Erik Spoelstra, one would have to imagine, is a very stressed out NBA coach. Fans may think that his job is made all the easier because he has two superstars and a strong third power in his starting lineup, but that just puts more pressure on him.
Imagine how it feels to have a lot of the blame placed on your shoulders because after all of Pat Riley’s hard work getting the Big Three established in Miami, you still couldn’t win an NBA championship against an aging Dallas Mavericks franchise.
Pat Riley has replaced him in plenty of people’s minds coming into this season, and if he does not manage to rotate his squad into an NBA championship, those thoughts may just come to fruition.
Coaches usually do not think too far ahead. That’s the General Manager’s job. Spoelstra is, however, looking ahead to the next round which would probably hold the youthful, and sometimes inadequate, Indiana Pacers.
While the Pacers may not be considered the strongest competition for the Heat, they still hold a few characteristics that will keep Coach Spo’ up at night.
Miami Heat’s starting lineup is small and more than likely, throughout the series against the NY Knicks, their most explosive rotation has been small.
That is just how Miami plays and it has worked all the way up to this point. However, Indiana’s size is something that they have over the Heatles. Players like Roy Hibbert and David West in the Pacers’ starting lineup will only amplify Miami’s size disadvantage.
Miami doesn’t have a center to boast of.
They only have Chris Bosh emulating the requirements of the position by default. Indiana, on the other hand, has Roy Hibbert as their starting center. No substitution. Hibbert, who improved his shot-blocking technique by watching Dwight Howard, will need to improve his offensive efficiency to exploit Miami in the low post.
Still, with deep positioning and a high motor, Hibbert will give Bosh a very tough time in this matchup. Wearing Glen Davis down attributed heavily to Orlando’s lapse in the series lead, after winning Game 1. It’s not impossible for the same to happen to Bosh.
When the players surrounding a star become more productive or efficient, it automatically diminishes the value of the star. Danny Granger has suffered from the perception of his potential in the league due to the fact that coach Frank Vogel’s rotations have exasperated the potency of each player’s skill set.
Granger should not be slept on, however.
Watching how he has developed into the true leader of the Indiana franchise has been intriguing in the latter fraction of the regular season and trickling into the first round of the playoffs. Granger is averaging a solid 20.1 PTS in the Orlando series and will undoubtedly bring that same offense to the Miami series.
If Granger plays to the level he is capable of, without crumbles as we saw against the Magic in the first game of the series, the Heat will have a fight.
David West almost single-handedly killed Indiana’s chances of taking Game 4. He promptly erased his mistakes with a couple of key shots in overtime to assist the Pacers in walking away with a 3-1 series lead. Turnovers happen and when they don’t happen to West, he is lethal.
West has exposed a matchup problem against the Orlando Magic and continues to be fed from his teammates in the low post.
Yet, West is more than just a paint dominator for Indiana. His influence is greater than offense. What he achieves inside has allowed Roy Hibbert to focus more on the defensive side of his game, which suits Indiana well.
Hibbert has blocked 17 shots this series and all with West on the other end of the court carrying a large percentage of the low-post scoring load.
Paul George has become a mean force of nature for Indy. Even without his three-ball falling as it might have been during the regular season, George is a rising star.
He has had trouble finding his footing in the postseason against the Orlando Magic and is leaving a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths with a two-point performance in Game 4 that Indiana subsequently won in OT.
Still, something about the kid gives off the feeling of a wild card for the Pacers. He has been able to play the background in the series against Orlando because the battle to be won is in the low post.
However, against the Miami Heat, his scoring potential will have to be exaggerated and the title rising will not do. He must max out and when presented with that sole option, George could emerge as a powerful attribute for the Pacers. For the Pacers’ sake, he will.
NY Knicks have proven this in their series against the Miami Heat. Hit a few threes and it alleviates all the mistakes you have made throughout the game to exploit one of Miami’s few weaknesses. Limiting Miami’s productivity by the three is also going to be crucial.
One of the keys to defeating Miami for the Knicks, in their first win of the series on Sunday, was Miami’s poor shooting from beyond the arc, 15.8 percent on 3-of-19 three-point FG shooting.
Forcing the Heat out of their comfortable shooting spots and also coercing them out of the post for those easy layups or powered dunks was demonstrative in NY’s victory.
Miami has a hard time matching three for three as well. When those long distance perimeter shots were falling from JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony and especially Steve Novak, New York appeared more of a contender than they have at any other time in the series.
If Indiana can step up as they did in the regular season with players like George, Granger and George Hill with the three-ball, Indiana could become very dangerous.
Miami’s depth is questionable. You have your starting five: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. Then, you have your backups—the productive backups—like Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and James Jones on occasion.
Look over in Indiana’s direction. Their starting five consists of Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Paul George.
Coming off of the bench the Pacers have Leandro Barbosa, Darren Collison, Louis Amundson and Tyler Hansbrough. The names may not be more impressive; however, Indiana’s second unit is far more cohesive than Miami’s.
There truly is no comparison in the two franchises’ reserves. Norris Cole is a rookie who is barely spreading his wings in the postseason. Jones has barely played any minutes only, recording seven points in the series thus far.
That really just leaves Mike Miller and Shane Battier as key reserves for Miami with a strong influence over the tide of the game.
How impressive are Indiana’s reserves now?
Indiana stepped into the playoffs with a bit more notoriety and respect than last year as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed against the Chicago Bulls. Still, with no superstar, they are underrated as before.
The first-round series against the Orlando Magic is not their true test of fundamentals over flash. Without that superstar, Indiana has to prove their worth against an opponent of Miami’s caliber, where all of the stars are at 100 percent health and they are getting punched in the mouth with all the franchise has to offer.
The Pacers play with a chip on their shoulder, especially Granger. If they can play off of their need to play above the general perception of their talent, the Pacers can push their way to a lengthy series against the Heat. Can they win off of ambition alone?
No. However, the hustle and focus that this sort of ambition provides can improve even the most shallow franchises’ chances of winning against Goliath.
Indiana is fourth in the league in rebounding while Miami sat at 21st. The Heat have made a few steps toward becoming more rebound-savvy against the NY Knicks while Indiana have remained dominant in that category as well as remaining stable on the offensive boards. This is a category of the game that Miami can be readily exposed.
Did you catch Miami Heat’s Game 4 against the NY Knicks? If you didn’t, you missed a crappy display from a proven team against a one-man wrecking crew, more notably recognized as Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony’s 41 PTS snapped the Knicks’ losing streak in the postseason, one that probably haunted ‘Melo at night. However, in doing so he also forced Miami into another game in the American Airlines Arena, where the series should have never returned.
The Heat have this eerie ability to look past opponents at the worst possible time and while New York has avoided a second-straight series sweep, Miami’s collapse has allowed them a renewed sense of confidence.
Not to say that NY thinks they have a chance to take the series, but one game in is better than sitting at home watching the playoffs from their couches. Miami can’t look past Indiana, or they will take advantage of what will already be an interesting series.