The Heat have won five of six and will be out to avenge a January 8 loss in the same arena. Indiana has lost three of four and has fallen out of first place in the Central Division. Defeating Miami at home once again would give the team plenty of momentum, as its previous victory over LeBron and co. was part of what became a four-game winning streak.
As we have all seen this season, the defending champions are anything but invincible. The offense is solid, but at the expense of the tough defense that defined the team during its playoff run last season.
Since head coach Erik Spoelstra has yet to tinker with the lineup, fans should expect a low-scoring battle for Round 2.
Indiana's weak scoring has been a problem all season, but the team's defense has kept the Pacers in contention. They surprised everyone in the playoffs last season and want to give a repeat performance with better results in 2013.
That means slowing down the Big Three, which will be a hard task for any defense. Throw in that the game is on national television and only more adrenaline is added to the pot.
Time: Friday, February 1st, 7 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, Sun Sports, Fox Sports Indiana HD
Records: Miami Heat (29-13) vs. Indiana Pacers (27-19)
Betting Line: Miami, -2.5 (per Vegas Insider)
Injuries (per ESPN): Danny Granger (knee, out), Sam Young (ankle, out)
Key Storyline: Indiana Looks to Defense to Defeat Miami Again
When the Heat and Pacers faced off in January, the Miami team that showed up was unlike the one fans had grown accustomed to seeing the past two-plus seasons. The Heat shot 41 percent from the field, compared to the Pacers shooting 36 percent, but 14 turnovers and being out-rebounded 55-36 sunk the defending champions.
Despite 30 points from Dwyane Wade, Miami lost 87-77, getting just eight points from its bench players. Paul George led Indiana with 29 points to go with 11 rebounds and center Roy Hibbert pulled down 14 boards of his own.
The Heat's lackluster performance can be attributed to one sad truth. Despite winning a title last year and having three of the best players in the NBA on their roster, they are not a good defensive team. Miami ranks dead last in rebounding and relies on a fast-paced offense to overwhelm the opposition en route to victory, which would explain why 10 of its losses this season have come against strong defensive squads.
Indiana is the exact opposite type of team. Ranking 29th in points scored, the Pacers are the best rebounding team in the league and rank second in points allowed.
Needless to say, Miami is going to be in for a tough game once again tonight.
As tough as it may be, the Heat are just going to have to sacrifice their offense in favor of that lockdown defense that helped win them a championship last season. The key to defeating the Pacers is to out-defend them and Miami is going to have to dig deep to find the all-around intensity it used to have.
Otherwise, the team will be destined to lose in Indianapolis once again.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Roy Hibbert
Miami's poor rebounding can be attributed to Erik Spoelstra insisting on starting Chris Bosh at the 5, as being physical in the paint is not exactly the All-Star's strongest suit. Yes, Bosh is a fine man-to-man defender, but his interior defense is one of the weakest parts of his game.
Don't get me wrong, Bosh definitely has the size for center at 6'11", 235 pounds, but he plays more like a scoring power forward than he does a true defensive center. Instead of working solely in the restricted area, he prefers to use his mid-range jumper and sometimes three-point game.
As a result, Bosh has posted 17.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. If he took his jumper out of the game and instead focused solely on an interior game, he could very likely post a double-double nightly.
Staying in the paint needs to be Bosh's first priority in this game. He's going to be matched up against Roy Hibbert, who has much more size at 7'2", 280 pounds and is a pure defensive player.
Now, by conventional standards, Hibbert has been a disappointment this season. He has averaged 10 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season, but has taken a step back after breaking out in 2012.
Hibbert has shot just 42 percent from the field this season, struggling mightily with his interior offense. Fortunately, he does not need to be a strong scorer against Miami. All that the Pacers need him to do is shut down Bosh, which should be easy so long as the team can keep Miami's center under the basket and off the perimeter.
If Indiana lets Miami's run-and-gun game take over, however, its hole will be dug quickly. The sad part is that once that hole is there, it will be tough to get out.
This means that defense needs to be the name of the game from start to finish, even if it means using the full-court press the entire time. This is the Pacers' game to lose and stopping a Miami squad out for revenge will force them to make an extra effort.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
One of Miami's other problems in its first loss to Indiana was the lack of production from the bench. The second unit only managed eight points, and sixth man Ray Allen didn't have any of them.
Simply put, he needs to have a better game this time. The future Hall of Famer has averaged 11.5 points per game while shooting an astounding 44 percent from long range and he needs to use his ability to create his own shot against a stingy Pacers defense.
This means that Allen has to be more than just a shooter tonight. While making his threes is important, he must also be willing to incorporate his mid-range game and drive the lane to draw fouls.
Granted, this isn't going to be easy for him to do. Indiana's defense is notoriously strong and Allen is no spring chicken at age 37. Just the same, he is going to need to fight tooth and nail for scoring opportunities—even if it means getting a little banged up.
Allen's experience can definitely be a factor, what with Indiana being a young team, but that alone cannot make him have a great game. He has to want it and be willing to do anything to accomplish his goal for the game.
If he can do that and hit double figures, Miami's odds of winning ultimately increase.
In order to win this game, the Heat need to up their intensity on defense. Unfortunately, you can't just turn on defense like a faucet and Miami will learn that the hard way.
Paul George and Roy Hibbert will control the game once again, dominating all areas of the court and forcing the Heat to play a slowed-down game from start to finish. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James will have solid games, but Chris Bosh will be taken to school in the paint.
To their credit, the Heat will be able to keep this game closer. Ray Allen will lead the second unit and score about 12 points, but that won't be enough to make up for the Heat's struggles in the paint.
Defense is Indiana's comfort zone, and the fact that the game is being played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse only swings the pendulum more in its favor. By the final buzzer, the Pacers will be celebrating another victory over the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.
Miami, on the other hand, will be left wondering how to right the defensive ship with the postseason rapidly approaching.
Indiana Pacers 96, Miami Heat 91
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