The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers are by far the most compelling series in the playoffs at this point. Why?
First things first, the Indiana Pacers have made the pot sweeter by jawing about Miami’s techniques before even stepping into the ring.
That is exactly what these two will endure in a possible seven-game series stationed in between both the AmericanAirlines Arena and Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It will be, as Erik Spoelstra stated, according to CBS Sports, a "cage fight."
At least he is ready for it.
Hopefully, the rest of the Miami Heat, the ones who will have to endure this cage fight physically, will be ready as well. The Pacers have already set the tone for a rival-like matchup by voicing their opinions on how the Heat were assembled and how they get to the foul line.
Things were made even more interesting as Chris Bosh went down with a lower abdominal strain and the Miami Heat announced that he would not return.
This pushed LeBron James into the power forward spot and the Heat outscored the Indiana Pacers by 15 points. This should have provided relief for coach Erik Spoelstra, but all it does it give him a huge decision to make.
Does he start LeBron at the 4 or does he start Shane Battier, Joel Anthony or another reserve?
The answer to this question is much simpler than analysts are making it. Why start James at the 4 and tire him out against the big body of David West, while still asking him to be an offensive giant for Miami, when you have a player like Joel Anthony, who is prepared for the starting job and has been there, done that?
Keeping LeBron in for about 45 minutes and expecting him to be fresh as the series trails on, after having a heightened defensive assignment in the low post defending West’s mid-range game, is not a smart move for Coach Spoelstra.
However, injecting Anthony into a lineup he is already comfortable in and keeping his responsibilities limited to defending the paint and catching lobs from the ball-handler, either James or Dwyane Wade, would be better in regulating James’ minutes and keeping balance.
James at the 4 should be a trick that Spoelstra pulls out in the third quarter of the game to keep the Pacers on their toes as far as defense is concerned.
Pacers win if…
Coach Frank Vogel can figure out a sufficient way to defend LeBron at the 4.
It may not seem like a huge adjustment, because fans have seen LeBron play every position, defensively, throughout the regular season and even for spurts through the first-round series against the New York Knicks.
In Game 1, with James as Miami’s power forward, although he guarded David West on one end of the floor, Vogel left the defending on the other end to Paul George or Danny Granger. Neither are physically built to stay in front of James for entire four quarters and in transition, it becomes much harder to decipher Miami’s offense because they move so fast up the court with either James or Wade controlling the pace.
Turnovers amplified Indiana’s mistakes against the Heat and with James at the 4, it becomes more difficult for George or Granger to locate their man in the melee of Miami’s flight towards the rim.
The Heat keep their defenders from settling and finding their footing in transition, which plays right into their hands. Vogel must find a way to counteract LeBron’s influence on how Indiana defends him.
Heat win if…
Miami can regulate how much time LeBron spends on the floor. James has been Miami’s driving force this season and continues to be in the postseason, even when he is not the leading scorer.
James is all over the floor, consistently guarding each position and paying meticulous attention to his teammates as well. He ensures that everyone else gets theirs if it puts Miami in the best position to win and he takes over offensively if that is what his opponent's defense calls for.
However, even James can be spread too thin. Coach Spoelstra needs to make sure he does not overplay James against David West so that he can use the threat of his offense to draw the big men out of the paint, or at least draw the double team to create offensive opportunities for his teammates.
James is a factor even when a play is not being run through him, but if Spoelstra runs him ragged, it will be obvious that the Pacers will not need to do much to dissipate his influence.
With LeBron at the height of his game, Miami has the best chance in the series to head to the Eastern Conference finals.