Hey! Wake up! Don't you realize that the Eastern Conference finals are finally here?
The Heat haven't played since May 15, when they defeated the Chicago Bulls 94-91 to complete a 4-1 series victory. The last time they had as long of a layoff came after they were forced to wait for the Bulls and Brooklyn Nets series to conclude after already defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in a sweep.
Miami dropped Game 1 at home against Chicago but won the next four to finish off the Bulls.
Indiana faced a stronger opponent in the New York Knicks and needed six games to dispel of the Carmelo Anthony-centric roster. The Pacers used their strong interior presences to command respect on both sides of the court, resulting in high-percentage shots on offense and contested shots on defense.
New York was able to score over 100 only once. They broke triple digits less often than they scored under 90 points, which occurred in a three-game stretch between Games 3 and 5 that resulted in Indiana taking a 3-2 series lead and eventually winning 106-99 in the clincher.
These two teams are no strangers to each other and have been a part of a number of intense matchups, mostly coming in last year's conference semifinals. Miami won the series 4-2, but not before seeing Chris Bosh get hurt early in Game 1, the Heat implode on the sidelines in a Game 3 loss and incredible instances of teamwork between Wade and James to put the series on ice.
The series featured a number of altercations, including several involving Danny Granger for some reason, and Lance Stephenson and Juwan Howard jawing at each other pregame after Stephenson's gesture the previous game, as well as a later flagrant foul resulting from Lance's mistake.
And how can we forget the pleasantries exchanged by Tyler Hansbrough and Udonis Haslem? For a team that's accused of flopping and being soft, the Heat have been at the center of some of the more intense altercations in recent NBA postseason history.
Miami now features Ray Allen and Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who replaces the role of Ronny Turiaf, as well as Bosh, who missed all but one half of their six-game series with Indiana last year. Meanwhile, the Pacers are without Danny Granger due to injury and have since replaced Darren Collison, Lou Amundson and Leandro Barbosa with D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi and Gerald Green.
The Pacers have also seen excellent development from Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
Indiana won the regular-season series 2-1, but that means nothing at this point. The playoffs, especially this deep, are a completely different game that features teams at their best and capable of making adjustments on the fly.
The Heat have yet to fully exert themselves, because why do they need to, and the Pacers may finally be the team to break them out of this sleepwalking spell and focus on playing for a complete 48 minutes.
A significant challenge will always bring the best out of Miami, and this Indiana team is going to bring it not just with an extremely disciplined defense, but also with the sting from last year's postseason loss to Miami still looming.
Indiana is still convinced they were the better team that series. They might have missed their only chance to take advantage and defeat the Heat, because seeing them beat out this Heat team four times out of seven (the Heat have won 45 of their past 49 games) is something that would deserve to become a movie by Disney.
They've yet to allow Chris Bosh to baptize them. Because Bosh sat out all but a portion of the first half of Game 1 in the Miami Heat's second-round series against the Pacers last year, it was up to James and Wade to carry the heavy burden that was left behind by Bosh, who had averaged 18 points and eight rebounds that season.
LeBron went off for a historic 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in a crucial Game 4 win, while Dwyane dropped 41 points in the series-clincher on the road in Game 6. Those two had no choice but to rekindle memories of their past when they were deemed the lone primary option on their former teams.
The Pacers now at least have some experience, and a better developed shooting guard and small forward, against LeBron and Dwyane. However, they have yet to prove they are capable of defending Bosh in a postseason setting.
Before exiting with the abdominal strain, Bosh only needed 15:48 to score 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting and grab five rebounds. The play where he suffered the injury was actually the main reason why the Heat are going to end up winning Game 1 and the series overall.
Roy Hibbert, the 7'2" Pacers center, is not going to be able to defend Bosh out along the perimeter, and he won't be able to hang out in his usual place of residence in the paint as a shot-deterrent. Hibbert was able to constantly contest Carmelo Anthony in his team's series win over the New York Knicks because he was not getting dragged out of the paint by Tyson Chandler.
Roy Hibbert cannot guard Chris Bosh, and neither can David West or Tyler Hansbrough. None of those players is capable of defending Bosh the shooter or Bosh the quick-footed driver.
