As thrilling as their 106-99 Saturday night victory over the New York Knicks must have been, the Indiana Pacers could not have celebrated long. After all, all they had won was the right to face league MVP LeBron James and the top-seeded Miami Heat in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals. Unlike the Western Conference Finals between the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs, which still seems wide open despite San Antonio’s blowout Game One win on Sunday, the Eastern Conference Finals will start Wednesday night with the Pacers acting as huge underdogs compared to the Heat.
Wait, hold up, this series isn’t starting until Wednesday? This seems a tad unnecessary. Are the Eastern Conference Finals being scheduled by the same people who determine how long the hiatus in between “Breaking Bad” seasons should be?
Okay, well, in any case, this will be the second straight postseason meeting between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. The last time around, the Pacers actually took a 2-1 series lead before the Heat rattled off three straight wins to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and eventually to a NBA Finals win. Even though the Heat emerged as an even tougher team in the regular season this year, the Pacers still managed to beat the Heat two out of the three times they met, with both wins by double-digits, although the last time these two teams faced each other the Heat beat them 105-91 during their near-historic 27 game winning streak.
So, this amount of success suggests that the Pacers are the Eastern Conference team with the best shot at stopping Miami, although that doesn’t necessarily make them the team that everyone wanted to see here. A battle between LeBron James, at the peak of his powers, and Carmelo Anthony, who has finally gone from a great scorer and superstar player to the genuine leader of New York’s iconic basketball franchise, would probably have led to a bigger ratings bonanza. Unfortunately, the Knicks’ postseason run proved that Anthony did not have the necessary supporting cast to put up any sort of fight against Miami.
Throughout the Pacers/Knicks series, last year’s Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler looked like beyond a shell of his former self, spawning speculation that he was playing through more pain and injury than he was letting on. J.R. Smith, this year’s Sixth Man of the Year, had been invisible after his first round suspension for elbowing the Boston Celtics’ Jason Terry, leading critics to call into question the wisdom behind his shot selection both during games and during the late night after-parties. During the Knicks almost-comeback at the end of Sunday night’s Game Six, Anthony found his only help in getting points was second-year backup point guard Iman Shumpert. If 21 Shump Street ends up being your second best player in an elimination game, your team has no chance at beating the Heat four out of seven times.
So Pacers/Heat might not be the matchup that the networks wanted, it might end up being the one with the most potential drama. These Indiana Pacers might actually be the Eastern Conference team with the best chance to knock off the Heat. Will Indiana actually pull that off? Well, a brief rundown shows why it’s not impossible, but a lot would have to break for it to happen, including potentially Dwyane Wade’s knee.
Before this section devolves into a Friar’s Club roast revolving around permutations of the line “The Pacers are so outmatched that…”, it should be noted that the Indiana Pacers aren’t a disaster on offense. Although playing without Danny Granger has hurt their numbers, the Pacers have managed enough offense to go along with their superior defense. Much of this is because Paul George has stepped up this year and emerged as a legitimate All-Star player and the fact that the Pacers are quietly getting offensive contributions from the perennially unappreciated David West.
But the Pacers, of course, are not the Miami Heat, who have three potential Hall of Famers in their starting lineup and a surefire one, Ray Allen, willing to come off the bench at a discount for them. LeBron James has won back-to-back MVPs and is not only the best player on the planet, he might be coming off the best year any basketball player has had since Michael Jordan’s glory years. Chris Bosh? Well we’ll get to him later, but suffice to say that without Bosh’s injury in the Pacers series, the Miami Heat’s 2012 playoff run might have looked even more impressive considering how Miami’s offense went to another level when Bosh returned to the lineup against the Celtics.
A key injury again could be a hiccup this time of year for Miami, as a sore knee has limited Wade’s effectiveness throughout the second round. Despite jokes that the Heat should have rested an ailing Wade in Game Five, with the sense that the series against the Chicago Bulls was essentially over, his 18 points and fourth quarter heroics ended up being the key reasons that the Heat are preparing for the Pacers right now and not a Game Six. There will be no resting or hiding Wade for this series against the Pacers, and they’re going to need something closer to Wade’s performance in their series-clinching Game Five victory than the 11.3 points he averaged in the rest of the series.
For most of the season, the Miami Heat have watched as most of their possible rivals have had to deal with devastating injury-related losses. The series against the Chicago Bulls might have gone differently had Derrick Rose felt he were healthy enough to play on his healing ACL, had Joakim Noah been playing on two good feet and had Luol Deng not been going through painful-sounding complications from a botched spinal tap. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, these Pacers lost Danny Granger to knee surgery, the Boston Celtics were playing without a point guard for most of the season, Rajon Rondo, and the New York Knicks had just started working Amar’e Stoudemire back into their lineup when they were eliminated. On the other coast, the Oklahoma City Thunder were doomed when they lost Russell Westbrook in the first round of the playoffs and the “New Look” Los Angeles Lakers were reduced to cannon fodder come the postseason thanks to Kobe Bryant’s season-ending ankle injury.
So, in a season where it seemed the only thing that could have stopped them from being the iceberg to the rest of the league’s Titanic were serious injuries to major players, the Miami Heat ended up being maybe the most fortunate of all the playoff teams health-wise. Which would make this the worst possible time for Dwyane Wade’s sore knee to potentially become an issue, which is exactly why there will be nonstop speculation about it from here until the end of the playoffs. With LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh 100% healthy, the Indiana Pacers literally have no shot at beating the Heat four times in seven games, but if this knee injury continues to effect Wade’s performance, that might just open the door. But just a crack.
