|2010-11 Head to Head Meetings|
||Miami (-7.5) 118 vs. Indiana 83
||Miami (-2) 105 at Indiana 90
||Miami (-9.5) 93 at Indiana 91 (OT)
||Indiana (+3.5) 105 vs. Miami 90
Skinny: Miami treated the Pacers like a D-League squad the first two times they crossed paths back in January and February. Never mind that Indiana has consistently been among the East's best since the lockout-shortened season tipped off, the Heat made sure they sent the message that they weren't looking for any company atop a conference they had to wrestle away from Boston.
Over the last two months, the gap appeared to close. Indiana lost on a Dwyane Wade-winner in OT down in Miami on Mar. 10 and routed the Heat, 105-90, two weeks later.
The Pacers sport a better record than Miami since the All-Star break and are talking the talk as they trek down to South Florida for the start of their first conference semifinal appearance since 2005. Not only do they say they're dreaming big and set to walk in stride with the league's emerging superpower, they're being downright antagonistic, poking the top seed squarely in the eye.
Roy Hibbert said his Pacers came together through trials and tribulations, more than insinuating Miami took a shortcut by opening the checkboook and putting three $100-million players together. Coach Frank Vogel took real talk further, pulling no punches in calling the Heat out for playing to the officials.
"They are the biggest flopping team in the NBA," Vogel told the Indianapolis Star. "It'll be very interesting to see how the referees officiate the series and how much flopping they reward... Every drive to the basket, they have guys not making a play on the ball," Vogel said, "but sliding in front of drivers. Oftentimes they're falling down even before contact is even being made. It'll be interesting to see how the series is officiated."
What will really be interesting is whether Miami can punish the Pacers for their bravado. It goes without saying that they'll set out to embarrass them. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra promised a physical series worthy of a cage. That this will not be friendly is a given. Whether it can be competitive is where the intrigue lies.
The Pacers can't afford Danny Granger to shoot poorly and wilt in the presence of LeBron James. They need Hibbert to impose his will in the paint, not his rendition of a 7-foot-2 disappearing act. Paul George can't play like a 22-year-old NBA sophomore, even though he just celebrated that birthday on May 2 in the midst of his second postseason. Multiple pieces must play over their heads. Miami's supporting cast must fail its star teammates when the extra pass is made. The Heat will have to meet them in the middle, creating some breaks and opportunities.
It remains to be seen whether the Pacers will have the bite to match the bark. They've set the tone that they don't intend to cower, but we won't know until Game 1 tips if they've simply been digging themselves a deeper grave.
Head-to-Head Matchups: The second quarter of that first game went 33-12, Miami, leading to a 118-83 wince-worthy humiliation. The first half of the second encounter ended with the Heat up 68-39 at halftime. If that's a bit confusing, the gist is that Indiana didn't belong on the same court.
In the March meetings, the Pacers had the fresher legs. They were coming off lengthy layoffs prior to both, while Miami was playing its third road game in four night in its only loss. The Heat lacked the energy that helped them steamroll through those first few weeks. Remember the Chip Kelly-inspired pace? All the talk of angles and superior athletes executing at a tempo that can't be slowed? Indiana certainly couldn't keep up.
That changed post All-Star, as Indiana held the Heat to 39 first-half points in that third showdown, limiting James to just six at the break, one of his lowest-scoring first halves since arriving from Cleveland. They forced 17 turnovers in the final regular-season meeting, building up a 56-44 second-half edge to roll to victory.
After being out-rebounded in all three losses by a combined margin of 137-108, Indiana dominated the boards by a 49-33 count in its win, holding Chris Bosh to two in 36 minutes. The Pacers saw David West, Hibbert, Granger and George combine for 40 boards, as each grabbed at least nine. Count on the gang-rebounding approach to continue as Vogel attempts to keep the pressure off Hibbert.
Leandro Barbosa added 14 points in his only game as a Pacer against Miami, so count on him, Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough being factors off the bench to try and exploit the Heat's lack of depth. One curveball they haven't seen is George Hill in the starting lineup, as Indiana's new point guard missed all three losses and played just 15 minutes in the win, going scoreless. His ability to defend both Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers will be a major asset.
Betting Notes: Game 1 will set the tone as to whether you'll have to lay double-digits at home when backing Miami. Oddsmakers installed the Heat as 8-point favorites, similar to what they did against Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks. Following the loss of Iman Shumpert and how convincingly Miami thrashed New York in the series opener, it became a little dicey to back Heat blowouts. Don't expect to see the Pacers favored at all in the series, as they were a home 'dog in both regular-season meetings. Vogel has only beaten Spoelstra's Heat once in six tries since taking over for Jim O'Brien. The average score of those meetings is 105.5-99, and the teams have split against the spread.
Four of the six meetings have gone 'under' the posted total. The Pacers have a better record against the number on the road than they do at Banker's Life Fieldhouse, where they were just 15-18 in the regular season and 2-1 against the Magic. They were 17-16 in away games and 1-1 at Amway Center, failing to cover despite winning in OT and sweeping a pair in Orlando. The Heat are a combined 31-5 at home counting their unblemished playoff mark, beating the Knicks three times by double-digits.
Series Outlook: James has been exceptional against the Pacers and has a history of terrorizing Granger, who was one of his chief rivals when he played for the Cavs in the Central Division. He's averaging 27.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists against Indiana this season, so even though Granger and George have the requisite size to deal with him on the perimeter, neither has proven strong enough to stop him. If the Pacers are to reverse that trend, it will be up to George to frustrate him with his length, putting the bulk of his energy in to the defensive assignment. Hill's insertion into the starting lineup means he'll see a lot of Wade, freeing up Granger to shadow Chalmers, help where he can and concentrate on spreading the floor on the offensive end.
On paper, it all sounds great. Indiana has players that have participated in All-Star Games across the front line in Granger, West and Hibbert, so the arsenal is there to give the Heat problems. That said, you saw what happened when they got down to business against New York, so its disconcerting for Indiana that its viewed as a stronger challenger. Mix in the rattling of cages the Pacers have done and you can expect Miami in message-sending mode throughout this semifinal series. Most are already penciling in the Heat into the Eastern Confernce finals given how unlikely it is that the Pacers can score four wins, so these first games in South Florida will be crucial in determining how much fight the underdog is actually packing. Ultimately, whether in a sweep or a series that goes the distance, Miami will advance.