Most Important Player: Miami Heat
Jack Maloney (@jmaloney9): LeBron James
I wrote before the last series that the most important player for the Heat is, and always will be, LeBron James. And that certainly hasn’t changed in a few weeks. He’s the team’s best scorer, best passer, best rebounder, best everything. Without him they wouldn’t be dreaming of a championship, but with him they’re once again the favorites. What am I going to tell you in a few sentences that you don’t already know? It’s simply LeBron.
Sam Kuperman (@samkoop): Dwyane Wade
Wade was good but not great for most of the Heat’s series with the Nets. He averaged 15.8 points over the first 4 games of the series before exploding for 28 in Game 5 en route to eliminating Brooklyn. While Wade was able to get away with below average scoring numbers (at least by his standards) last round, that will not fly against the Pacers.
Sure, LeBron can carry most of the load on offense, but that might not be enough if Indiana can get back to playing like itself. That extra boost from the three-time NBA champ may be what it takes to propel the Heat past the Pacers.
Most Important Player: Indiana Pacers
JM: Roy Hibbert
Before the Pacers’ series against the Wizards, I picked Roy Hibbert as my most important player, and I’m sticking with him for their matchup against the Heat. Last round he had to deal with Nene and Marcin Gortat, but against the Heat he’ll have an advantage going up against Birdman, Rashard Lewis or Udonis Haslem. In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, he ate the Heat alive, averaging 22 and 10 over the 7 games. The Pacers are going to need at least that kind of performance if they want to get past the Heat this year.
SK: Roy Hibbert
I feel like a broken record here but yet again the key for the Pacers to advance will be their all-star center. While Hibbert fared better against Washington than he did against Atlanta he still had some pretty terrible games, including a game 1 loss in which he did not accumulate a single point or rebound in 18 minutes of play.
The Pacers now face their toughest opponent yet in the two time defending champs and they will need Hibbert to play like he did in the postseason last year, when he averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds per contest. The Heat lack size up front so if Hibbert can be a dominant presence in the paint on both ends of the ball Indiana’s chances of beating the Heat will significantly improve.
Don’t overlook ________________?
JM: The play of Paul George
Most of the attention has been focused on Roy Hibbert’s struggles, but Paul George has quietly been a beast this postseason. He’s averaging 22, 9 and 4, while shooting 41 percent from downtown. If last year’s ECF was his coming out party, this year’s version needs to reaffirm his greatness.
SK: Bench play
In a series with so much star-power it’s easy to overlook the guys coming off the bench. That being said, both teams have struggled with finding production off the bench for a majority of the playoffs. The Heat have been unable to get quality minutes from any reserve not named Ray Allen, and the Pacers didn’t have one single reliable player coming off the bench against the Wizards.
Even Luis Scola, a guy that provided great depth up front during the regular season couldn’t get going last round. Both squads have players capable of playing well off the bench, so the series may very well come down to which team’s bench comes to life in the Conference Finals.
JM: Miami in 6
SK: Miami in 6