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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.

Winderman: Haslem’s retaliation hurts Heat on court at key time

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Back in the day, when violence was king and Pat Riley was puppet-master, a colleague in New York warned me where the initial round of Heat-Knicks was headed.

He said he had seen it before, the way Riley could wind up players with the Knicks and have them unleash frightening fury in the name of victory.

He said P.J. Brown was at that point. He was right. Heat-Knicks was about to go all gory.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s vigilante justice at AmericanAirlines Arena and the fallout for Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman.

Based on his follow through against Tyler Hansbrough, and the fact that Udonis Haslem had never gone for a two-handed blocked shot before, his suspension for Thursday’s Game 6 against the Pacers was an unavoidable NBA ruling.

As for Pittman? Pure thuggery, to a degree worse than a punch.

So now the Heat move forward without Haslem.

And that is what really matters, that in the name of retribution, the Heat now will go into Game 6 without their best power forward (Chris Bosh) and their second-best power forward (Haslem). The timing for payback against Hansbrough couldn’t have been worse.

If Danny Granger is limited by his ankle issues, then it will be easier to simply shift LeBron James to more time at power forward.

Otherwise, Juwan Howard could make himself a factor for more than pregame antics.

And Joel Anthony might have to play more minutes, when it has become clear that he is at his best in measure minutes.

As for Eddy Curry? Not going to happen. You cannot replace suspended players on the active game-night roster.

Oh, it’s possible that on same handsomely crafted postseason video the Heat will point back to this as the moment they came together.

And perhaps it will prove to be just that in a Riley-infused locker room.

But in the game that would allow the Heat to avoid Saturday do-or-die, they will enter shorthanded, missing arguably the heart of the franchise, the player who helped seal the Heat’s previous visit to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

This isn’t Alonzo Mourning costing the Heat a series for his punch at Larry Johnson.

But it also hardly is a moment to be celebrate in the name of rah-rah team building.

This hurts the Heat as a basketball team.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Can Heat duplicate blueprint of Game 4? Don’t bet on it.

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Game 4 was what Heat fans expected this team to look like — LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were each an unstoppable force and played well off each other, the Heat played suffocating defense, and a role player (Mario Chalmers in the first half, Udonis Haslem in the second) stepped up.

But can they duplicate that at home for Game 5?

Don’t bet on it.

Miami may still win, but it’s going to be a different game. With the series tied 2-2, expect both teams to play with a sense of desperation. And since the teams have developed a real playoff distaste for each other, expect some physical play.

Tempo will be a key thing to watch — Miami wants to get back to more of their up-tempo offense. In part because Wade and LeBron are beasts in the open court, in part because they need to get buckets before Roy Hibbert sets up shop down low and changes everything. Miami talked about getting back to their space and pace offense, and even some of that would be welcome by coach Erik Spoelstra.

Something you can expect is the tough defense from both teams — these are two sides that try to get their offense out of defense and both have slapped on the clamps for stretches of this series. With everything on the line (and shooters a little tighter) look for a tight defensive game. If one side can get some easy buckets in transition it will be a huge boost (something that favors the Heat).

If the Pacers are going to win on the road they need to keep Hibbert out of foul trouble — when he sat in the third quarter of Game 4 the Heat went on their run to take control of the game. Look for the Heat to go at him and try to draw fouls, Hibbert has to avoid those and not pick up any stupid ones. Indy needs him on the court.

The Pacers also could use less chest bumping of opponents from Danny Granger and more efficient shooting from their leading scorer, who is hitting just 35 percent of his shots this series (granted, against some very good defenders).

We know the Heat are going to get a big game out of LeBron James (although to expect his ridiculous 40 point, 18 board, 9 assist game again may be asking too much). He just does that. The bigger issue is Dwyane Wade and his balky knee — he came up with a huge 30 points in Game 4 and with Chris Bosh still out they are going to need him to step up.

The Heat also need someone else to step up. In Game 4 Chalmers and Haslem played well for stretches, in Game 5 it has to be someone — Shane Battier, Mike Miller, anyone. Dexter Pittman even… okay, that’s not happening.

Game 5 is not going to look like Game 4. That was the outlier in this series. But if the outcome is the same, Miami will not care how they got there.

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.