The Heat and Pacers have met exactly one time in NBA playoff history. It came in 2004, when Indiana knocked off Miami in six games. Dwyane Wade played in that series -- it was his first playoff loss -- but otherwise there is really no connection between this year's matchup and that one. No, there is truly no exciting historical angle to this matchup.
What's attractive about this series are contrasts in emphasis. You have Miami's dynamic perimeter game against Indiana's power-post style. Also, there is the Big Three model by which the Heat's roster was constructed versus the 10-man deep approach used by Pacers honcho Larry Bird. If Indy were to steal this series, it would give hope to starless teams across the league.
The Heat are heavily favored, as you'd expect, but under Frank Vogel, the Pacers are a team that doesn't back down against anyone. Indiana features one of the league's deepest rosters and a second unit better than Miami's. However, the Heat won four more games than the Pacers, with an edge in point differential more appropriate to a six-game gap. Miami's favorite status is well-earned. The Heat won three of the four regular-season matchups.
WHEN MIAMI HAS THE BALL
Pace: 93.7 possessions per 48 minutes (15th NBA)
MIAMI Offensive Rating: 104.3 points per 100 possessions (6th NBA)
INDIANA Defensive Rating: 100.4 points per 100 possessions (10th NBA)
The Heat's Offensive Rating against the Pacers was 3.2 points better than it was against the rest of the league, and that's despite the fact that Dwyane Wade missed one of the four matchups. The Heat did it with a .446 FT/FGA rate that was about 15 percent better than it was against other teams. The Pacers simply couldn't defend without fouling. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh averaged a combined 24 free throw attempts per game. Against the rest of the league, they averaged about 19 and Bosh got three extra charity tosses per game by himself. Miami had the highest FT/FGA of the first round. Meanwhile, the Pacers didn't foul much, but that's what you'd expect against a Dwight Howardless Orlando Magic squad.
Indiana has to defend without fouling, which means keeping James and Wade from going crazy off the dribble. That's asking a lot. As for Bosh, clearly he was more aggressive against Indiana, so whether it's David West or Tyler Hansbrough, the Pacers have to keep him shooting jumpers. The Heat got about 40 percent of their points against Indiana in the paint and you know that wasn't coming off post-ups. The Pacers have to keep Miami's dribble penetration under control. It's the same aim every team has against the Heat.
That works hand in hand with keeping the Heat out of transition. The Pacers ranked fifth in the league on the offensive glass during the regular season and it's going to be important that Indiana does well enough in that department to keep Miami from leaking out. And of course turnovers will be crucial, because no one turns defense into offense faster than the Heat.
WHEN INDIANA HAS THE BALL
Pace: 93.4 possessions per 48 minutes (19th NBA)
INDIANA Offensive Rating: 103.5 points per 100 possessions (9th NBA)
MIAMI Defensive Rating: 97.1 points per 100 possessions (4th NBA)
The Pacers' best chance to make this series competitive is to pound the Heat in the paint on the offensive end, through post-ups and offensive rebounding. During the regular season, Miami held the Pacers to a 94.6 Offensive Rating, nearly nine points than their overall average. Indiana grabbed 28 percent of its own misses against Miami, which isn't far off of its overall number, but they've got to do better. As in 35-40 percent. Not only would that force Miami to commit to defending the defensive glass, but the Pacers are going to need the extra shots.
Despite their offensive emphasis on the big man trio of Roy Hibbert, West and Hansbrough, the Pacers don't get a ton of points at the rim. That statistic is always a mixture of post play, offensive rebounding, transition opportunities and dribble penetration. The latter two of those factors are not areas of strength for Indiana. The Pacers do excel in the post. According to MySynergySports.com, Indiana ranked fourth in the league in efficiency in the post. The Heat were 29th in defending the block.
That's why Hibbert is going to be so important in this series. We've seen him improve by leaps and bounds as a professional, which is why he's going to be a very wealthy young man next season. His post game is inconsistent -- he's actually better in the pick-and-roll, which the Heat defends extremely well. Hibbert has diversified his back-to-the-basket game to include a lefty jump hook that gives him the ability to shoot over either shoulder. Given the size advantage he has over every member of the Miami roster, his ability to hit those shots consistently will be crucial to opening up the perimeter for Indiana's shooters, and that includes West's dependable foul-line jumper. Hibbert is average when it comes to taking care of the ball, but he's got to be even better than that in this series.
Against Miami in the regular season, Hibbert shot just 42 percent. Add 10 percent to the number and the Pacers might be getting somewhere. Of course, all this could be made moot if Erik Spoelstra decides to go small. If Joel Anthony or Rony Turiaf are on the floor, then Hibbert's slow-footedness on the defensive end isn't a factor and he can be a much-needed rim protector. If he's suddenly forced to defend Bosh at the five, it could cause all sorts of trouble.
It's doubtful that the Pacers will get much from Danny Granger in this series, but it would sure help if they did. Granger shot 34 percent against Miami in the regular season and he, like every other human on Earth, is no match for James athletically. And if he's looking for a respite, sorry to disappoint: Granger played 123 minutes against the Heat during the regular season. James was on the floor for every one of them.
It's hard not to root for the Pacers and for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the general dislike of Miami. The Pacers have a well-constructed, well-coached, well-constructed roster built over a period of a number of years. You'd like to see a team like that win big in the postseason. Also, an upset of Miami would (hopefully) energize a fan base that was once one of the most avid in the NBA. Alas, that's all fantasy-land stuff. As Tom Thibodeau would never say, the Pacers don't have enough to win with. Not against Miami. Not this year.
Heat in 5
(Note: Data from MySynergySports.com and NBA.com/Stats were used in this piece.)
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