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There should be no doubt about who a two-day break benefits most prior to Sunday's critical Game 4 between upset-minded Indiana and a Miami team on the cusp of wearing the underachiever label for the second consecutive year.
Beyond the schedule going the Heat's way, little else is. Chris Bosh remains in South Florida, sidelined with an abdominal strain. Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers command the attention of the training staff while the Pacers rest comfortably in their own beds, up 2-1 after an emphatic 93-75 win on Thursday.
The bandwagon is leaking backers, including Vegas oddsmakers that have removed the favorite tag, opting for sizzling San Antonio (7/4) and dropping the Heat to 10/3 (Bet $100 to win $333), according to Bovada.lv. Keeping the faith for Miami is the series price, now at -131 despite the deficit, but Michael Ray Richardson's old "ship be sinking" take can certainly be applied.
The prevailing image from Game 3 saw Wade hollering at head coach Erik Spoelsta, taking exception with criticism from a coach he's known since coming into the league. From his seat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, team president Pat Riley stared intently into the huddle, hoping the situation wouldn't escalate further.
Which brings me to what you should know about Game 4: it's a point-of-no-return situation for the Miami Heat.
Lose, and elimination becomes inevitable. Lose, and either Spoelstra is dismissed this offseason or Riley's original Big 3 plan ends up disbanded. There's no reprieve coming. Change would be deemed necessary. The spotlight has been too bright, the target too large and the sacrifices too great if there's no championship reward to be had. Not six, not seven, not eight... not one.
Riley is faced with having to make decisions he wants no part of, as Miami has manifested the cliché of backing itself against a wall.
The Heat carries massive baggage into Sunday afternoon, so your belief in whether their catalysts are healthy and mentally tough enough to handle this challenge should dictate your wager. Wade isn't 100 percent, but he's still the same guy who opened the fourth quarter of Game 2 with five straight makes. Unfortunately, he followed up with three key misses in the final minutes and that debacle of an effort the other night. He's never been mentally fragile, so the slump won't carry over from that standpoint, but if he's injured and unable get the necessary lift to carry out his responsibilities, Miami stands no chance.
LeBron James took a Cavs team that was worse than this Heat squad to the 2007 NBA Finals via hero ball, but that simply won't fly against an Indiana team that owns huge advantages in post play and 3-point shooting. Without Bosh to help spread the floor, the Pacers have done a great job sending extra bodies at Miami's big guns, relying on center Roy Hibbert to protect the rim. The 7-footer has actually been able to roam since the Pacers have such little respect for Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, further complicating matters.
Larry Bird was rightfully just named the league's top executive this past week. Landing winners David West and George Hill has rounded out a unit that gets it done at both ends. The midseason acquisition of Leandro Barbosa further fortified a bench that has dominated the Heat throughout the series. Indiana is plenty good enough. Anyone who laid 14/1 (Bet $100 to win $1,400) on the Pacers getting out of the Eastern Conference when this series started should immediately put that ticket in a safe. Frank Vogel's team has dominated both the Magic and Heat coming out of the halftime break and has persevered down the stretch well enough to get to this point.
The Heat got into the penalty against Indiana in the second quarter of Game 3 with 7:41 left and failed to capitalize, shooting just four free throws in the quarter. Wade shot none. Is this proof that he's not right? Anyone who saw him get to the line at will to win a championship against Dallas in 2006 would argue his skills have deteriorated, but anyone who has watched him all season would tell you his will hasn't.
That inability to capitalize from the stripe contributed to the Game 3 loss and the ‘under’ prevailed in a game that was played at an ‘over’ pace. Still, it's hard to argue that Miami's best chance to win is to defend like there's no tomorrow.
The Heat have scored 75 points in each of the last two games and have seen the ‘under’ go 13-2-1 in games where Bosh has been out of the lineup since his arrival. Miami is shooting 5-for-42 from 3-point range through the first three meetings in this series.
Coming off Mario Chalmers'25-point breakout game and given the fact that Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Shane Battier can't shoot the ball any worse than they have are cause for optimism that the Heat can get enough to complement Wade and James and get out of Indianapolis with a split.
They'll only survive if Wade shows up to give James help. No one is crying for Miami over losing one of its $100 million stars. Two is supposed to be enough, if both are doing their part. James, normally the largest question mark in the room, is the given now.
Wade is the variable. Will two days serve to rejuvenate mind and body? His response will dictate whether his Heat even this series or face an uncertain future.
Most sports books opened Miami as a two-point road favorite for Sunday and the number has dropped to 1 ½-points. The Heat has never won a playoff game at Indiana, owning a 0-4 record with the three other losses coming during the 2004 postseason.
Miami has only lost three consecutive games once this season, which came at Denver on Jan. 13. There were four other instances when the Heat faced the possibility of dropping three in a row, but they went 4-0 in those games, three of the wins by double digits.
Including Thursday’s win, Indiana is 3-1 both straight up and against the spread at home in the playoffs, with the victories coming by 15, 18 and 19 points.
Today's contest will tip at 3:30 p.m. ET with ABC providing national coverage.
Game 5 is scheduled for Tuesday at American Airlines Arena in Miami.