Preview: Pacers must take back paint to even series with Heat

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In their Thursday press availabilities, the tones between the Heat and Pacers were different.

Indiana may have lost Game 1 but there was an optimistic “we can beat these guys” vibe around the team. Miami may be up 1-0 but there was more of a “that was not us, we can play a lot better” sense from the team.

They are both right.

This was never going to be an easy series for Miami — Indiana is a grinding, physical squad, and their size and defense were always going to be a challenge to Miami. That said, the Heat can and will play better in Game 2 than they did in Game 1.

Expect the Heat to throw different looks at David West, trying to keep the proficient big man from going off from the midrange as he did in Game 1. Also look for the Heat to get their catch-and-shoot three point shooters better looks.

But there are two real keys to Game 2 to watch.

First, points in the paint — Miami had 60 in Game 1. Indiana’s defense is designed to run teams off the three-point line and make things difficult around the basket, on the season they allowed about 35 a game. The Pacers want to force you into midrange jumpers. And in Game 1 Indiana did a pretty good job protecting the arc — Miami was just 5-of-18 from three.

But the paint was another issue. First the ability to space the floor with Chris Bosh and the shooting bigs of the Heat pulls Roy Hibbert and West out of the paint. Miami guards would blow by their defenders and the path to the rim was open. Second, when Miami drives the lane and Hibbert slides over to cut off the drive, Hibbert’s man makes a sharp cut to the basket — the result is LeBron James dumping it off to Chris Andersen and the Birdman is getting buckets at the rim. Often that came because the Heat ran pick-and-rolls using West’s man as the screener and once the ball handler was attacking Hibbert was left with only difficult choices.

Indiana needs to do a better job cutting of those drives out at the point of attack off the pick. Then they have to protect the rim better — and keep Miami off the offensive glass. The Heat grabbed the offensive rebound on 38 percent of their missed shots in Game 1, that is too many for the team with the size advantage to give up.

Second, the Pacers just cannot turn the ball over 20 times again. Which will not be easy — Indiana was second in the NBA in turnovers per possession during the regular season and the Heat’s defense is designed to force turnovers. The Pacers allowed too many live-ball turnovers (13) and if that happens again they will not be able to stop the 12-0 kind of runs the Heat bury you with. (Indy got away with it because the Heat were turning the ball over at the same rate.)

George Hill and Lance Stephenson had rough games and they are going to have to play better in Game 2. Another 4-for-19 performance, 0-of-7 from three, will not cut it.

The Pacers know those two can play better, they know as a team there is room for improvement.

They are going to have to have it, because the Heat are going to get better as well.