By John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
The Miami Heat were focused and locked in for their first round series with the New York Knicks. When they play with that type of intensity no one in the Eastern Conference can beat them. If the Pacers are not able to handle the one-on-one abilities of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, if they turn the ball over at a high rate or cannot keep the Heat from scoring in transition this could be a short series. The Pacers will have to be disciplined in their offensive approach and if they deviate they will struggle to score. They must move the ball from the strong side to the weak side with crisp passing and exact spacing. If they attempt to play primarily post up or isolation basketball they will struggle.
These two teams met four times during the regular season and the Heat won the series 3-1. The Pacers will be the underdog in this series because of the experience of the Heat, the talents of James and Wade, and because the Heat have home court advantage. The Heat went 31-5 at home over the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. The Pacers will struggle to win in Miami.
The opening round series against the Knicks had the glitter and glitz that NBA fans were looking for with the matchups of James and Anthony. This series does not have the same glitter but it will be a much more entertaining series due to the talent, coaching and discipline of the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA.
This series will expose some of their weaknesses but fans will also see the development of Roy Hibbert, the steady influence of David West, and the talents of Paul George. Danny Granger must be able to score on a consistent basis against the perimeter defense of LeBron James or Shane Battier. If he can consistently score 20-plus points throughout this series and Hibbert can dominate the paint with 15-plus points the Pacers have a chance to make this a series.
This series could be described in very simple terms. The Miami Heat can score and manufacture points very easily and the Indiana Pacers struggle to do the same. The Heat averaged 101.5 points per game this season against the Pacers while the Pacers only scored 92.2 points. It is even more striking when we examine shooting percentages. The Heat shot 48 percent from the field against the Pacers this season while the Pacers could only manage a meager 40.4 percent against the Heat.
In a playoff series where baskets are so hard to come by, the Heat have two players in James and Wade that can create a shot at any time. The Pacers Achilles' heel last season in the playoffs was their inability to create plays late in the shot clock and at the end of games. If they have any chance of defeating the Heat they must find a way to manufacture easier shots, make a much higher percentage of open shots, and find a go-to player in crunch time against the Heat. If they cannot do those three things they will lose this series in five or six games.
The Heat will put tremendous pressure on the Pacers with their fast-break attack. In their three wins against the Pacers this season they outscored them 45-19 with fast break points. However in their last regular game of the season in which the Heat lost they only scored 4 points in transition. One of the biggest keys of this series will be the Heat’s ability to create a high tempo and push the pace against a bigger team. The Heat is unstoppable when James and Wade have the ball in transition and they can attack the rim against just one defender. The more open court opportunities they have the better they are. Their break is keyed by their ability to defend, rebound and run. If they get a high number of deflections, steals and live ball turnovers the Pacers will struggle to beat the Heat.
This will be a series where matchups and small lineups will play a big part in the outcome of the series. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has a lot of options both offensively and defensively because of the versatility and skills of LeBron James. James allows them to play big or small. They can play with or without a pure point guard. They can play small with him at the four and cause the Pacers matchup problems.
The lineup that the Pacers worry about the most is Mario Chalmers, Wade, James, Battier, and Bosh. Because James can defend West and Battier can defend Granger this lineup will cause the Pacers to make some important lineup decisions. The smaller lineup is better in transition because of its speed and shooting ability. This smaller lineup has multiple ball handlers who can make plays and shooters to space the floor. The smaller lineup with Bosh at center allows Wade and James the most freedom to drive the ball to the rim with defenses having to worry about Chalmers, Battier and Bosh making shots.
This is not the Heat’s best defensive lineup but if Bosh can defend Hibbert and limit his effectiveness this lineup puts a lot of offensive pressure on the Pacers. When the Heat go to this lineup Pacers coach Frank Vogel will have to decide whether to keep Hibbert on the court, whether to put West on Battier, and whether to keep Granger on James. These matchup decisions will be a big factor in determining the success of both teams in this series.
The Miami bench will be a big key to this series. The addition of a healthy Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and the free agent pick up of Shane Battier make the Heat a much better and more dangerous team this season. They have veterans that know how to play, can play without the ball and are subservient to James and Wade. Haslem gives them a tough interior defender who can make open shots.
The Heat are much more effective when Miller is playing well. When he is cutting, moving without the ball and making high-quality, open perimeter shots the Heat are difficult to beat. Battier gives the Heat a tough hard-nosed defender that can make open 3 point shots and loosen things up for James and Wade. In their four games with the Pacers, the Heat bench was a big factor. In the first two games they matched the deep Indiana bench point for point. But in the final two games, they were outscored 49-28 in bench points. Haslem, Miller and Battier must continue to give Erik Spoelstra quality minutes and production so that James and Wade get the proper rest throughout their playoff run.