The Indiana Pacers could very well be the best defensive team left in the NBA Playoffs, although that’s a bit easier statement to a make after witnessing the Memphis Grizzlies’ comical misfortunes as they attempted to stop the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon. Roy Hibbert outplayed his rival Tyson Chandler in his series against the Knicks, reclaiming his title as the most dangerous center in the Eastern Conference, while forward Paul George made his first All-Defensive Team appearance when he was selected to this second team earlier this year.
Of course the Pacers’ defensive edge will only get them so far. First of all, the Heat are also a solid defensive team. Although LeBron James’ offensive presence gets all the headlines, his body and athleticism makes him a dangerous player on defense as well – his NBA All-Defensive First Team selection was not just a reputation call. In fact, part of the reason that the Miami Heat have been such a dangerous team this season is that James is such a unique talent that he can play nearly any position, making him a threat on both ends of the ball.
The Miami Heat’s positional flexibility, which is based on having unique talents like LeBron James and power forward/center Chris Bosh, makes life difficult even for a defensive-minded team like the Pacers, as the Miami Heat will make constant offensive adjustments in the span of a seven game series. The Chicago Bulls aggressive, foul-hard foul-often mode of attack got the best of the Heat in Game One of their series, but Miami seemed to have more than adjusted by Game Two when they blew out the Bulls 115-78. Expect the Pacers to start off their series against the Heat by being somewhat as physical as the Chicago Bulls, although a bit smarter and not quite as “desperately suicidal”, and then we’ll see how the Pacers adjust to the Heat’s inevitable adjustments. It seems likely that Game Two’s score will be somewhat closer.
When the Pacers took their 2-1 lead over the Heat in last year’s playoffs, discussion heated up that Erik Spoelstra’s job could have been on the line. It wouldn’t have been a shocking move from the Miami Heat, after all in 2005 Heat Vice President Pat Riley memorably fired and replaced head coach Stan Van Gundy midway through a disappointing season, and the Heat responded by winning their first championship. If the Heat stumbled before reaching the NBA Finals last year, Riley would not have hesitated to replace Spoelstra, although probably not with himself.
Instead, the Heat regrouped and went on to win their first title in the LeBron era. With the monkey off of both his and LeBron’s back, Spoelstra had the freedom in his third year as Miami’s coach to experiment with his lineups, not limiting his players by forcing them to play set positions, and the results, including a 66-16 regular season record, were enough to get him a second place showing in 2013′s NBA Coach of the Year voting, right behind George Karl. Not bad for a guy who was probably one loss to Boston away from unemployment this time last year.
The head coach of the Indiana Pacers is Frank Vogel, who failed to either get any Coach of the Year chatter this year (after a third place finish last year) or spark a viral campaign urging his firing. Not to say that Vogel is somewhat anonymous among his peers, but here is how “All Gold Everything (Pacers)” the apparent hip-hop anthem of Indiana, featuring a guest rap by George Hill and an amusing Spike Lee taunting video, pays tribute to their beloved head coach: “You a good coach and we down with ya”. Now, of course, if he can inspire his Pacers for an upset victory over the Heat, his first move has been to tweak Miami by calling them “just another team”, expect Vogel to significantly raise his profile or, at the very least, get an improved shoutout once “All Gold Everything (NBA Finals Edition)” is released.
During the NBA Playoffs last year, the series between the Heat and the Pacers turned when Chris Bosh apparently went down with an injury. Bosh did not return until late in their Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Boston Celtics, where his return seemed to spark the best basketball the Heat had played since The Decision. That, at least, was the cover story, but this YouTube video has produced the truth behind Chris Bosh’s “injury” during last year’s Heat/Pacers series. This video not only reveals why Chris Bosh is so important to the Miami Heat, it also finally provides a reasonable explanation for Mike Miller’s barrage of three-pointers against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the final game of last year’s NBA Finals (warning contains potentially upsetting imagery):
Now, “Adventures of Christopher Bosh in the Multiverse!” may not be completely true, the Miami Heat’s third best player probably isn’t the angst-plagued son of a cosmic entity and cosmic werewolves most likely don’t occasionally possess the bodies of their veteran bench players to spur them on to otherworldly feats. After the season Miami has had, wouldn’t this all make sense though? At their best, the Heat really do seem to be playing a game on a completely different dimension than their opponents. Other NBA teams might be good, but they haven’t been “spawn ridiculous sci-fi/fantasty theories” good.
The Indiana Pacers will give the Miami Heat a challenge, but they don’t really have what it takes to beat the Heat unless Dwyane Wade is out or injured enough to be a non-factor for most of the series. Ultimately, that may be all the NBA wants from this series, they don’t want the Eastern Conference Finals to be a drama-free Miami sweep but they also don’t really want to see the Miami Heat eliminated before the Finals. With or without outside manipulation from cosmic powers, expect this series between the Heat and the Pacers to be competitive but never in doubt.
Prediction: Miami in 5.
Source Article from http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/may/20/pacers-heat-eastern-conference-finals-preview
Do the Indiana Pacers have what it takes to beat the Miami Heat? – The Guardian
Sports – Google News