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Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Heat vs. Pacers

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The Indiana Pacers have taken another step in their voyage to the promise land, but the mountain they are about to face climbing makes their previous challenges look like the bunny slopes.

The Miami Heat come in on a tear having cut through Milwaukee in a round one sweep and deflating a tough Chicago team in just five games. The Heat are rested and ready to host the Pacers. Indiana coach Frank Vogel stirred up anticipation amongst Miami players when he said after his team’s victory over New York on Saturday that the Heat are “just another team in our way.”

LeBron James took exception to that saying “we are not just another team, you have to prepare for us.” So be ready for the Heat to come out guns ablaze, in particular James who averaged 21 points per contest in three games against the Pacers this season.

While Indiana won the season series 2-1, they never played the Heat at their best until the final meeting on Mar. 10. Miami went through a prolonged phase this season where they struggled to deal with teams who had a size advantage on them, but as they hit full stride and infused the influence of Chris Andersen, the Heat began to struggle less and less with team’s who boast big bodies.

This series will include some interesting matchups, perhaps none greater than the big man battle. While most of the attention will focus on LeBron James and whoever he is facing on either end of the floor, a bigger more crucial battle will be played out between Chris Bosh and Roy Hibbert.

The former Georgetown man was the key in Indiana deflating New York’s title run and if he can continue to dominate against Bosh, it’ll be Indiana’s best bet for challenging the defending champs. Creating second chance points on the offensive boards is crucial for the Pacers as they don’t shoot the ball very efficiently and face a team that isn’t reliant on the three point shot the way New York was.

Indiana is the best team in the league in defending the painted area, but they don’t often face teams that have players who penetrate the way Dwyane Wade and LeBron James do. The Heat can start the game with James defending West and Shane Battier, one of the best defenders in the business, harassing Paul George.

Prediction: If Miami successfully goes at Hibbert and gets him in foul trouble, it forces the Pacers to give Ian Mahimi more minutes or else go small. Either way this favors Miami and even if they don’t succeed and Hibbert starts to have his way with Bosh, they can throw Birdman in the game to match up better with Hibbert in terms of size. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on guys like George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Paul George.

George will face a pretty tough test whether it’s Battier, James or Wade defending him and the other guys don’t have what it takes to carry a team. Miami has more quality in its depths with Norris Cole and Ray Allen coming off the bench. While Indiana will carry itself with pride and fight to go basket-for-basket with the Heat, I’m afraid their efforts will ultimately end in despair.

Miami wins series 4-2.

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