The Pacers just finished a five game series with the Orlando Magic that should help them prepare for the Heat. The Magic played with small lineups in the first round and the Pacers will see that again in the second round. They dealt with a ball handling power forward in Hedo Turkoglu and they will see that with James. Lastly, the Magic’s Glenn Davis makes perimeter shots similar to Chris Bosh and Roy Hibbert had to deal with that. Vogel will utilize his teams experience in the first round to help them prepare for Game 1 of this series.
The Pacers have struggled to make shots and score against the Heat. In their four regular season games the Pacers have only averaged 92.2 points per game and shot 40.4 percent from the field. In their three losses they are a combined 90-233 from the field for a 38.6 field goal percentage. In their one win they finally were able to score 105 points and were able to shoot 45.7 percent from the field. Although this is a simplistic statement, it is imperative that the Pacers run their offense make open shots.
How will the Pacers attack the Heat and get good shots? They must do this in multiple ways. The post-up game that the Pacers utilized in their first round series against Orlando will be almost totally negated against the Heat. The Pacers cannot post George against Wade, or Granger against LeBron, and West against Haslem and expect to get easy baskets. If they do post any of these players the Heat will play each of those post ups one -on-one and will refuse to come off perimeter players to help or double.
So here are some ways they must attack the Heat:
A. The Pacers must run and develop a 10 second mentality. They must look to score early in the shot clock against the Heat. Miami is one of the most difficult teams in the NBA to score on when they are set. They are very good defensively in the middle shot clock situations. And they are the best in the NBA in the last seven seconds of the shot clock, forcing teams to shoot 39 percent from the field. It is a combination of their defensive principles and the respect they get from the officials. Therefore, the Pacers must attack the Heat early in the shot clock before they get set. Dwyane Wade does not always run back in transition, and LeBron James loves to reach or block shots in transition but he is not a disciplined transition defensive player. The Pacers must score in early shot clock situations to defeat the Heat.
B. Miami is one of the best defensive teams in the NBA when they are locked in because of their defensive principles. The Heat will have four players on the strong side of the floor and will defend pick and rolls, pin downs and any offensive action with those four players. In order to beat the Heat it is imperative that the Pacers space the court, move the ball from the strong side of the floor to the weak side. This will create help, rotations, and put pressure on the Heat defensively. They must be disciplined in their offensive approach, make good decisions, be ball tough and make shots. The shots they will get will be contested and normally off the bounce. In addition they must look to run multiple pick and rolls.
C. The Pacers must attack Chris Bosh. Bosh is the worst defender on the Heat starting lineup and whether he is assigned to Roy Hibbert or David West they must go at him. They must post him, move him and put him in pick and rolls. Getting Bosh into movement, and away from the basket will aid the Pacers chances of scoring. If they attack him they also increase the chances to draw fouls on him and keep him off the court.
D. Indiana must attack the Heat with middle pick and rolls involving Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh. The Heat is much more vulnerable in middle pick and rolls where they cannot load four players to the strong side. Chalmers is a capable defender but not in the category of James or Wade. If Darren Collison and George Hill can attack Chalmers and Bosh they will be able to get into the paint and make plays. Then it is imperative that they knock down shots.
One of the Pacers strengths is getting to the free throw line. It will be a very important statistic throughout this series. The Pacers were third in the NBA in free throw attempts this season, averaging 25.7 per game. In their four games this season against the Heat they got to the line 30.2 times per game and shot 75.0 percent from the line. They must continue to get to the free throw line in this series for several reasons. The most important reason is that the Heat got to the line 24.6 times this season, and against the Pacers this season they got their 32.7 times per game. Secondly, if the Pacers can get to the free throw line then they will have the defensive balance needed to defend the Heat in a walk it up half court game. The less they must defend the Heat in the open court the better chance they have of winning games in this series.
Points off turnovers will be one of the biggest keys to this series. The Pacers averaged 18 turnovers in their three losses. These turnovers turned into 68 points or 22.6 points off turnovers in those losses. In their one win the Pacers had 16 turnovers but those turnovers only resulted in 10 Miami points. The Pacers will be challenged by the length, quickness and active hands of the Heat. Miami is a big deflection team, getting their hands on passes and disrupting their opponent’s offensive flow. The Pacers must be exact on every dribble, pass, cut, or the Heat will make them pay.
Paul George must show up for the Pacers in the second round in order for them to have any chance of defeating the Miami Heat. George has the ability to be an All-Star some day for the Pacers. He has the length, scoring ability and defensive capabilities to make a big impact in this series. He will be called upon to defend Dwyane Wade and give the Pacers consistent scoring. However George struggled against the Orlando Magic in the first round. In the first round George’s scoring average was down 2.7 points, but it was his shooting percentages that are disturbing. During the regular season George shot 38.5 percent from the 3 point line but in the first round he shot an abysmal 11.8 percent from the 3 point line. George struggled with the level of intensity of the playoffs in the first round. The Pacers desperately need him to bounce back in the second round.
