Friday, May 16, 2014

2014 NBA Playoffs - Eastern Conference Finals

#1 Indiana Pacers vs. #2 Miami Heat

The Indiana Pacers might have just completed the bumpiest road ever to a Conference Finals. The Pacers are a respectable 8-5 in the playoffs this year, but when they lose, they like to lose in spectacular fashion. But despite their late season struggles, they are right where they want to be, with homecourt advantage against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat have taken a much more comfortable road to the Conference Finals, losing just one playoff game so far. When these teams closed the regular season, the Heat basically decided to concede the #1 seed to Indiana, hedging their bets that it didn't matter whether or not they had homecourt advantage. Now, we get to find out if that was a smart move or complete arrogance by Miami.

This is a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference finals and these are two teams that know each other quite well. The single most important player in this series might just be Roy Hibbert of the Pacers. In last season's Conference Finals with Miami, Hibbert gave the Heat nightmares throughout that series and was the main reason the Pacers nearly knocked off the Heat. Hibbert has shown his importance to the Pacers even more this year. Some of the Pacers worst playoff performances have come when Hibbert has inexplicably disappeared. But when Hibbert has been on his game, the Pacers have looked like one of the better teams in the NBA. Chris Bosh was badly outplayed by Hibbert in last year's matchup, but he seems to be playing with far more confidence this season. He can't let Hibbert get too comfortable down low, but he also doesn't have the body to match up with Hibbert when Hibbert is in the zone. Another crucial component of the Pacers starting lineup is David West. West is the Pacers leader, and his clutch performance in Game 6 against the Washington Wizards helped propel Indiana to be able to close out that series. The Wizards had no one that could match up with West, but the Heat are hopeful that Shane Battier can stay on West and limit his offensive game. Paul George is the Pacers best player and his one on one matchup with LeBron James will once again take center stage in this series. George is important as the Pacers best player, but he isn't good enough to single-handedly will the Pacers to wins. They will need Hibbert, West, and especially Lance Stephenson to provide strong play for them to have a chance in this series. Stephenson is a wild player, and he seems to be off in his own world sometimes, but he is so valuable to the Pacers when he is playing well that coach Frank Vogel has no choice but to play him major minutes. Dwyane Wade isn't the player he once was but he still makes the Heat a more formidable team when he is on the court. His presence alone takes pressure off of James to feel like he has to do everything. Each team doesn't have exceptional point guards. The Pacers George Hill is solid but not spectacular, and Mario Chalmers of the Heat is mostly known for being James, Wade, and Bosh's whipping boy. But both players are capable of scoring and playing strong defense and any contributions they provide are a welcome addition.

The Pacers need more out of their bench in this series than they got against the Wizards. Luis Scola, Evan Turner, and Ian Mahinmi have to play much better in this series. Even C.J. Watson who was a complete non-factor against Washington, will be needed to spot Hill some in this series. Miami's best bench contributor is the ageless Ray Allen, and the energetic Chris Andersen. I wouldn't be surprised if you see Andersen and Bosh out on the floor at the same time quite a bit in this series. Andersen is the type of energy player that could really get into Hibbert's head and throw him off his game.

Predicting any series the Pacers are involved in this year seems fruitless. You just have no idea which Indiana team will show up from game to game. That level of inconsistency will be their downfall against Miami. Indian has the homecourt advantage but are just 3-4 at home in the playoffs this season and have been blown out multiple times. I expect Miami to take Game 1 on Sunday and control the series from there. The Pacers will have their moments in this series but it is clear that the Heat are the top dogs in the East and destined to make their fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

Prediction: Heat over Pacers, 4-2

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