I meant to have this published before game 1 started, but with a ton of things going on this week for me, I’m writing this as game 1 is under way (currently in the 2nd quarter).
So, the Eastern Conference Finals is a match up between the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat against the Indiana Pacers, a team that had the Heat down 2 games to 1 in last year’s playoffs. And what makes this year’s match up interesting is that Indiana won 2 out of the 3 games during the regular season when they faced Miami. What makes them a hard match up for the Heat? The starting 5 for the Pacers are good and because everyone focuses on other Eastern teams (or unless you don’t follow Indiana basketball), they have kind of flown in under the radar as a legitimate starting roster. The bench of the Pacers are just as deep as Miami’s and both teams love the extra effort put in, which makes the difference between winning games and coming up short. And I think the Indiana Pacers are not afraid to play a team like Miami. With all of their super stars on the team (current MVP LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, to name a few), Indiana isn’t intimidated by the names on the back of their jerseys. As head coach Frank Vogl said when asked about if this series is about getting revenge on Miami from last year’s playoffs (and I’m paraphrasing what he said here), “It’s not about getting back at Miami. When you’re in the NBA’s Final Four, you’re competing for a Championship, and Miami just happens to be the next team in the way from what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Funny how that quote comes into play the following day down in Miami. When a reporter asked LeBron James about this statement, he replies by saying, “We’re not just another team…we’re a great team.” First off, Frank Vogl didn’t say that the Miami Heat is ‘just another team’. If LeBron listened or read the statement, he wouldn’t have put himself in a ‘foot in mouth’ situation that he did, but I think the press gave him a pass for some odd reason. Secondly, I think that any team in the NBA Conference Finals would be respected for getting that far in the playoffs, and I’m pretty sure the Indiana players and coaches are giving them that respect saying that Miami is a great team in which they’ll prepare for and be ready to have a great series in their upcoming match up. So in short, LeBron, do yourself a favor and check your facts about exactly what was said before you go answering questions to the media. And if the media distorted what Frank Vogl said, then LeBron could correct them before they stir the drama pot.
Anyways, let’s get back to the match up. What I’m looking forward to seeing in this series is how Miami adjusts to having to play against Indiana’s center Roy Hibbert, who is a defensive force that is only getting better since making his first all star appearance last year. With Hibbert on the floor, Miami’s LeBron James and Dwayne Wade will have a hard time driving the lane for the easy lay ups/dunks that usually get the home crowd going or quiet the crowd when they’re on the road. Will Dwayne Wade be 100%, and if he isn’t, how much can he contribute to the team’s goal to win games. He doesn’t look like the Dwayne Wade of 2006 with lingering knee and ankle problems that have been nagging him throughout the season.
If the Indiana want to have a chance at winning this series, they have to minimize their turnovers. Miami thrives on the transition points off turnovers, which usually sparks those offensive runs that can get them back in the game or make the game a blowout quickly with their fast paced transition game. George Hill, Paul George and David West need to do well on both sides of the court while the bench play of D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and the rest of the Indiana bench need to contribute enough to ease to pressure off the starting 5 of doing everything in the game.
In a series that may only go 6 games, the winner of this series may not be determined by the starting 5, but by the bench play throughout the series, specifically throughout each quarter of every game. I believe that consistency of the bench play from the Indiana Pacers, combined with their hard working “Blue Collar” mentality, may just be enough to create the “Gold Swagger” basketball that has gotten the Pacers to this point and knock off the defending champs out of title contention this year.
Pacers in 6 games.