Tuesday, May 21, 2013

As The Basketball Turns: So We Meet Again

Last season, the Miami Heat led by LeBron James made quick work of the Indiana Pacers, dispatching them in six games. The biggest question one can ask is "What will be different this year?" To that I would say the Pacers will make it tougher this time around for Miami because of a few things.

The Heat won first in their 2012 first round series, then Indiana seized control by winning two in a row, holding the Heat to 75 points in those wins. All they did was delay the Heat to getting to the Finals and beating the Thunder. LeBron and company reeled off three wins in a row in dominant fashion. Wade even had a 40 point game. This time around, Paul George and the Pacers have one thing on their mind: payback.

Looking for Vengeance

So what about the Pacers will make it tougher, Sean? Three things, nameless reader:

1. The development of Paul George into a two-way star
2. The second best big man tandem in the league, David West and Roy Hibbert
3. Lance Stephenson's growth from a bench player into a solid role player who can be proficient offensively

The first thing I know about Indiana is that they know how to beat Miami. They won those two games last year, and started off the regular season 2-0 against the Heat, winning by double-digits each time. The 36 rebounds from George, Hibbert and West certainly helped there.

The next time they played, it was West who led Indiana to a win with 30 points. They are selfless players, and any one of the players that make up their "Big Three" can take over a game.That was February 1st and the game before the team's historic win streak began.

The Heat bounced back and won by 14 the third time around. This was their 18th consecutive win during their 27-game win streak. They were running on all cylinders this time and no one could seem to stop them.

Paul George's evolving into a legitimate star has been the biggest saving grace for this year's Pacers. He isn't just a "dunker" anymore. He can defend you or beat you off the dribble. He can drain three's in your face or out-hustle you on the boards. He can take over when the team needs it- and against the Heat, the Pacers will need every ounce of energy George has.

The team's biggest advantage will be West and Hibbert down low. This year the two helped Indiana become the best rebounding team in the league. They'll make it tough for LeBron to have his way in the lane, and will redirect a lot of shots whether directly or indirectly. Hibbert has shown this season he might be one of the best big man in the league after Gasol and Randolph. (Sorry, Dwight- too much extracurricular).  This duo can score and defend, and if they don't get in foul trouble, they'll have a big effect on the outcome of this series.

The last crucial piece to this Pacers squad is the progression of one Lance Stephenson. Last year at this time, he was just some bench player making news for holding his throat in a gesture to imply the Heat had choked during a loss to Indiana. This year he is their starting shooting guard in the same back court as George Hill. Together, they make  up a savvy duo that will give Wade and Chalmers plenty to think about come Wednesday night.

Looking Ahead

The only weakness for the Heat isn't even something that is on the court. It's in their heads. After LeBron's recent comments about Pacers' coach Frank Vogel's remarks about the Heat, one can only take away that the Heat have been caught looking ahead to the Finals and winning another title. It's great to have a that goal and work towards it, but this Pacers squad isn't lying down for anyone- not even the King.

The series against the Bulls proved that if you get in Miami's face defensively and simply out-hustle them on the boards, you'll have a shot to win the game, or win it outright. Make them work for every basket and try and wear them down. The Bulls did as much of this as they could, but were just over matched and undermanned.

The Heat decimated the Bulls for the middle three games, and eeked out a series-clinching win in Game 5. If they had trouble with Noah and Boozer down low, then West and Hibbert will be a nightmare. Bosh and Haslem will have their hands full and I look for them to not be offensively factored in to this series. They'll be drained on defense and leave up the offensive magic to James, Wade and their fleet of shooters.

Miami will have to keep their fastbreak fine-tuned and "on the go" at all times to attack the half court nature of the Pacers. Like the Clippers, if Miami gets bogged down on one side of the court, it only helps Indiana. James will looking to do MVP-like things and George will try and shut him down. Good luck, Paul. Wade has seen a resurgence lately as well, and Stephenson will try to prove his defensive mettle against the veteran guard.

So who wins?

Miami will take the series, 4-3. Some would say they seem "extra-motivated", but who am I to try and figure out which team is more inspired? Miami will be tested by this Pacers team, more so than in last year's playoffs.

While Miami is the trendy pick, I honestly would not be surprised if Indiana won. But you have to choose a winner, and LeBron James and his team look to continue their reign of dominance over the basketball world.

It's good to to be the King.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact me on Twitter @SeanNeutron

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