Heat Pacers

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.

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

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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.

Heat go Bosh-less for Game 2, but is that enough for Pacers?

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Indiana didn’t beat Miami in Game 1, but it put up a respectable showing on the road and that was with the team’s leading scorer — Danny Granger — being bottled up by the Heat defense.

Now comes Game 2 and the Heat will be without Chris Bosh (strained abdominal). It changes the equation. For all the people that piled on Bosh this season as a third wheel the statistics bear out they were just flat out better with him on the floor. Without him them take a step back.

Is that step enough for the Pacers to win Game 2 in Miami and even the series Tuesday night? I didn’t say that.

But maybe. This series got a lot tighter with Bosh out.

All the focus is on Bosh and how the Pacers will try again to exploit their size advantage, giving the rock more to center Roy Hibbert. Which they should. But what the Pacers need more of is Granger getting points. The slashing wing was the Pacers leading scorer at 18.7 points per game during the season, but he had just 7 points on 1-10 shooting in Game 1. Indy needs production from him.

That could be impacted by Bosh’s absence — LeBron James will move to the four and David West after he blanketed Granger in Game 1. Thing is Shane Battier also put the clamps on Granger in Game 1. It’s no easy task. Still, expect Granger to find some room, expect Pacers coach Frank Vogel to come up with sets that get him space.

The convention wisdom is right, too —Vogel would be wise to go inside also. Use the size advantage. But more than just Hibbert, the Pacers need to look to David West, the former All-Star who will now see a lot of LeBron James — try to get LeBron in foul trouble. The loss of Bosh hurts the Heat’s depth and if LeBron or Dwyane Wade get in foul trouble things really get dicey for the Heat.

In the end, however, the Heat are still a good team that even without Bosh can create turnovers and get out and run. They are still a matchup nightmare — look for Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to go to his lineup of four guys 6’7” to 6’9” with Wade. It’s a hard group to keep up.

For all the changes this remains a series about tempo — the Pacers have to grind it out in the halfcourt not get into a track meet. If the Pacers turn the ball over and the Heat get easy transition buckets this is going to get ugly. You also can expect the Heat to knock down some threes (they missed all theirs in Game 1).

The Pacers have a better shot now. They need Hibbert and West to really exploit their size advantage, they need Granger to contribute more, they still need to play near perfect ball. But this is not a mismatch, the Pacers are in this. Always were, but now they are closer. We’ll see if they are close enough.

NBA Playoff Preview: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami 46-20 (2 seed)
Indiana 42-24 (3 seed)

SEASON SERIES

Miami Heat 3-1, although the Pacers won the last meeting (during Miami’s March slump) and in the second to last it took Dwyane Wade heroics in overtime to get the Heat the win in a game the Pacers rightfully think they could have won. The first two games Miami ran away and hid.

KEY INJURIES

While there are bumps and bruises on both sides, neither team has a serious enough injury that will cause a player to miss games. Which is pretty amazing for this time of year.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Miami: offense 106.6 (8th); defense 100.2 (4th)
Indiana: offense 106.7 (7th); defense 103.1 (9th)

THREE KEY HEAT:

Chris Bosh: As one of the “Big Three” you kind of always expect him to be one of the key players, but in this case it’s about the defensive end of the floor — Miami likes to go small with Bosh at the center spot, but that will match him up with 7’2” Roy Hibbert. Bosh is going to have to get some defensive stops and help the Heat win with their fast, small lineup.

LeBron James: He was the best player in the first round of the playoffs — 27.8 points per game with 6.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists. But the Pacers will provide a tougher test, where he will be asked to guard former All-Star David West a lot, which is a more complex task than people realize. People are overlooking the Pacers, who are good, but what they lack is a guy LeBron — or anyone who can stop him.

Mike Miller: He could see a lot of minutes in this series with a mismatch — the Pacers like to hide David West on defense and Miller could be the matchup, which means Miller may get some quality perimeter looks. Also, The Pacers are going to try and make this a grind-it-out, slow series and if they do get the Heat in the half court and clog the lane Miller’s ability to get points from beyond the arc will be key.

THREE KEY PACERS:

Roy Hibbert: Size is the key for the Pacers in this series — Miami doesn’t have anyone who can guard 7’2” Roy Hibbert inside (Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony are too small) and he can play right over the top of them. He had 15 points and a dunk on LeBron in the Pacers regular season win and he is key one of the keys to making their offense work against the Heat.

David West: He is the other key to making this work for the Pacers. He’s the guy that sets the screens for point guard George Hill, but then he likes to slip them early and slide inside. What makes him dangerous is he can shoot — either at the rim or with a very good midrange game — plus he is an excellent passer. When he gets the ball inside and kicks out (and the Pacers are knocking down their shots) they are hard to stop. Miami has athletes but they can’t run as fast as the ball is passed.

George Hill: He is the guy that makes the Pacers offense go since taking over the starting point guard role, but he (and Danny Granger) are going to be severely tested at both ends in this series because of the athleticism the Heat bring to the table. If the Pacer perimeter players get away from the game plan and the Pacers stop playing inside out they are toast in this series. Size is the Pacers advantage. Hill has to keep the Pacers on task.

OUTLOOK

Big vs. small. Up-tempo vs. grind it out. This series is a contrast of styles and interesting matchups, and if Heat fans think they will roll through Indiana like they did the Carmelo-led Knicks they are in for a surprise, the Pacers are a better team and present a lot more challenges.

Indiana runs its offense through Hibbert and West, both by getting them the ball in the block or getting the ball to West rolling after he sets the pick for George Hill. Both are not easy to defend for the Heat and if you bring the double on West (and Hibbert) they will pass out to open three point shooters who can knock down shots. Miami has athletes who can disrupt and create turnovers but the Pacers are more disciplined than the Heat and if they don’t turn the ball over and grind it out they can win games.

The flip side of that big lineup is that Hibbert is in trouble trying to guard Bosh 15 feet from the hoop, and the Pacers do not have guys who match up well with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Danny Granger will try but he is going to struggle with Wade and Granger — the Pacers leading scorer in the regular season — may find points hard to come by.

In the end, the Heat are going to learn how to impose their small-ball style on this series and make enough defensive plays to win. It will not be a cake walk but they are the better team.

PREDICTION

Heat in six. Miami wins but the Pacers gain respect.