The Pacers will struggle to beat the Heat at the shooting guard, small forward positions but they could cause problems for them at the point guard position. That will be determined by the combination of George Hill and Darren Collison. Hill was not much of a factor in the regular season series with the Heat. He only played in two of the four games and averaged only 4.5 points in those two games. Collison however had a much greater impact on the Pacers ability to defeat the Heat. He averaged 13.0 points per game and shot 51.1 percent from the field. In the first round these two point guards combined to score 23 points from the point position and shoot 49.0 percent from the field. The Pacers need Hill and Collison to dominate Chalmers in this series to make up for the James/Wade talent disparity at the other perimeter positions.
Mario Chalmers: Chalmers has served as the de facto point guard on a team where James and Wade handle the ball a ton. Chalmers puts a lot of pressure on opponents when he is making shots. With all the attention on James and Wade he gets great looks. In wins this year, Chalmers is shooting 49 percent from the field while in loses he is only shooting 37 percent. Chalmers will be called on to defend a number of high quality point guards in the playoffs; if he can’t handle them, the Heat will slide James over to take on the job. Overall, Chalmers had a solid year averaging 9.8 points per game and 3.5 assists per game. He scored 11.8 points, dished out 4 assists and shot 41.7 percent from the 3 point line against New York. He will be challenged by the speed of Darren Collison and the craftiness of George Hill
George Hill: Hill took over the starting point guard position late in the season when Collison went down with a groin injury. He directs the Pacer offense and has a sense of how and when to get shots for his teammates. He was spectacular for the Pacers during the latter stages of the season scoring 15.4 points per game, 5.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds, while shooting 46 percent from the field. Hill did not play in two of the four games this season with the Heat due to injuries and only scored a total of nine points in the other two. He was terrific against the Magic in the first round scoring 14.2 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from the 3 point line. He needs to put pressure on Chalmers with middle pick and rolls ... getting into the paint and making good decisions.
Dwyane Wade: Wade had another stellar season for the Heat averaging 22.1 points per game and 4.6 assists. Wade is a big-time scorer who is not afraid of taking or making big shots. He is at his best when he is attacking the rim in transition or in the half court. Wade gets to the free throw line 6.1 times per game. He has the ability to create a shot for himself at any time. He shot over 50 percent from the field in the series against New York. His Achilles' heel is his perimeter shooting. He is only shooting 27 percent from the 3 point line, making a total of only 15 3 point shots this season. Wade is a terrific defender and he and James give the Heat the best perimeter combination of defenders in the league.
Paul George: George is one of the next superstars of the NBA. He is a blossoming star. Late in the season Vogel extended George's role, playing him in place of Dahntay Jones with the second unit in the second and third quarters. George struggled in the opening round against Orlando scoring below his season average with only 9.4 points per game. But it was his perimeter shot, 11.9 percent from the 3 point line that was alarming. He will be put to the test having to defend Wade and James at various points in this series.
LeBron James: James has had another monster season and was voted the MVP of the NBA. He leads the Heat in four major categories: points, rebounds, assists and steals. He has put up huge numbers averaging 27.1 points and 6.2 assists per game. James has also had career best numbers shooting the ball. He has shot 53 percent from the field and 36 percent from the 3 point line. He rebounds the ball extremely well from the small forward position. LeBron has added a post-up game to his repertoire and he will utilize it against height and strength mismatches. A big key for the Heat is his ability to get to the free throw line (8.1 attempts per game). In the opening series against New York he got to the free throw line 11.4 times per game. The big question for LeBron throughout the playoffs will be whether he will be productive in the fourth quarter. Too many times he has been dominant in the first three quarters to come up empty in the final and most important 12 minutes.
Danny Granger: Granger was the Pacers leading scorer at 18.7 points per game and he upped that to 21.4 points per game in the opening round of the playoffs. Granger is a scorer who has tremendous shooting ability. He attempts 5.2 3 point field goals per game shooting 38.1 percent from behind the line. He is an excellent rebounder from his position. He led the team in free throw attempts (4.7 per game) during the regular season. Granger will be tested in this series because he will have to work much harder to score and he will have a very difficult time defending LeBron James.
Chris Bosh: Bosh is playing extremely well for the Heat at just the right time. He averaged 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in the last ten Heat contests of the regular season. And he followed that up with 15.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in the first round against the Knicks. Bosh will be challenged defensively when he has to cover Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is 7 feet, 2 inches tall and Bosh will struggle with Hibbert’s length and scoring abilities in the low post. However Bosh’s ability to step away from the basket will draw Hibbert away from the basket and open up driving lanes for James and Wade.
