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Monday's Pivotal Game 7

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The Eastern Conference Finals has given us everything we’ve wanted as fans, as well as a nifty round of NBA playoff betting that has seen Indiana hold the edge at 4-2 ATS over the six game set. I have always found it difficult to lean away from Indiana’s odds in this series, and I find myself staring at their +7.0 underdog odds in Game 7 believing that they’re still a good bet. But are they really?

You could say that Miami sorely missed Chris Andersen, but I don’t want to live in a world where The Birdman is a deciding factor in an Eastern Conference Finals. What Miami failed to do in Game 6 was score the basketball, which is evidenced by Haslem’s goose egg, Wade’s series-worst 10 points in the last matchup and Bosh’s abysmal 5 points and 4 rebounds.

I have been hammering the fact that Miami is a one-man show starring LeBron James, and that’s really why I’ve been backing the Pacers throughout the last couple weeks. You can’t win in the current atmosphere of the NBA with one bonafide star.

The Heat have had surprising production from guys like Haslem and Andersen at key moments in this series, but those are the “dog day games” (as in “every dog has its day”). You can’t rely on them from an NBA playoff betting standpoint. Haslem is an especially limited offensive player, who’s only reliable weapon is a baseline jumper after a slash-and-kick from LeBron. You take that shot away from him, and there’s nothing else he can offer, especially with Hibbert guarding the rim.

As for Andersen, I don’t think Hibbert lets him impact this game in any significant way. There’s a reason that Birdman wasn’t on an NBA roster until a couple months ago, and while his garish personality certainly has something to do with that, his lacking consistency on both ends of the floor is the bigger issue with him.

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Seriously, why am I taking about Udonis and Birdman? Shouldn’t I be talking about Wade and Bosh? Well both have been busts in this series, and virtual non-factors. People seem to believe that Wade “still has it in him” but we haven’t seen any evidence of that. He has one 20-point game in this entire post season, and it came against Milwaukee when scored 21 points in Game 2. While he’s a gifted scorer when healthy, he’s a spotty jump shooter who shot just 3-for-11 on Saturday night.

At times in this series, Miami has made Indiana pay for their poor decisions. Vogel should have played Hibbert in Game 1’s final seconds of overtime to stop LeBron. Hibbert strayed too much in help defense and left a hot-handed Haslem open in Game 5. Lance Stevenson has made critical errors handling the ball and taking shots he shouldn’t, along with taking dumb fouls.

Those are basically the three reasons that Miami has earned three wins in this series. There are certainly a dozen other minor reasons, but the key to Indiana finding life in the Eastern Conference Finals is that they’ve never made the same, momentum killing mistake twice. You can’t stop LeBron’s daily brilliance, but you can certainly make sure that he’s not getting the help he usually does and that’s why people like me absolutely love Indiana in Game 7.

The Pacers are exceptional when it comes to studying game film, and Frank Vogel has to be credited with his team’s disciplined approach to the game. Their offence is just one of those things that comes; their defense is their backbone and they have been prophetically efficient at stopping Miami’s lack of creativity and “rely on LeBron” style of play.

You have to wonder if Miami has anything left up their sleeves. The idea that they have an actual ace of their sleeve is somewhat laughable. Consider the history of this series:

-At a critical juncture in Game 4, the Heat rotated the ball around the perimeter only to have Chris Bosh hurl up a three. He makes these on occasion, but he’s a lifetime .288 shooter from the arc. He should’ve been the second to last option to take that shot, but the play was designed for him to be a hero. And he fell flat.

-Haslem’s aforementioned baseline jumper was huge in Game 3 and 5 and non-existent in Game 6. Wonder why?

-Chris Anderson scored 9 pivotal points in Game 1 to help the Heat stay in the game. He’s also historically made every single shot he’s taken which is kind of fun no matter how you feel about him. The difference is that he took 7 shots in Game and has totaled 8 shots in the four other games he’s played in.

-If Wade was going to flip the switch and go in to kill mode, he would’ve done so in Game 6 because he would’ve had ample time to rest. You can’t leave anything to chance in a Game 7 and Wade knows this. If he had anything “left in the tank”, as people have been suggesting, he wouldn’t be spotting up for jumpers he knows he has trouble hitting. Wade is one hard foul away from being done for the post season and he knows it. There’s no way he risks his body like he used to just to put his team in the Finals without him in the picture.

So what’s left for Miami? Hot tip alert: there aren’t any more tricks. This team relied on Wade and LeBron playing at their absolute best, and as long as that was the case, they were pretty much untouchable. The bone bruise has exposed Miami as an incredibly thin team, and while they’re still championship worthy, you could’ve said the same thing about LeBron’s Cavaliers which were significantly worse on paper.

To break this game down to a nutshell, ask yourself one question. LeBron is going to score somewhere between 30-to-35 points in this game. Miami will need 60 more points to match what Indiana has put up on average (94.5 points per game). Where are those 60 points coming from?

The answers to those questions offer very simple rebuttals. Andersen is on a crazy hot streak, but has only managed to get an average of 2.0 shots per game since Game 1. Haslem’s only offensive weapon of note was nullified in Game 6. Wade is a shell of himself. Bosh is outmatched in the post. Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers are simply no match for George Hill’s defense. Everything that Miami has thrown at Indiana has been dealt with by Vogel eventually.

The “yeah but LeBron!” argument doesn’t hold enough weight for you to throw your money at the Heat. He can – and will – score points at will, but the rest of the team can’t do enough in Game 7 to finish the job. Indiana’s marvelous tendency to stop all of Miami’s other weapons is the key to this game in NBA playoff betting.

You can bet on all of your assumptions about the Heat if you want to. No matter what I say, the Heat are still the best team in the league and a logical Game 7 bet with LeBron in the fold. But all of the numbers and nuances of the Eastern Conference Finals suggest that Indiana is a solid play on the betting line and the money line because if this simply comes down to which team plays better, it’s Indiana’s to lose. There is nothing left in the bag for Miami.

Bet Indiana to close this series in Game 7 as +6.5 underdogs and set themselves up as an improbable Eastern Conference Champion. The Heat are a one-trick pony that is about to be led out to slaughter.

  
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