The Eastern Conference Finals get underway today so let’s skip the small talk and get to it.
Miami (-3.5) at Indiana – The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers hook up for the third straight year in the Eastern Conference Playoffs yet this meeting seems so odd compared to the previous two. While the Heat are favored once again, this particular match-up was anticipated all season long following last season’s epic seven game series won by Miami.
All of the luster that was supposed to be on this series now that it is here seems to have disappeared. The Pacers have survived to this point despite a disappearing act by their all-star center Roy Hibbert. Paul George has had some great moments in these playoffs but I don’t think anyone is ready to call him an NBA superstar yet.
The Pacers needed seven games to defeat an under .500 Atlanta Hawks team and then were pushed to six games by the Washington Wizards. While I like David West a lot, and I mean ‘a lot,’ he can’t be the guy that carries you game in and game out. Hibbert cannot disappear against the Heat who will no doubt watch hours of video to see what Atlanta was doing to keep Hibbert a non-factor.
For Miami, the road back to the Eastern Conference Finals has pretty much gone as predicted. No expected much of a challenge from the Charlotte Bobcats who were limited because of star Al Jefferson’s injury issues. Therefore the sweep was not a shocker in any way.
Then came Brooklyn… The Heat entered the second round against the Nets knowing they hadn’t beaten them all year going 0-4. The Heat also knew the history that was against them too. No team in their situation has ever beaten a team that swept them in the regular season. Obviously, Miami could have cared less about history as they beat the Nets in five games.
So what will this series come down to? The rebounding advantage will be with the Pacers, but this isn’t going to be news to the Heat. They will rely on shooting ad high percentage shots to limit that advantage but don’t dismiss the Heat guards crashing the boards a bit to help out.
What Indiana can ill-afford is poor shooting on a regular basis. They are hitting on just 44% of their shots right now and falling below that will be extremely detrimental to their success. The Pacers also need to limit the Heat’s fast break opportunities. That means maintaining the rebound advantage and getting back on defense.
Miami will need the usual performances from LeBron James but he will be challenged on both ends of the court. Dwyane Wade appears to be healthy which is saying quite a bit for this time of year. Chris Bosh could be the real x-factor in this series if he can extend Roy Hibbert out of the paint. That means he needs to hit outside shots with consistency.
There’s a lot of people that expect this series to go Miami’s way because of the struggles Indiana has had through the playoffs but I’m thinking differently. This is where the Pacers have wanted to be for the last 12 months and I think the Indiana team we’ve expected shows up. I like them to steal game one especially getting the points.
Keep an eye on… Miami is 1-6 straight up in its last seven games when playing on the road against Indiana… Indiana is 17-8 straight up in its last 25 games at home… Indiana is 1-4 against the spread in its last 5 games at home… Miami is 2-5 against the spread in its last seven games when playing on the road against Indiana.
Prediction: Pacers in seven