That's right, baby—this Miami Heat winning streak is coming to an end.
Now excuse me while I strap on a helmet and duck for cover in an attempt to dodge the hate being hurled my way.
But the Indiana Pacers were the team to hand Miami its last loss and should be the team that ends up giving the Heat their next.
Streaks end. That's just what they do. And if the Heat's streak will end, why not pick the team that gives them more trouble than anyone else?
The Pacers are 2-0 against Miami this season and have moved into second place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Though the streak continues, Miami hasn't been as sharp as of late, and the competition it has faced recently has been mediocre at best. The team's last three wins have come against the 21-37 Minnesota Timberwolves, the 17-46 Orlando Magic and the 23-38 Philadelphia 76ers.
They needed a LeBron James game-winner to knock off Orlando in the closing seconds after giving up 25 points and 21 rebounds to Nikola Vucevic, the second time he dropped 20-20 on Miami this year.
Having seen a few off-speed meatballs tossed right down the middle, Miami should have trouble with a fastball on the inside corner.
We noticed the potential for a rivalry during last year's playoffs when Indiana took two of the first three games in the Eastern Conference semifinals, which set off the urgency alarm in Miami's clubhouse.
The Pacers get under Miami's skin, which helps make up for the talent difference between the rosters. Indiana plays a physical brand of basketball with a "we won't back down" approach. You might recall the flagrant-foul party during their meeting in last year's playoffs:
It's crystal clear as to why Indiana gives Miami such a hard time. Indiana's strengths go hand in hand with Miami's weaknesses.
The Heat rank dead last in rebounding, while the Pacers rank No. 1 in the NBA.
Indiana's big men have also been playing well as of late, excelling in areas where the Heat are actually vulnerable.
Together, David West and Roy Hibbert have averaged a combined 31 points per game over the month of March, with West doing the lifting as a rebounder and Hibbert protecting the rim on defense (averaging four blocks a game in March).
Chris Bosh has only had one double-digit rebounding game in his last 10 outings and at times has been a liability defending the post.
In Miami's two games against Indiana this season, the Pacers held Bosh to just 14 and 13 points respectively, which is below his 16.8 PPG average.
That's what the Pacers do. They keep everyone in check without allowing anyone to go nuts.
The Pacers offer one of the most effective neutralizers for LeBron James that you can find. At 6'8" with top-of-the-line athleticism and great length at the wing, Paul George has the defensive tools to at least slow the train down before bracing for impact.
In the first meeting this year, George held James to 22 points and four assists—a win for George from an individual battle standpoint, even without the 29 points he put up on the offensive end.
Here's LeBron's shot chart via NBA.com from the matchup in January:
And here's LeBron's shot chart via NBA.com for the season:
For the season, it looks like LeBron's comfort zone is to the right on his strong side. However, when George and the Pacers slowed him down earlier this year, they got him to go left.
The Pacers rank No. 2 in the NBA in points allowed for a reason. This is a smart, disciplined, physical cast of characters.
The next meeting between the teams, James went for 28 points and three assists, but it wasn't enough. James is going to get his points, but once again, George kept LeBron's scoring in check at around his season average while limiting him as a playmaker.
If you can keep the big dogs at around their season averages and eliminate the supporting cast's opportunities, you've got a shot at taking out Miami in a 48-minute stretch.
In a seven-game series, of course I like the Heat. But in isolated games spread months apart from each other, only two or three teams really give the Heat matchup problems, and the Pacers are one of them.
You can say the Heat are hot. I prefer to say they're due.
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