The Miami Heat have pounded every team they have played this year. Except for one, the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers in two meetings with the heat this year, the Pacers have won both meetings by double digits. The Heat are averaging 103 points per game this season. Against the Pacers they scored 87 and 77. The Heat average 10 more points per game than the Pacers. The Heat shoot 50% from the field and the Pacers shoot 35%. The Miami Heat run the floor and if you asked any casual NBA fan they could name you the best 3 players on the Heat easily and could probably name you 1 player on the Pacers. But in two meetings this season its been the Indiana Pacers handling the Heat easily and frustrating the Heat. LeBron and Dwayne Wade both had great games when they played twice, but it was the role players that were nowhere to be found. Indiana’s blue collar defensive approach is uncommon in the NBA and that is what makes them successful. There is no #1 guy, which is not the case on most teams. Everyone on the team is physical and is better on the defensive end than the offensive end, once again atypical. Playing against them is a culture shock, making teams switch up their game their normal gameplans. The Heat got down early last year, but adjusted and ending up winning the series, but that series gave the Pacers all the confidence they needed. Indiana left that series feeling that they let one get away.Indiana currently sits at 16 games over .500 and are 7 games back of the Heat, rendering them the #2 seed in the playoffs. They have done most of it without Danny Granger, who has played 5 games since recovering from injury, but it appears to have been a blessing in disguise. Paul George has emerged as a rising star in this league. Averaging close to 18 points 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game. George, at age 22, has become a mature player even with only 2 years of experience under his belt. Even though the scoring output is great, his best attribute is his athleticism which has translated into some rather fine defense. He proved his ability in the dunk contest, was in the 3 point contest this year, and has the experience of a playoff loss to the Heat under his belt. I love Paul George and what he brings to Indiana with his youth, but my favorite young player is the rather unknown sophomore shooting guard from Cincinati, Lance Stephenson. Growing up in Brooklyn, and playing under defensive minded Mick Cronin at Cinci has morphed Stephenson into a defensive nightmare. Dwayne Wade has hung 30 and 17 on Stephenson this year and look for those numbers to get worse because Stephenson is a highly motivated guy with a high basketball IQ and a student of the game on the defensive side of the ball. He refuses to back down, and while the shooting numbers aren’t great, he doesn’t take many bad shots and realizes his place.
In the paint, David West has brought his steady play and veteran leadership to Indiana. He’s heard the talk about how Chris Bosh’s injury before the conference semi’s last year was the reason they were in it and has taken it to heart. In the last meeting between the two, David West dropped 30 points on Bosh, who looked like the 32 year old as West looked as if he was as youthful as ever. Let’s not forget everyone’s favorite player on the bench Tyler Hansborough, and I really hate this guy, but I cannot dispute the fact that he comes to work every day. Amidst all this, we have forgotten the player who is most motivated to beat the Heat, Danny Granger. The iconic image of Danny Granger staring down at LeBron during the playoff series tells the entire story. He remembers how badly LeBron torched him the second half of that series and he and his teammates are determined to not let their foot off the pedal if they see the Heat again in the playoffs.
My synopsis of the Eastern Conference Finals would start off with a familiar tone, the Pacers would win game 1 in a close defensive struggle, lose game two by about 10. I’d like them to split games 3 and 4 in Indiana, leaving a three game series to decide who would represent the East in the Finals. In a three game series, I like Indiana because they are not afraid to play on the road. LeBron will get his, but the Indiana Pacers will hit the Heat where it hurts, on the boards. I will take Hibbert and West over Bosh and Joel Anthony every time. Also, in hustle plays and plays in which momentum will shift, I like the Pacers as well because of this defensive minded style they bring to the game. I believe Miami is the best team in the league right now, but the balanced, defensive minded, youthful, veteran lead Indiana Pacers are the nightmare matchup for the King and his men.-Josh Neighbors