Then there were four.
The Miami Heat Title-Retention Tour is still alive and we’re all still wearing VIP passes to the team’s dominant performances. The bigger story in the East though is the resurgence of the Indiana Pacers, back in the Conference Finals for the first time since the Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest decided to go all Robin Padila in Detroit.
Out West, San Antonio already drew first blood against Memphis with a convincing Game 1 win. Blowout games are always fun to watch, said no NBA fan ever. So we fervently pray to the basketball deities that the next six games (of course, we’re hoping for the full route) will be more of a five-round MMA bloodbath than a playground fisticuff.
Both series promise to be an all-out war and we won’t mind them getting testy and ugly. To paraphrase the great linguist R. Kelly: We don’t see nothing wrong with a little bump n’ grind.
Miami Heat (1) vs. Indiana Pacers (3)
Indiana was knocking on the Eastern Conference Finals door last season before LeBron James went ape-shit and dropped his historic 40-18-9 game in Game 4, eventually bulldozing the Pacers’ chances. That’s why Paul George and company want payback against Miami. One thing going for them is that they beat the Heat in their season series, 2-1. But of course, it’s easier said than done in the Playoffs. Heck, finding Marxist undertones in Nicki Minaj’s songs is a gazillion times easier. The South Beach boys have been unbelievably overpowering all season long and they’ll only get tougher as the post-season gets deeper.
1. Interior defense
Roy Hibbert has been the Great Wall of Indy this post-season, averaging 2.5 BPG, and he’ll play an even pivotal role against Miami. The Pacers proved to New York that going small against them, like what the Heat also like to do, isn’t a terrific idea. Tyson Chandler, Carmelo Anthony, and Kenyon Martin looked helpless in the paint with David West and Ian Mahinmi also helping out. But if the Big Three found a way to fend off defensive devils Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Larry Sanders, then they can find an antidote against the Indiana interior. It ain’t going to be a cakewalk though.
Compare Kate Upton and a filthy wet rag in terms of aesthetics. That’s how Indiana and Miami are in terms of rebounding. The Pacers are the league’s top carom grabbers with 45.9 RPG, while the Heat are dead last with 38.6 RPG. Six guys average at least three boards for Indy, including the starting backcourt of George Hill and Lance Stephenson. The offensive glass has been the team’s BFF as well in the Playoffs, with them getting together 12.7 times per outing. Miami likes to run at every opportunity, but LBJ and friends can’t do so if they can’t get the ball. Hit the glass, get points fast.
3. Three-point shooting
Rainbow country has been Miami’s favorite hangout spot this season. With LeBron James drawing double teams every time he penetrates, the sniping syndicate of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Rashard Lewis get looks as wide-open as Steven Tyler’s mouth. The Heat are the second best three-point shooting team in the league at 39.6% on 8.7 makes. The Pacers, on the other hand, are one of the worst at an anemic 34.7%. None of them are consistent threats from long distance, especially in this post-season. If they could only convince Reggie Miller to suit up.
4. Bench support
Indiana has one of the most talented starting lineups in the league. The only problem is the team doesn’t have much stacked in the cupboard. Bad news for a tired Pacers squad since the back-ups will be a determining factor in the series. Only DJ Augustin has played decently off the bench this post-season, with Gerald Green and Tyler Hansbrough being more erratic than productive. Miami, meanwhile, has gotten ample support from Allen, Battier, Norris Cole, and Chris Andersen with combined averages of 33.6 PPG and 11.0 RPG in the Playoffs, outscoring the entire Pacers bench.
It’s no secret that pressure mounts as the games near the Last Dance. The defenses get tighter, the fans get rowdier, and the rim seems to get higher. That’s when the Big E comes in play. Miami is the most experienced team in the league with their players having a combined average of 9.1 seasons. More importantly, the Heat have already won a championship and they know what it takes to get there. Indiana, meanwhile, only has 3.3—tied for fourth-least. In fact, the 26-year-old Hibbert is the longest tenured player in the Pacers’ post-season roster. Watch and learn, little grasshoppers.
“When you’re in the final four, you’re competing for a championship. They’re the next team in our way. That’s how we’re approaching it.” - Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel
"We're not just another team. I don't understand what he's saying. He said we're just another team in their way. We're a great team." - LeBron James on Vogel's comment
FHM's Walang Kabog Prediction: Miami in 5.
NEXT: Spurs have drawn first-blood
Then there were four.