Miami Versus Indiana PreviewEastern Conference Finals
#1 Miami (66-16) vs. #3 Indiana (49-32)
Season series: Indiana, 2-1
Indiana can win if...the Pacers can slow the game down and pound the ball inside to David West and Roy Hibbert. All-Star Paul George has an opportunity to elevate his status and be considered an All-NBA caliber player if he can hold MVP LeBron James below his season averages while also making a contribution offensively. James averaged 24.5 ppg on .627 field goal shooting versus Milwaukee in the first round but Chicago's bump and run defense held James to 23.6 ppg on .438 field goal shooting; Indiana defended James as well as any other team during the regular season and that trend must continue for the Pacers to win this series. Point guard George Hill, who missed one game in the New York series because of a concussion, must continue to play at a high level at both ends of the court.
Miami will win because...LeBron James has been playing at an incredible level--even by his lofty standards--since his 40 point, 18 rebound, nine assist performance versus Indiana in game four of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals. In order to beat Miami, Indiana has to slow James down without committing so many defenders to him that the Heat's three point shooters get wide open looks. The Heat lack size and can be bullied on the boards but they make up for that weakness with intelligence, energy and speed--and James' ability to play multiple positions.
Other things to consider: The Pacers have the right kind of team to beat the Heat; they have two strong big men, an athletic wing player who can challenge James and a point guard who can both get into the paint and make jumpers. Do they have the mental and physical toughness to execute the correct game plan for six or seven games against the reigning NBA champions? If the Pacers execute to the best of their abilities and the Heat do likewise can Indiana still beat the Heat? Probably not; for the Pacers to win, they must be at their best and the Heat must be off of their game due to injury, frustration and/or foul trouble.
Hibbert must pound Chris Bosh into submission at both ends of the court, putting Bosh in foul trouble and/or wearing him down; if Hibbert does not challenge Bosh physically then Bosh's mobility and shooting touch will make a big difference for Miami.
Dwyane Wade's health could be an X factor not just for this championship run but also for Miami's future; Wade has spent his career crashing recklessly into the paint without developing a backup plan (a consistent jump shot and/or a consistent post up game) or preserving his health and it is inevitable that this will reduce his effectiveness and ultimately shorten his career. Earlier this season, Charles Barkley called Wade a declining player and Wade responded by playing well for a few weeks before getting hurt again. It is not clear if Wade's skills have declined or not because he is rarely healthy enough to show what he can do at full strength--and he may never reach full strength again. If Wade is severely limited and Hibbert cancels out Bosh then the Pacers could not only end this Miami title quest but also cast some doubt on Miami's ability to be more than a one year wonder (at least in terms of ultimate postseason success).
The most likely scenario, though, is that James will dominate, Bosh will make an underrated contribution at both ends of the court, Wade will provide just enough support and the Heat will win the series in six games.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:14 PM