Critical Keys to Indiana Pacers-Miami Heat Series That Will Determine Winner
There's no such thing as a sure thing in the NBA playoffs.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat are the heavy favorites against the Paul George-led Indiana Pacers, but the outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals is far from determined.
South Beach's finest have more experience on this sort of stage—not to mention the best player in the world—and can already taste a second-straight championship. Indiana, meanwhile, is clinging to the hope that its 2-1 regular-season showing against Miami means something.
And does it? Of course.
The Pacers have shown that they can hang with the Heat better than most. They also play the type of physical basketball that is somewhat of a foreign concept in Miami. They're not your averaging stepping stone, just as the Heat aren't your average powerhouse.
Which of these two outfits has the ultimate, though?
Miami remains the favorite, and it should be, but it doesn't have another Eastern Conference crown wrapped up just yet.
*All stats for this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
Indiana rebounds like crazy. Miami? Not so much.
The Heat finished dead last in rebounds grabbed per game this season (38.6). They've brought their total up to 39.3 in the playoffs, but that number pales in comparison to the Pacers' 47.3 boards a night.
Offensive rebounding is going to be especially huge. Miami is snagging 8.9 to Indiana's playoff-leading 12.7. While the Pacers have the clear edge, the Heat are still notching 13.8 second-chance points to their 15.3.
Those additional scoring opportunities aren't going to be as readily available for Miami against Indiana. The Pacers live to crash the glass, and the Heat are an undersized team to begin with. And yet, the Heat have proved to be a scrappy bunch when it comes to capitalizing off extra possessions.
Whichever squad limits the number of second-chance points their counterpart receives will have won a momentum-swinging battle.
One that will play a large role in determining the outcome of this series.
The Chris Bosh-Roy Hibbert Matchup
The Roy Hibbert-Chris Bosh extravaganza is going to be an interesting one.
Bosh is clearly at a disadvantage when defending the 7'2", 278-pound frame of Hibbert, but he's hardly overmatched entirely.
Indiana's big man is one of the most inconsistent post scorers there is. He topped 20 points against the New York Knicks twice in the second round, but was held to under 10 three times.
When he has his back to the basket and goes through the motions of his offensive sets, he's difficult to stop. Just ask Tyson Chandler. Miami will likely be forced to send double-teams his way early and often.
Hibbert is even more menacing on the glass. He's grabbing 9.9 rebounds a night for the postseason and leads the playoffs with 4.6 offensive boards per game.. His greatest attribute, however, is his ability to prevent others from crashing the glass. Not necessarily hoarding rebounds himself, but ensuring his opponent doesn't.
Bosh himself knows this. He averaged just 3.3 rebounds in three regular-season meetings against Hibbert.
How does Bosh effectively combat Hibbert? With his versatility.
Hibbert isn't accustomed to defending essential stretch 5s. Bosh can score from all areas of the court and even take his man off the dribble. The former struggles under those circumstances and it showed during the regular season. Bosh put up 17 points a night in their three meetings.
Preventing Hibbert from standing out on the offensive glass borders on impossible. Unless he's in foul trouble, he's going to get those. But Bosh has the ability to frustrate Hibbert with his not-so-conventional offensive stylings
The player that is able to cater to their strengths more will then sway the outcome of this matchup, and potentially the series.
Miami's Three-Point Shooting
Part of what makes the Heat's offensive attack so dangerous is their ability to knock down the three-ball consistently.
Miami has surrounded the drive-and-kick stylings of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with plenty of shooters, including the best there ever was (is) in Ray Allen and one of the most underrated there ever was (is) in Shane Battier. Even LeBron himself emerged as a dominant three-point threat this year, converting on more than 40 percent of his deep shots.
For much of the postseason, however, collective three-point prowess has eluded the Heatles. After hitting on 39.6 percent of their treys during the regular season (second in the league), they're burying just 34 percent of their attempts in the playoffs.
LeBron (32.1 percent), Battier (26.1), Mario Chalmers (23.8) and Mike Miller (16.7) are all shooting below 33 percent from downtown. Even Allen hasn't been his usual lights-out self. He's hitting on a respectable 37.8 percent of long-range shots, but he was at 41.9 percent during the regular season and is a career 40.1 percent three-point playoff shooter for his career.
Deficient three-point shooting hasn't posed much of a problem for the Heat thus far because of their ability to score in transition and get to the rim consistently. Going up against a physical (and healthy) team like the Pacers, those easy looks at the rim won't come as frequently.
With interior scoring likely hard to come by, the Heat will have to rely on their shooters to put points on the board, something they haven't done consistently all postseason. Toss in the fact that the Pacers were the best in the league at defending the three during the regular season, and the Heat's present three-point woes could finally begin to cost them.
Should Miami be unable to improve upon it's performance from beyond the arc, this is going to be a much tighter series than most are accounting for.
Dwyane Wade's Knee
Dwyane Wade is going to come ready to play. How well he'll play remains to be seen.
Wade: "How are my knees? My knees are there."— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) May 22, 2013
Miami doesn't need Wade to be the Wade of the regular season to win. We've already established this. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy, though.
At present, Wade is averaging a career playoff-low 13 points a night, and after shooting 52.1 percent from the field during the regular season, he's hitting on 45.3 percent of his shots now.
Much like Miami's sub-par three-point shooting, none of Wade's struggles have proved offensively crippling. He's still making plays for his teammates (5.4 assists) and his sheer presence on the court splits the defense's focus.
What is slightly unnerving heading into this series is how Wade will respond to the physical play of Lance Stephenson. Even against the Chicago Bulls, he didn't face a matchup of this magnitude.
Stephenson's length and brute force is going to make things difficult for Wade on offense. He's the perimeter version of a defensive enforcer. And he's been on an offensive tear as well. Once he puts his head down and attacks the rim, he doesn't shy away from contact.
Normally, Wade wouldn't deny himself the opportunity to draw charges or body up against an athlete like Stephenson. But again, his knee has visibly impacted his play on both ends of the floor.
How his body holds up and how well he matches up against Stephenson will say a great deal for which direction this series is headed in.
The LeBron James-Paul George Matchup
This one's going to be fun.
Paul George has emerged as one of the league's elite perimeter defenders and will now be tasked with attempting to limit the unstoppable force that is LeBron James.
We already understand that there is no taking LeBron out of the game. If he's not scoring, he's dropping dimes. And if he's not doing either of those, he's defending. Usually, he's doing all three and toiling with triple-doubles.
Few players in the NBA have what it takes to frustrate LeBron. George is one of the exceptions. His length and athleticism make for an even more arduous matchup than Jimmy Butler presented. If you saw any of the Bulls-Heat series, you understand that at points, this won't mean much.
Last year, in the second round, LeBron averaged 30 points and 6.2 assists on 50.4 percent shooting against George, while the then sophomore mustered just 10 points on a 36.5 percent clip. George's ability to bridge that gap as much as possible will speak volumes with regard to how competitive Indiana is.
Like LeBron, George has shown that he doesn't need to score to make an impact. He can dish, rebound and defend (like LeBron). What he has yet to prove is that he can do any of those things consistently against him.
Now's as good a time as any to change that perception. If he can, the Pacers have a puncher's chance at pulling off the upset. If he can't, LeBron will be LeBron and, well, you know the rest.