Indiana Pacers at Miami Heat (-8, 181.5)
The last time the Miami Heat had a long layoff between series, they came out rusty and dropped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Indiana Pacers, who visit the Heat for Game 1 of the conference finals Wednesday, are hoping that same rust allows them to get a quick leg up on the defending champs. The Pacers battled Miami for six games in the semifinals last spring before falling short and are determined for a different outcome this time.
Indiana held a 2-1 lead in the series last spring before LeBron James asserted himself with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in Game 4 as the Heat cruised through the final three games. James is already in attack mode for the series this season, taking offense at a rather benign comment by Pacers coach Frank Vogel and turning it into a two-day news story. “We’re not just another team,” James said. “I don’t understand what he’s saying. But we’re not just another team. That’s not true. He said we’re just another team in their way. We’re a great team.” Of course, Vogel never said the Heat were “just another team,” and simply referred to them as the team that happened to be next on the schedule.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT THE PACERS: Indiana’s great advantage over Miami is on the interior, where Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George form a frontline bigger than anything the Heat have seen. The Pacers led the NBA in rebounding average during the regular season while Miami finished last. George did a fine job of locking up Carmelo Anthony and forcing him to take bad or contested shot in the semifinals, and will be tasked with doing the same thing to James in the finals. George’s maturation is a big reason the Pacers feel they are better prepared to face the Heat this spring. The All-Star forward averaged 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds in the 2012 postseason but has lifted those numbers to 19.1 and 8.3, respectively, this postseason while assuming more of the ball handling responsibilities and guarding the oppositions best player. “It’ll be fun,” George told the Indianapolis Star about the chance to guard James. “I always embrace challenges.”
ABOUT THE HEAT: Miami did not have Chris Bosh for much of the series against the Pacers last spring due to an abdominal injury. Bosh is now a key to what the Heat like to do offensively and will operate as the center in an offense that spreads the floor. Miami is counting on Bosh’s ability to hit jumpers from 15 feet and further out to pull Hibbert away from the basket and open up driving lanes for James and Dwyane Wade. The Heat lost to the Pacers twice during the regular season, and James was held to a season-low 13 points in the lone win against Indiana, a 105-91 triumph that marked win No.18 during their 27-game streak. Miami has won 45 of its last 48 games overall. “It only gets more difficult and more challenging,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after closing out the semifinal win over the Chicago Bulls. “That’s what competitors want.”
* Pacers are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games overall.
* Heat are 13-4 ATS in their last 17 vs. Eastern Conference.
* Over is 5-1 in the last 6 meetings.
* Home team is 4-1 ATS in the last 5 meetings.
1. Indiana has only one player with experience in the conference finals in backup C Ian Mahimni. James will be making his fifth trip to the conference finals in the last seven years while Wade and Udonis Haslem have helped lead the Heat to five of the last nine including 2013.
2. Wade (knee) has been practicing and does not expect to miss any time.
3. West (right calf) has been limited in practice but is expected to go in Game 1