NBA East Finals Preview 2013: (1) Miami Heat vs (3) Indiana Pacers

LeBron James versus Paul George will be the marquee match-up for the ECF
(Image from: Getty Images)
Season Series:  Pacers 2-1

How the Heat got here: The Heat coasted to the first round with a sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks. They were hardly challenged by the Bucks as the Heat won each game by double digits. As a result of that quick sweep, Miami had to wait for 7 days before they played the Chicago Bulls in the next round. The Bulls jumped them on the first game with their hustle and physical play. The Heat lost 1 game and proceeded to win the next 4 against a depleted Bulls' team. Miami managed to neutralize Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler as the series went on. But this was an expected series win for the Heat since the Bulls played the whole series without Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose. The Indiana Pacers will be a different bunch and they are salivating at the chance of avenging their lose from last season. 

How the Heat will win: In the first 2 rounds of the playoffs, Miami shot the ball efficiently (49%, 1st in the playoffs) due to their open looks and transition baskets. They shared the ball (23 assists/game) and were willing passers for the best shot possible. They played fast and pushed an uptempo pace which produced numerous easy baskets for them. On the other hand, that frenetic pace resulted into more turnovers (15/game) which was higher than their regular season average. Still, Miami also forced more turnovers from their opponents due to their crisp rotations and active hands that resulted into deflections. The Heat still ranked near the bottom when it came to rebounds per game (39.3) but they also limited their opponents to less rebounds (37.3) which almost guarantees a Miami win. 

X-Factor for Heat: Norris Cole was great vs the Bulls as he averaged 11 ppg and shot 69% overall plus 82% from threes while hounding Nate Robinson for 23 minutes per game. The Pacers have the advantage on the PG spot so it's up to Cole (and Chalmers) to negate the impact of Hill and Augustin. If Cole manages to duplicate his production from the last round, Miami will be in a great position to advance. 

How the Pacers got here: The Indiana Pacers disposed of the Atlanta Hawks in 6 games after winning all 3 of their home games while going 1-2 on the road. That was an unusual series with 5 of the 6 games being blowouts and the final game being a win for the Pacers by 8 points. In the 2nd round, Indy went 3-0 on their home floor again while going 1-2 on the road vs the New York Knicks. They are undefeated at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers also turned up their defense by limiting the Knicks to 89.5 points in 6 games. In the regular season, the Pacers gave up 90.4 which ranked them 2nd in the NBA. Paul George defended Carmelo Anthony superbly ( 43% shooting) and Lance Stephenson stymied JR Smith (29%) which gave the Knicks no hope in winning the series. It will be up to PG and LS to try and limit Wade and James.

How the Pacers will win: The Pacers will play tough, physical defense (maybe harder than the Bulls?) and rebound the ball well. They are tops in rebounds per game in the playoffs and among the top in points in the paint. They have 2 post players in David West and Roy Hibbert who can pound it inside and punish the smaller bigs of the Heat. Roy Hibbert has been a very good rim protector and his fouls are down compared to last season. The Pacers are obviously a much better team when Hibbert stays on the court. Indiana averaged more FTs than the Heat in the playoffs and that will help them slow the game down to a pace of their liking if the Heat players are in foul trouble. Paul George has developed into an All-star plus a very good two-way player whose game mimics LeBron's albeit in a less efficient way.

X-Factor for PacersLance Stephenson became a full-time starter this year due to Danny Granger's injury. He did a decent job during the regular season and he is doing a better job this postseason. He had the best game of his career in Game 6 vs the Knicks as he had 25 points and 10 rebounds. Stephenson will be against an injured Dwyane Wade most of the time and if Lance produces more stats, the Heat will be in trouble.

What will probably happen: The Pacers with a healthy Granger took the Heat to 6 games last season without Chris Bosh. The situation is reversed now with the Heat close to full strength and the Pacers with no Granger. Both teams are better than last year's versions and both know what to expect from each other. It will be up to the players to out-execute and outplay their counterparts. Miami will attack the paint and challenge Roy Hibbert to get him into foul trouble. Hibbert plays a big role in clogging the paint and anchoring the Pacers' defense. The Heat will constantly pressure the ball and double team the low post to force the Pacers to pass the ball to the perimeter. That extra pass could result into deflections or turnovers that favor the Heat. Expect Miami to force transition opportunities that will result into open corner threes for their shooters. On the other hand, the Pacers will definitely pound the ball down low in hopes of getting fouls and slowing the pace to their advantage. This allows Indiana to set up their defense which prevents Miami from creating easy baskets from defensive breakdowns. Miami has the advantage on the bench so fouls will be a headache for the Pacers. Overall, the Heat will deploy a small ball unit and it will be up to the Pacers to match up with that or continue with their traditional big lineup. Miami has only lost 3 games since February and it is tough to see them lose more than one in a series where they are motivated, focused and annoyed.  

Prediction: Heat in 5

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