The play of James and Hibbert could tilt the series.
The Indiana Pacers’ strengths will directly affect the way this series plays out.
If the Pacers hope to defeat the Heat, that matchup will be the one that must translate from paper into fruition. Hibbert must dominate on the glass, keep himself out of foul trouble and in the process attack the lanky Bosh as much as possible.
There’s just one problem with that: James will be defended by George for the majority of the series.
I do not expect him to have the same success against James as he did against Anthony. James is on another planet compared to the rest of the NBA.
But I also don’t expect James to be as excellent as he usually is. If George can make James just a great player during this series and not his usual transcendent one, it will put the pressure squarely on the role players to propel the Heat.
I’m not so sure.
The West matchup in particular is one that could give the Heat nightmares. With both Hibbert and West in the game, the Heat’s small-ball lineup might be in for some trouble.
If Battier gets into foul trouble, will Erik Spoelstra elect to put James on him? Will James have enough energy to lead the offense and guard the extremely physical West?
The other option would be bringing in Chris “Birdman” Andersen. Again, however, that brings some negatives as well. Andersen is all energy. He’s a fantastic shot-blocker and finisher at the rim. With George pressuring James, there might not be a lot to finish.
George provides the Pacers with their greatest luxury: single-coverage on James. Yes, it might not always work. He might go off for 50 one game. But a lot of what James does revolves around reading what the defense is doing.
If the defense doesn’t help, it turns the matchup into a one-on-one game between him and George. That renders guys like Andersen almost useless on offense and allows guys like Hibbert to protect the paint.
Still, all of that aside, the biggest key to this series will be Wade. His play determines the outcome of this series. I firmly believe that a healthy, attacking Wade signifies victory for the Heat.
If he plays hobbled and can’t take advantage of his matchup with Stephenson, however, I see the Pacers advancing.
The Heat are the favorite and for good reason. When healthy, they boast the most talented trio in the NBA. That trio will be put to the test against the Pacers.
Who is the most important player in this series?
Out of the three matchups—Bosh vs. Hibbert, James vs. George, Wade vs. Stephenson—at least two must be won by the Heat.
James will win his. Not many doubt that. I don’t see Bosh having the strength to win his against the monstrous Hibbert. That leaves it all on the familiar shoulders of Dwyane Wade.
James will be the best player in the series. But Wade will be the most important one.
One thing is clear: We’re in for a long, physical series.