NBA Playoffs 2013: Eastern Conference Finals Preview – Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

Tonight, the Heat will continue their title defense as the Eastern Conference Finals begin. Game 1 tips tonight at 8:30 PM ET. on TNT.

Miami Heat:

Most Important Player:

Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9) – LeBron James. He’s the best player in the world. He’s the Heat’s best offensive player, best passer and best rebounder.

Reece Hooker (@ReeceJHooker) – If Chris Bosh can find a way to have an inside presence even against Indiana’s big man line-up, the Heat would be in great shape to win this series. LeBron will get his, Wade is likely to get his, but there’s a huge question mark over how Bosh will go complementing his peers in this one.

Vijay Shravah (@nbafanstake) – Dwyane Wade.  It seems as though we’re going through a deja vu from last postseason, where Wade didn’t come alive until Indiana took a 2-1 series lead against the Heat.  Up to that point, there were ongoing echoes that Wade was past his prime, too hurt to be effective, and that he is no longer the elite player we saw earlier in his career.  He finally broke out of his slump after an infamous confrontation with coach Erik Spoelstra after struggling in Game 3 of that series.  Well here we are again this postseason, where there is a growing sentiment that Wade has lost a step as he has struggled to find his rhythm all postseason long.  However, if he has a similar turnaround and breakout game during this series like he did last year, Miami will be unbeatable.

Quentin Haynes (@Haynesenburg) – I’m going to go with Norris Cole. I know that #6 is the best player on the planet, but this Miami will need some outside shooting, and while they beat Chicago in five games, the offense looked lackluster in the majority of those games. Now, they go up against a better defense. Norris Cole was the worst player in the regular season this past year, and now he’s the best PG on the Heat. He needs to keep it up.

Biggest Strength:

JM – Well, LeBron James. But beside that, their offense as a whole. With LeBron, Wade, Bosh and Allen off the bench, the Heat have one of the best offensive units in the league. They were the most efficient offense in the league in the regular season, scoring 110.3 points per 100 posessions.

May 15, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) dribbles the ball in the second half in game five of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Chicago Bulls at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

RH – The Heat have the benefit of employing the best basketball player on the planet. Last time the Heat were in a Conference Finals, they played a team that on the whole played more consistent and superior team basketball, but still rolled over them thanks to a historic playoffs performance from LeBron. While personally I don’t think this series will reach seven games, the Heat are at their most dangerous when James is most inspired.

VS – Besides having the best player on the planet?  Offense.  Their offensive cohesion is nearly flawless; with a balanced attack, two of the greatest playmakers in the game, and plenty of outside shooters to space the floor, Miami is the most difficult team to guard in the NBA.  It seems like every game, they go on one or two huge 15-20 point spurts that seals the deal for them.

QH – LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. More importantly, their ability to draw fouls. If they could knock Hibbert out early and often, Miami might sweep.

Biggest Weakness:

JM – Rebounding and inside play, if anything. Chris Andersen has helped their rebounding woes, but they still don’t have a presence inside. Bosh is their tallest player, but he likes to play more of a perimeter game. If Roy Hibbert is on his game, he could cause some issues for the Heat.

RH – Miami’s rebounding has plagued them all year long, although alleviated since snaring Chris Andersen. However, while their rebounding prowess went from non-existent to mediocre with Anderson’s signing, they’re still vulnerable against a hungry, savvy and big Indiana squad.

VS – Rebounding.  Miami’s rebounding woes has been well documented throughout the season, as they finished dead last in rebounds per game.  “Birdman” Chris Andersen was brought in late in the season to give Miami some size, and he has filled that role admirably.  And while their rebounding hasn’t been too terrible in the playoffs (currently 3rd in the league in rebounding differential per game), one has to believe their small-ball play along with Indiana’s size will lead to a big disadvantage on the glass.

QH – Dwyane Wade’s health issues. The Heat could drop a game or two if Wade can’t turn it up like he did in Game 6.

Indiana Pacers:

Most Important Player:

May 18, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) dunks against the New York Knicks in game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats New York 106-99. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

JM – Roy Hibbert. He’s the Pacers’ one big advantage, as the Heat lack a big man to match him. He dominated Tyson Chandler in the series vs. the Knicks, and the Pacers will need him to keep up this high level of play.

RH – Paul George has performed a lot of magic tricks this season, such as making Danny Granger disappear, but he has one more rabbit to pull from a hat this year – escaping Miami’s strait jacket. The Most Improved title holder will have a tough time against the Heat, who will likely try to blanket him with LeBron James, widely regarded as the league’s best perimeter defender. But if George is able to break from LBJ and have a big one, Miami will have a series on their hands.

VS – Roy Hibbert.  Critics have been hammering Hibbert’s lack of consistent production on the offensive end all season long.  Going against a Heat team that plays small, he MUST dominate the paint.  Miami has notoriously struggled against teams with bigs that can score and rebound, and Hibbert can easily fit that bill.  Miami will try to play up-tempo and negate Hibbert’s ability to impact the game.  So, it will be paramount for him to impose his will in order for the Pacers to pull off the upset.

QH – Roy Hibbert. Can’t make it any more clearer than that.

Biggest Strength:

JM – Defense. Just as the Heat were the league’s most efficient offensive team, the Pacers were the league’s most efficient defensive team, allowing just 96.6 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. They’ve played solid defense all postseason, but the Heat will be by far their toughest test.

RH – Indiana’s inside presence will be their key to winning the series. Roy Hibbert and David West have been terrorising opposing teams all year long and have found form at just the right time. The Heat’s job will be made infinitely harder if the Pacers can successfully run their offense through these guys.

VS – Interior Presence.  If the Pacers can somehow control the pace, Roy Hibbert and David West should dominate the paint.  Chris Bosh tends to struggle against bigger and stronger post players, and so the 4-5 tandem of Indiana should capitalize.

QH – Defense. Indiana can turn it up defensively, even better than Chicago.

Biggest Weakness:

JM – Consistency. For as well as the Pacers have played this year, they have games where they just seem to disappear, especially on the offensive end. If they want any chance of knocking off the Heat, they can’t afford to take any nights off.

RH – Points in the paint. While the inside game presents their strongest advantage on paper for the series, getting it to actually come together will be the biggest ask for the Pacers. They’ve rarely lit up the scoreboard all year and now must find a way to match it offensively with the high octane South Beach Show.

VS – Closing.  Indiana’s lack of crunch-time superstars may come to haunt them in this series.  Although the offense primarily has gone through Paul George and Roy Hibbert, I am skeptical as to whether the two of them can consistently produce down the stretch of what will likely be closely contested games.  With Miami having two of the best closers in the game, who’s going to match that on Indiana’s end?  They may have been alternating that role by committee, but someone is going to need to step up consistently against the loaded Heat.

QH – The bench. Let me throw this out to you:

Gerald Green.

D.J. Augustin.

Tyler Hansbrough.

Jeff Pendergraph.

Ian Mahinmi.

Those five combined for 213 points this postseason. That’s not good at all.

Series Prediction:

JM – Heat in 6.

RH – Miami takes it in 6, with Indiana stealing one on the road but ultimately coming up short in a physical series.

VS – Miami in 7.  I think the Pacers are tremendously confident against Miami and will be a tough out, but I just can’t see LeBron and D-Wade letting this Heat team lose.  Period

QH – Heat in……..5. I think Indiana wins one at home.