The Indiana Pacers weren’t expected to handle the New York Knicks easily. But they beat them in six games; having topped the higher-seeded team from New York, the Pacers will face an even tougher opponent in the reigning champions and number-one seeded Heat. The two teams met last year in the second round, so this year’s semi-final matchup has a lot more at stake: a trip to the Finals.
The Miami Heat lack an imposing big man capable of stopping Indiana’s Roy Hibbert. While this immediately jumps out as an obvious advantage for the Pacers, it might not actually be. The Knicks, after all, boast an imposing frontcourt with 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and 2013 First Team All-Defense nominee Tyson Chandler leading the way. Tough-nosed PF/C Kenyon Martin backing up Chandler seemed like a perfect combo to slow the 7′ 2″ Hibbert. But Hibbert averaged 13.3 points per game to go along with 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game–completely embarrassing Chandler. So the Heat won’t even attempt to make stopping Hibbert part of their game plan, as their best counter is a duo of power forwards Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem.
The Heat will be the team forcing their opponent to adjust to their style of play in this series, not the Pacers, so expect the Pacers to try and run a bit of a smaller team to keep up with the Heat. When the Heat go to a lineup of Bosh at center, Lebron James at power forward and a combination of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade at the guard positions, it’s hard to beat them for sheer athleticism. The Pacers will need SG/SF Paul George to elevate his level of play and keep pace with Lebron James — a tall order. After George, the Pacers will throw an assortment of defenders at the Heat backcourt such as Lance Stephenson and George Hill to try and take the Heat out of their element.
For the Pacers, getting power forward David West and Hibbert as many touches as possible will be crucial in breaking the Heat’s stride. Bosh will not be able to hang with Hibbert down low and could see the pine early and often. If Lebron is forced to guard West the way Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks was, their could be some serious foul trouble coming the MVP’s way. And it most likely will fall on the shoulders of James: Haslem has played only 17.7 minutes per game in the playoffs and the Heat are likely to stick to their small-ball rotation.
The health of Wade will be important for the Heat in this series. Lebron will do his thing, but Wade needs to be healthy and available to contribute his 20-plus points and ball-handling abilities. Wade has already missed one game this postseason but has had a few days of rest on his balky knee. An absent or hurting Wade would be a blessing for the Pacers stealing this series. (Though should that happen, they will still have a tough time of it.)
This series will come down to which team makes the other team adjust to their style of play. The Heat are small and like to run; the Pacers are big and like to pound the ball down low. No one is picking the Pacers to beat the Heat, but as they proved last year in the playoffs, they can hang with the champs. Will a year’s worth of experience and growth for the young team push them over the edge? Tune in on Wednesday to find out.