The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are about to square off in the playoffs for the third straight postseason, and the Eastern Conference's top two teams know each other very well. Charlie McCarthy breaks down the upcoming series.
LeBron James and Paul George will face off against each other for the third straight postseason.
Brian Spurlock / USA TODAY Sports
By Charlie McCarthy
There should be few surprises when the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers meet in the Eastern Conference finals starting Sunday afternoon in Indiana.
That's because the two rivals know each other extremely well.
They're facing each other in the playoffs for a third straight year, including a seven-game conference finals series won by Miami last season.
They played four times during the regular season, each team winning its two home games. (Indiana owns home-court advantage in the series.)
The top-seeded Pacers and No. 2 seed Heat also are similar in that they are veteran teams that take pride in playing high-level defense.
"They're well-drilled, they know what they're doing, they know where they're trying to direct you, they have experience and they have size," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about the Pacers following Saturday's practice.
With the possible exception of size, Indiana's Frank Vogel could have said the same about the two-time defending NBA champion Heat.
Heat 97, Pacers 94 (Dec. 18 at Miami) Wade scored 32 points, James had 24 on a sore left ankle, and Bosh and Ray Allen each hit 3-pointers within a 31-second span down the stretch as the Heat erased a 15-point deficit in the final 18 minutes. George scored 25 points but missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 4 seconds left.
Pacers 84, Heat 83 (March 26 at Indiana) George scored 23 points and Hibbert had 21 as Indiana rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter. James scored 38 points but had six turnovers for the Heat, as did Wade (15 points). Miami's Greg Oden struggled when he opposed Hibbert in the first half.
Heat 98, Pacers 86 (April 11 at Miami) James scored 36 points and the Heat began the second half with a 16-0 run. George scored 22 for Indiana, but Hibbert had only five points and one rebound. Miami led by as many as 23 points in the second half.
LeBron James (30.0 ppg., 7.1 rpg., 4.7 apg. in the playoffs) and Chris Bosh (14.6 ppg., 5.6 rpg.) likely will be joined by Udonis Haslem, who gave way to Shane Battier against Brooklyn's smaller line in the conference semifinals. Haslem (1.7 ppg., 3.3 rpg.) played just 3:11 overall in two games against the Nets. Despite a six-inch height disadvantage, he could defend Hibbert.
It would be a surprise if 7-foot Greg Oden saw time. He has played once (13:43 in the season finale) since being outplayed by 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert in the first half March 26.
Hibbert (8.5 ppg., 4.5 rpg.), who has had an up-and-down postseason, will start along side power froward David West (14.6 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 4.4 apg.) and small forward Paul George (21.9 ppg., 8.7 rpg., 3.8 apg.).
Offensively, the Pacers will try to get into the paint -- they've won all five playoff games in which Hibbert has scored in double figures -- though George has been a big threat from outside.
"We have to be active," Haslem said. "We can't be lazy playing defense, we have to be active. We have to be ahead of the play."
Unlike Hibbert, who is a low-post presence, Bosh's ability to shoot 3-pointers helps Miami's offense.
"He doesn't have to hit them for our team to be good," James said. "Just his ability to shoot it draws the defense toward him is a key for our offense and our spacing."
Wade knows that when he drives, he must be aware of Hibbert.
"Moreso than the drive, it's the finish," Wade said. "You always want to drive because he's coming. It's about how you finish it. If he's there, you have to be smart -- you can't just jump and throw your body into him."
Both backcourts -- both teams, for that matter -- need to take care of the basketball and avoid turnovers.
Ray Allen (8.7 ppg., 3.9 rpg.), Chris Andersen (5.6 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) and Norris Cole (5.2 ppg.) will be called upon by Spoelstra. Rashard Lewis (2.3 ppg., 2.3 rpg.), Battier (2.5 ppg.) and James Jones (4.9 ppg.) could see action, especially if long-range offense is needed.
13-0 -- The Heat's record this postseason when The Big Three combine for 70 or more points.
90 -- Indiana is 7-0 when holding its opponent to less than 90 points.
53-3 -- The Pacers' record this season when leading after three quarters.
Both teams struggled down the stretch of the regular season, though Miami has gone 8-1 through its first two playoff rounds (against Charlotte and Brooklyn). The Pacers, however, needed seven games to beat No. 8 seed Atlanta and six games to oust Washington.
Expect low-scoring games decided in the final minute.
The series' first two games will set the tone. If Miami splits or sweeps them, the Heat will advance. If Indiana holds court through Games 1-2, the Pacers probably will move onto the NBA Finals.