The fact that all five Pacers starters took the podium together after their semi-final series win against New York is, I suppose, symbolic of something bigger. I mean, that wasn’t just happenstance right? They made a decision, wanting to show unity and play up the whole “team” aspect as much as possible. It was meant to show how a team of low profile players can outplay stars. It was a psychological “peace out” to the Knicks, and a, “this is who we are” to the Heat. Right? Really who knows, but it certainly felt like it. Additionally, that’s the angle we are going to be bombarded with over the next several days. Might as well get used to it. The slick, star studded Miami Heat against the homegrown, team-first Indiana Pacers. The South Beach Diet vs. the people that praise the corn dog.
Beating the Heat won’t be easy for Indiana. Even though they dominated the Knicks on the boards, it wont be as care free against Miami. The Pacers are a big, muscular team and they outrebounded New York in five of the six games they played. They will likely win the overall rebound match up against the Heat, and they should. They led the League in the category (they also lead in Three-Point Defensive FG Percentage, Miami’s bread and butter) and but it won’t mean the same. It won’t be such a dominant statistic because it’s going to get cancelled out by the Pacer’s biggest weakness.
Indiana, in spite of all of the positive press, is sloppy with the rock. They finished 25th in the League in turnovers this season (15.1 per game) and they showed that all series against the Knicks. New York just wasn’t able to get their transition game together with enough emphasis, and didn’t capitalize on it. Indy has a tendency to loft lazy passes into the post and allow miscommunication on the perimeter. That will not work against Miami. The Heat feed on turnovers with ravenous abandon. It won’t matter if the Pacers win the rebounding battle by five or six, if they give up a fast break buffet to Miami.
Still, there is a way for Indiana to steal this series, and that’s by taking it up a notch on man-to-man D. They need strategy and hatred to win. Indiana has to go in there and look at Miami like cooked food, and keep James and Wade from the highlight reel. Fortunately, they have the right players for it.
Lance “Now Everybody Is On His Jock Outta The Blue” Stephenson is an ideal defensive matchup for Dwyane Wade. Really, it couldn’t be a better scenario for the Pacers. First of all, Wade is beat up and his knee, as he’s already explained, isn’t going to get better until the off-season. Rest is irrelevant. Having Game 1 on Wednesday mean nothing. So that’s already a concern, but worse, the usual advantage he has over dudes is neutralized against Stephenson. Wade is typically quicker, stronger and just more athletic than the majority of the dudes who play against him at the Two-Guard position. Truth be told, he won’t have any of those advantages in this series. He’s going to have to get his on breaks, put-backs or at the foul line. Wade will have his great moments due to experience and tenacity, and that will have to be enough, because Stephenson is a strong young dude with strong young dude legs. The stage ultimately may be too big for him, but undoubtedly, he has terrific defensive ability.
As for LeBron James, I mean, I’m not going to type here that he can be stopped by anyone in this League. His main competition lies in the space between his ears. That’s it. He showed us last year and this year, that when he’s ready to totally engage, it's lights out time for his competition. However, of the few dudes who can give him a fair one, Paul George is on the short list. One of the reasons why ‘Melo struggled with his shot was due to being checked by George. Dude is tall, athletic, aggressive and smart. He’ll get up in your grill, Memorial Day Weekend style. He’s not going to consistently stop James, but he doesn’t have to do anything that grand. He just needs to get strategic stops. Late in the shot clock, closing out quarters, even closing out a game. He showed the potential to do so all year, nobody should be surprised if he shows it again in the ECF.