David West: The Indiana Pacers signed West in the off season to bring veteran experience to this young roster. West was the second leading scorer for the Pacers in the opening round against the Magic scoring 15.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. He is an excellent pick and roll player who loves to slip picks for quick dives to the basket. West is a very good finisher and mid range shooter. He is a very good passer who can hurt opponents with passes out of the post. West, Hibbert, and Tyler Hansbrough give the Pacers a strong, versatile frontcourt.
Joel Anthony: Anthony has started 51 games this year for the Heat but has been moved to the bench due to lack of production. He may be inserted back into the starting lineup for this series due to the height of Roy Hibbert but the Heat may go with some smaller lineups with LeBron at the power forward and Bosh at center. Joel is primarily a defender, rebounder and shot blocker for the Heat. Unfortunately he is a major liability offensively and that will cut into his minutes against the Pacers.
Roy Hibbert: Hibbert averaged 13.0 points per game and 8.9 rebounds during the regular season. Although his scoring dropped a bit in the opening round Hibbert averaged 10.8 rebounds, 4.4 which came on the offensive glass. Roy also averaged almost four blocks per game in the first series and it will be extremely important for him to clog the paint, alter shots and protect the basket against the drives of James and Wade. Hibbert is the one player that the Heat will have matchup problems with because of his size. He needs to be in attack mode with deep post catches and get the ball to the rim. He cannot settle when he catches the ball. Hibbert who has only averaged 3.7 free throw attempts during regular season needs to get to the free throw line for the Pacers.
Shane Battier: Battier has only played 23.1 minutes per game for the Heat but he has been a nice addition because of his veteran presence, toughness, defense, and ability to space the court and shoot. Although Battier has provided tough defense this year for the Heat, his offensive numbers have dipped. He is only averaging 4.8 points down from his career 9.2 points per game. In addition, his shooting numbers have also dropped from 44.0 percent for his career to 39.0 percent this season. Shane averaged 6.0 points in the New York series but only shot 31.8 percent from the field. Battier will be called upon to defend Danny Granger and limit his offensive effectiveness.
Udonis Haslem: Udonis will be one of the most important bench player in this series because of his ability to defend multiple positions. He will have to defend David West, and at times Roy Hibbert. He averaged 24.9 minutes per game during the regular season and the Heat will call on him to defend, rebound and knock down open shots. He averaged 7.4 rebounds per game during the 66 game regular season.
Mike Miller: When Miller plays well for the Heat offensively they are a much better team. He knows how to play without the ball, moving and cutting. He can come off screens or make open perimeter shots. He understands how to play with James and Wade and when he makes deep 3 point shots he opens up driving lanes for his two All-Star teammates. His 3 point shooting percentages are up this season to 45.2 percent. Miller averaged 7.2 points per game and shot 39.3 percent from the 3 point line in the first round against New York.
Ronny Turiaf: The Heat picked up Turiaf on waivers in late March. He gives the Heat another big body that can rebound and provide defense. He plays with tremendous energy and is a low maintenance player. Will probably see more minutes in this series due to the height, and low post abilities of the Pacer players.
Norris Cole: Cole started the season as a solid role player off the bench backing up Mario Chalmers. He is an excellent ball handler and scoring threat that pushes the ball in transition and can run pick and rolls. However, he has really struggled as the season has progressed, losing confidence and his scoring has dipped. Cole played limited minutes against the Knicks and will probably not see much action against the Pacers.
James Jones: Jones does one thing. He spaces the court and knocks down open shots. He shot 41.3 percent from the 3 point line this season.
Darren Collison: Collison will be very important to the Pacers success in this series. He came off the bench to score 8.8 points and dish out 4.6 assists against Orlando. He also shot 42.9 percent from the 3 point line. He and George Hill must attack Mario Chalmers with a high volume of middle pick and rolls in this series. Collison is also capable of putting pressure on Chalmers and making LeBron handle the ball more and more.
Leandro Barbosa: Has been a very good pickup for the Pacers since coming over at the trading deadline. He brings instant offense off the bench for the Pacers. He averaged 11.0 points per game over the entire season. He only scored 6.4 points but he shot 44.8 percent from the 3 point line against Orlando in the first round.
Tyler Hansbrough: Hansbrough is an excellent role player off the bench for the Pacers. It is a very good role for him and the team. He brings energy, defensive toughness and rebounding. Hansbrough averaged 11.0 points per game and 4.3 rebounds during the regular season. Tyler needs to be decisive and nail midrange jumpers to be successful throughout the playoffs.
Dahntay Jones: He has been productive for the Pacers during the regular season but is going to be out of the regular rotation during the playoffs. Look for him to get more time in the second round against Miami as a defensive stopper due to the offensive abilities of James and Wade.
Louis Amundson: Amundson will be used sparingly in this series due to his offensive liabilities. It is hard to score against the Heat when you have one or two players on the court who cannot make shots.
Prediction: The Heat win in six games.