The Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat will meet on Friday night for the fourth and final time this season. The Pacers lead the season series, 2-1, but have been struggling lately, losing seven of their last 10 games.
The Heat haven't been doing so hot either, dropping three of their last four.
However, none of that will matter on Friday.
Sure, those are intriguing narratives to follow, and the majority of us will probably discuss them at the dinner table this week—well, NBA fans at least.
But the moment we start focusing on dramatic storylines like these is the moment we lose track of what Friday's game truly is: a 48-minute battle between rival teams that could ultimately make or break their championship dreams.
What, specifically, should we be watching for when this thing tips off?
Paul George's Shot Selection
Paul George's production has been slowly declining since the beginning of the season. Take a look at his scoring and shooting percentages by month:
|Month||Points||FG %||3-PT FG %|
The main reason for his struggles, especially in terms of field-goal percentage, has been his poor shot selection.
George feels like he needs to be an offensive force every night for a Pacers team that struggles to score at times, and as a result, he forces up a lot of shots.
In order for Indiana to beat Miami and get one step closer to their season-long goal of landing the top seed in the Eastern Conference, he will need to be much more efficient than he has been.
That won't be an easy task with LeBron covering him.
The Point Totals for the "Other" Members of the Big Three (Wade and Bosh)
In order to beat the Indiana Pacers, a team must score points. Even the Heat, who surrender the sixth-fewest points per game themselves, are not immune to this fact.
In the three games these teams have played against each other, Miami has been held under 90 points twice.
Unsurprisingly, they lost both of those games.
|84-90 (Loss)||17 points||12 points|
|97-94 (Win)||32 points||15 points|
|83-84 (Loss)||15 points||8 points|
The reason why Wade and Bosh's point totals are the only statistics shown here is because that's been the most telling stat in this rivalry.
When they both score more than 15 points, the Heat win. When they don't, the Heat lose. It's pretty simple.
Simple's boring, though. Let's take a more in-depth look, shall we?
The following video contains highlights from Wade's 32-point performance in the Heat's win back in December. As you'll see, he made himself a threat throughout the entire game by attacking the basket with purpose.
(Skip to the 2:04 mark to see a perfect example of him drawing the defense and dishing the ball off to Bosh)
Neither of these guys are simply jump-shooters. They're able to create for themselves.
So when they're "scoring," what that really means is that they are attacking and putting pressure on the defense.
When Bosh is popping off of screens and forcing Roy Hibbert and David West to guard him on the perimeter, the Pacers defense, which is centered on staying compact and forcing ball handlers to drive the lane and shoot over Hibbert, is forced to change completely.
When Wade is posting up Lance Stephenson or driving to the lane, open three-point looks for Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and company drastically increase.
And most importantly of all, when these two are attacking, LeBron doesn't feel the need to be a scorer, and as a result, he's able to focus on other areas of the game where he can have an even greater impact.
The Effect of Home-Court Advantage
The Pacers' goal all season long has been to get the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
After losing Game 7 to the Heat in Miami during last season's Eastern Conference Finals, they understand how important it is.
Does Home-Court Advantage Matter in This Rivalry?
It's been pretty important throughout the regular-season series between these two rivals, too. Neither team has won away from home.
Will the trend continue Friday? If so, the Heat will move a half-game ahead of Indiana in the battle for first place and will control their fate. Win out and the No. 1 seed is theirs.
If Indiana is able to reverse the trend, they'll put themselves in prime position to land the No. 1 seed. Since they hold the tie-breaker because of a superior conference record, they'd have to lose their final two games (Oklahoma City Thunder and Orlando Magic) and Miami would have to win their final three (Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers) in order for the Heat to overtake them.
In an 82-game campaign, how often do we get to witness a game like this? Do yourself a favor and tune in.