The Indiana Pacers begin their series in Miami tonight with the greatest chance of teams in the Eastern Conference to defeat the defending world champions. Miami defeated Indiana with a 4-2 series outcome last year in a hard-fought, toughly contested semifinals matchup.
There is no blueprint to beat the Miami Heat. There are ideas, theories, but mostly there is hope. For every set of challenges presented to the Heat, they have countered with an answer. The stakes are even higher this postseason as a trip to the NBA finals is on the line.
Miami’s Keys to Victory
1) Front the Bigs: The Heat played without their all-star forward, Chris Bosh, last year against the Pacers. Indiana brings size and length to the floor and the loss of Bosh was seen as a major disadvantage. Miami successfully countered their lack of size by making it difficult for the Indiana guards to throw entry passes to David West and Roy Hibbert. By playing physical and getting infront of the bigs (in the direct patch between the guards and the forwards), Indiana struggled to find any flow offensively. Their offense became stagnant and with the shot clock winding down, they were forced into taking low percentage shots.
2) Pick and Roll, and then pick and roll some more: With LeBron James serving as the focal point of the offense (catalyst, scorer, facilitator, and everything else you can think of), the Heat come in knowing that the defensive focus will be to limit him in getting the offense started. This can be counteracted by running a strong pick and roll, early and often. With James barreling down the lane, the last line of defense for Indiana will be center Roy Hibbert. Not a bad guy to have back there to defend the hoop, right? Yes, but there is no one as strong or as fast as James is at the forward position and with him jumping straight into Hibbert, the whistle will blow more often than not, sending the Pacers’ big man to the bench.
3) Quick passes and lots of fast breaks: How do you play a team with a physical defense that wants to bang under the rim as much as possible? Neutralize them by spreading the floor and penetrating with quick, crisp passes. Miami has done this to perfect this season. Often, you’ll find that not a single Heat player is even in the paint, yet seconds later, any number of Miami players will be slashing to the lane untouched. This is because of an offense implemented by Spoelstra that maximizes efficiency with the use of ball movement, backdoor picks, screens, and cuts to the basket. By spreading the floor effectively, Indiana players will have to rely much more on one-on-one matchups than clogging the paint. While Indiana is bulky and strong in the post, they are slow on fast breaks and Miami will look to capitalize on this early and often.
Indiana’s Keys to Victory
1) Make Dwyane Wade beat you: A few years ago, this would sound disastrous. In 2013, not so much. Playing a team as talented as Miami means picking your poison. You can either let the greatest player on the planet beat you, or you can hope that the very good Wade will hoist up enough shots and control the ball enough to minimize James’ impact on the game. Wade is hampered by a bum knee. Having the offense go through him and giving him the chance to take lower percentage pull up jumpers will give Indiana a greater chance of being successful.
2) Play physical: LeBron James says that he does not get effected by physical play, but regardless of what he says, it does have somewhat of an impact on him. Indiana, for the sake of their own confidence, will have to make a few statement blocks or fouls early on to let Miami know that they are there. Miami is a finesse team, a very good one at that. But players like Chris Bosh and Ray Allen are not at their best when they are being pushed around. Indiana will have to neutralize as many components of the Miami offense to have a chance – even if it means playing mental games.
3) Start fast with the guards: George Hill, Lance Stephenson, and Paul George are going to need to put up some points. If the Miami defense focuses on the Indiana bigs without having to worry about the lack of shooters on Indiana, it will make for a quick series. Indiana’s shot to win this thing is to play solid defense and get widespread offensive contributions. Without a threat from the outside, this series will end in five games. There are no offensive stars on the Indiana roster. They have won by relying on their defense. Against Miami, it will not be enough. They must put as much emphasis on getting their guards high percentage opportunities as they do on feeding the ball down low to Hibbert.