What Miami Heat Must Do to Close Out Indiana Pacers

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What Miami Heat Must Do to Close Out Indiana Pacers
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Miami Heat have a commanding 3-1 lead in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals following a dominating 102-90 win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

Considering the Heat are back-to-back champions and the Pacers looked semi-incompetent in Game 4, it might feel to some as if this series is over.

However, as great of a position as Miami is in right now, there's still work to be done against Indiana. The Heat can't shift their focus to the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder just yet. 

So, let's take a look at exactly what the Heat need to do if they want to deliver the finishing blow to the Pacers' season on Wednesday night.

 

LeBron James Must Attack

There's no wing player in the NBA who's as good finishing at the rim as LeBron James is. LBJ converted an absurd 78.2 percent of his shots within five feet of the basket this past season, according to NBA.com.

However, LeBron has generally been resistant to take advantage of this skill and attack against Indiana's tall and physical front line.

Fortunately for Miami, we saw a different, more aggressive King James in Game 4.

LeBron routinely went to the basket, both in transition and in the Heat's standard offense, and lit Indiana up for 32 points on 61.9 percent shooting from the floor.

Eleven of LeBron's 21 field-goal attempts came within five feet of the basket, according to NBA.com. That's as many as he had combined in Games 2 and 3. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Miami had to grind out victories in those two contests, while the team cruised in Game 4.

When LBJ is as aggressive as he was on Monday, Miami is nearly unstoppable, simply because LeBron is nearly unstoppable at the rim. 

Miami needs a repeat performance from James on Wednesday.

 

Intense Defensive Pressure Continues

After being nonexistent in the regular season and first few rounds of the playoffs, the swarming and stifling defense the Heat used to win back-to-back titles has reappeared in the past few games versus Indiana.

Miami has terrorized the Pacers' ball-handlers with suffocating traps and great defensive rotations. Shooters aren't often getting a clean look at the hoop, as the Heat have been fantastic on closeouts. All of the players from LeBron to Norris Cole and even Rashard Lewis have worked their tails off on the defensive end.

In turn, Miami has made Indiana's below-average offense look like a total mess. The Heat forced a whopping 31 turnovers combined in Games 3 and 4.

While offense might be more fun to talk about, defense is why LeBron and Co. are a game away from a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance.

The Heat's offense went berserk in the second half of Game 3, scoring 51 points on 59.5 percent shooting from the floor. But as Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick correctly pointed out, everything started with defense:

Miami carved Indiana up with easy transition buckets in Games 3 and 4, and the Heat have their incredible effort on the defensive end to thank for that. 

As long as the Heat continue to force the Pacers into bad decisions and contested shots, Indiana's chances of coming back in this series remain remarkably slim. 

 

Stay Small

Miami has been at its best in this series when employing its particular brand of small ball.

Take a look at perhaps the most important quarter of this series so far: the final 12 minutes of Game 3.

Ray Allen drained four three-pointers in the period largely because the Heat's lineup of Cole-Wade-Allen-James-Bosh forced David West to guard Allen. The Pacers forward couldn't keep up, and the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history burned him.

The spacing provided from small ball also helped the Heat prevail in Game 4. 

After struggling with his jumper throughout the first three games of the series, Chris Bosh had his shot working on Monday.

He scored Miami's first eight points on two three-pointers and a mid-range shot, forcing the Pacers big men to leave the paint and defend him on the perimeter throughout the game. 

That's integral to the success of the Heat's offense, as it opens up driving lanes and room for the rest of his teammates to operate.

Take a look at this play from Game 4. Roy Hibbert's away from the basket, focused on Bosh, which leads to a LeBron bucket.

Cole talked about Bosh's impact after Monday's win, via Zach Harper of CBS Sports:

"He really stretches the floor for us and makes it difficult for the bigs to sag in the paint," he said. "That's their strength, they want to funnel everything to the paint and when CB is stepping out there and knocking them down it makes it tough on them."

The threat of jumpers from bigs means everything to Miami. It's partly how Lewis has been able to have an enormous impact in this series even if he hasn't shot the ball well.  

The Heat need to simply keep playing their brand of basketball. Indiana has a significant size advantage over them, and that certainly can cause Miami problems. However, it's not as many problems as small ball has caused Indy.

The Heat are on the cusp of another series win, and there's no reason to fix what isn't broken.

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