Expect the Heat to exploit Bosh's matchup with either Hibbert or West early and often. The key to this series is going to be for Miami to get Hibbert on the bench with foul trouble and open up the floor for the drives of LeBron and Dwyane.
Although Miami suffered last time from a long layoff in the form of a Game 1 home loss to the Chicago Bulls, it's difficult to see them making the same mistake twice and losing another opener at home.
They'll learn from their mistakes, while the Pacers will be forced to make adjustments against Miami's improve postseason offense that now includes Bosh, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen replacing Ronny Turiaf.
Prediction: Miami 104, Indiana 95
Winning this series won't be easy for the Heat, especially when you look at their prior competition.
While the Pacers don't have much to boast about in needing 12 games to dispel of the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, the Heat have had the far easier run with the sub-.500 Milwaukee Bucks in the first round and the injury-decimated Chicago Bulls in the second.
Miami is 8-1 in the postseason, but there's still obvious room for improvement, which has been noted by the Heat players.
Indiana is going to make a strong push in Game 2. They have no choice. They have to steal at least one road game in order to pull off an incredible upset, and they'll have to set the tone early with a win in either Game 1 or 2.
They'll have the knowledge of defending Chris Bosh from Game 1, as well as the improved and confident Lance Stephenson defending Dwyane Wade and the athletic Paul George guarding LeBron James. Although they'll most likely lose the first game of the series, the experience they garner from their first loss will allow them to make adjustments for what should be a much more competitive Game 2.
But the Heat will be ready. And while the Pacers will allow their defense to have a greater influence and their shooters may begin to find a rhythm, Miami is also aware of the adjustments and the possibility of a far more physical showing from Indiana.
The Pacers will find ways to limit Bosh, but at the expense of relaxed pressure on the ball-handlers and Heat shooters. In fact, Game 2 may feature the Pacers overreacting and over-adjusting to Bosh's big Game 1 and how well he was able to carve up Indiana's defense.
Bosh will be limited, but expect the talent of LeBron, Dwyane and the Heat shooters to pull through late.
Prediction: Heat 94, Pacers 88
The Miami Heat in the "Big Three" era have had some of their worst postseason performances when making the trip to the opposition's home for Game 3.
In Game 3 against the Boston Celtics in 2011, the Heat suffered a hapless 97-81 defeat. Against the Celtics in Game 3 of their conference finals series in 2012, Miami was down by 22 heading into the fourth quarter before ultimately losing by 10. Prior to that series, Miami lost by 19 points in Game 3 against the Pacers.
Game 3 has not been kind to the Heat. The trend will continue as the Heat travel to a raucous Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they will be met by a physical, aggressive Indiana team that will be looking to put on a show for their ravenous fans.
"Beat the Heat" chants were ringing out of the stadium in the waning moments of Indiana's series-clinching win over New York. The fans and, most importantly, the team thought they were the better team last year and are most likely confident enough to believe they are still the better team against a Miami team that has made significant improvements from last year.
Miami isn't going to sweep this series. The Pacers are too good of a defensive team and have too resilient of a roster to simply go out in four games, which would have to include dropping two straight in a building they have yet to lose in this postseason.
Indiana has played in six home games in this year's playoffs. They're 6-0 in those games and have won five of them by at least 11 points, with their closest game being their seven-point victory in Game 6 against the Knicks.
The Pacers brand of bully ball will be on full display in Game 3 as the shooters establish a rhythm, West and Hibbert make their presence felt on the boards and in the paint, and enough adjustments are made to limit the influence of the likes of James and Bosh.
Prediction: Indiana 95, Miami 82
The Miami Heat have not been at their best because their shooters have been shooting well below par.
Don't look too much into the defenses of the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls as primary reasons why the Heat shooters struggled. While Chicago certainly defended the perimeter efficiently, there were a number of instances when Miami's famed veteran shooters simply could not put the ball in the basket.
