough — Miami missed the Birdman in Game 6.

Defense will be the key — Miami has averaged 106.9 points per 100 possessions this series, which is 10 points better than the Pacers allowed during the regular season; Indiana is right with them averaging 106.5 points per 100, which is 5 points better than they scored during the season and 6 better than the Heat allowed. The Heat try to swarm you with athleticism (although they stop trapping on pick-and-rolls a couple games ago) and the Pacers use their length on the perimeter and size in the paint to challenge everything.

One team’s defense will likely step up tonight and slow the other team down — do that and they are playing the Spurs Thursday night.

Also, Game 7s have ways of making heroes out of unexpected players. Is this the game Norris Cole just goes off for Miami, driving and knocking down threes? Does Lance Stephenson seem immune to the pressure and have a huge game for the Pacers with an athleticism the Heat cannot slow?

Miami is and should be the favorites at home, but the Pacers enter with a genuine belief they can win this thing.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is right — these are the kind of games we talk about 20 years from now. The kind of games that define legacies.

Because it’s simple and clear — one game for everything. Winner takes it all.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.