Familiar foes: Heat vs. Pacers series preview

LeBron James and Paul George will face off against each other for the third straight postseason.

Brian Spurlock/Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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.

SEASON SERIES

FRONTCOURT MATCHUP

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."

BACKCOURT MATCHUP

Dwyane Wade (17.9 ppg., 4.0 apg.) and Mario Chalmers (8.0 ppg., 4.1 apg.) will go against shooting guard Lance Stephenson (13.5 ppg., 7.4 rpg., 3.8 apg.) and point guard George Hill (12.4 ppg., 3.5 apg.).

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.

BENCH

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.

For Indiana, point guard C.J. Watson (6.5 ppg.) and center Ian Mahinmi (2.2 ppg., 2.8 rpg.) have played in all 13 postseason games, Then there’s power forward Luis Scola (6.5 ppg., 2.6 rpg.) and swingman Evan Turner (3.5 ppg.). Swingman Chris Copeland (3.3 ppg.) also might play.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

8 — Number of conference finals appearances for Indiana, which has gone 1-6 so far.

12-2 — The home team’s record in the past 14 meetings between Miami and Indiana.

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.

FINAL THOUGHT

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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.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.