Miami, the league's second-best three-point shooting team in terms of conversion percentage in the regular season, currently ranks sixth in the same category in the postseason. Norris Cole, who shot a necessary 9-of-11 against the Bulls from the perimeter, and Bosh, a sub-30 percent three-point shooter in the regular season, are the only Heat rotation players shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the arc.
Ray Allen, a 42 percent regular-season shooter, is converting 37 percent of his threes. Shane Battier, a 43 percent regular-season shooter, is shooting a repulsive 26 percent and has made 12 of his 46 three-point attempts.
LeBron James is shooting 32 percent and Mario Chalmers is converting 24 percent of his threes. If Miami didn't have improbable shooting performances from Cole and Bosh, their series against the Bucks and Bulls could have easily been extended another game or two. Those two bailed out Miami throughout their series against Chicago.
The law of averages, however, is a real thing, and the Heat are going to eventually begin hitting the open shots they've been missing.
Even though Indiana is, according to Synergy Sports, the league's top defensive team when it comes to guarding spot-ups, limiting opponents to 36.5 percent shooting, Miami is going to get open shots because of the ability LeBron, Dwyane and Chris have to get into the lane.
Much like last year, the Heat shooters will begin to find their rhythm near the middle of the conference finals, including Battier, who shot 55 percent from three in the 2012 NBA Finals after struggling through the first two postseason series.
Indiana has the league's top spot-up defense for a reason, but those numbers don't all come against the Heat. Miami is a team like no other, and they move the ball like no other, too, leading the league in offensive efficiency, and will get open shots against this vaunted Indiana team.
Miami recognizes how critical of a contest Game 4 will be. They'll react to Indiana's increased aggression and pressure and will find open shooters, due to the Pacers increasing their emphasis on defense on Miami's ball-handlers and Chris Bosh.
Prediction: Miami 102, Indiana 91
Focus has long been a problem of Miami's in the "Big Three" era.
Over the past three seasons, this team has come to realize that they are an extremely talented bunch. It's evidenced by the 66-win season, the 27 consecutive wins, the 2012 NBA championship and the fact that they have only lost one series in in their first 10 series together.
They recognize their talent, which has hurt them a number of times, including in their series-clinching victory over the Chicago Bulls. With the game seemingly in hand after racing out to a 22-4 lead, Miami took their foot off the gas pedal, allowing the Bulls to hit some shots to gain some confidence, and suddenly the Bulls were up by 10 late in the third quarter.
This phenomenon of playing great basketball for a few minutes and then coasting before eventually playing consistent ball again is an extremely dangerous game to play, and it has come back to bite Miami a few times.
However, Miami tends not to lose their focus in scenarios such as the one they may find themselves in in Game 5, which could possibly represent a closeout game on their own floor and a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals.
When the pressure is on, Miami has always been the type to respond. They have found themselves with their backs against the wall seemingly every postseason run, yet they respond with the fervor and ferocity of a team that is starving for wins despite being already nearly full.
In situations where the Heat are up 3-1 in a series in the "Big Three" era, Miami has yet to lose and has won all five times when found in that situation. All but one of those times came on the Heat's own floor, and they'll add to their collection of wins with a closeout of the Pacers in Game 5.
Indiana will come out swinging, naturally, and will do all it can to send the series back to their house, whether it takes body blows, an emphasis on keeping LeBron and Dwyane out of the paint or even going as far as baiting the referees, which was already a tactic of Pacers coach Frank Vogel's last year.
But Miami knows better than to give a team a breath of life when they could have just as easily crushed their windpipe and put an end to it. The 2011 NBA Finals is still fresh in everybody's mind, especially LeBron's, and giving a team like Indiana hope could end up spelling disaster, especially with the thought of going back to that feverish Indiana crowd.
Because the stakes are so high and because Miami has learned from its mistakes, they're going to pull out a 4-1 series victory as the primary shooters begin to find their rhythm in time for the looming NBA Finals.
Plus, the Pacers' bench is weak with the likes of Augustin and Green representing the sparks off the bench. Unless the Pacers can get the best out of their starters for up to 48 minutes per game, they're going to have to rely on their bench at some point, which will be matched up with a far superior bench in Miami's.
Prediction: Miami 96, Indiana 90