The Indiana Pacers are adamantly telling everyone who will listen that they should not be considered the underdogs in their Eastern Conference Semifinals match-up against the Miami Heat, but no one seems to be listening. Vegas has the Heat as 1/5 favorites to win the Eastern Conference crown, while the Pacers are an 8/1 long shot.
The Heat have shrugged off Indiana's brash talk ahead of Sunday's Game 1. "I could care less, we could care less," head coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday. LeBron James added, "There’s nothing you can say to our team that will give us extra motivation."
When it comes down to basketball, the Pacers' strengths are actually not all that different from the Heat's. Like Miami, Indiana is in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, respectively).
Indiana's three-point shooting is also quite dangerous. Their 36.8 percent mark from downtown was sixth in the NBA. Miami's rotation defense has a habit of leaving three-point shooters open in the wings, look for the Pacers to try and exploit that. Danny Granger and Paul George will test James and Dwyane Wade on defense.
And while Pacers coach Frank Vogel griped that the Heat try a bit too hard to draw fouls, Indiana gets to the free throw line a fair amount themselves. Only two other teams shot more free throws per field goal attempt than Indiana, and the Pacers shot 78 percent from the charity stripe during the regular season, third best in the NBA.
But the biggest threat to the Heat comes in the form of Indiana's 7'2" center Roy Hibbert. He has a significant size advantage over Chris Bosh, so Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf could see significant time off the bench. There are a few centers who always seem to give the Heat trouble, and Hibbert is one of them.
LeBron James will reportedly be awarded his third MVP award before Game 1. Coming off a very efficient series against the Knicks, his performance will once again be key to Miami's chances at success. If he and Dwyane Wade can apply pressure to Indiana's defense and avoid the temptation to settle for jump shots, Miami should have no trouble eliminating Indiana.
The schedule for the entire series is below:
Game 1: Sunday, May 13, 3:30
Game 2: Tuesday, May 15, 7:00
Game 3: Thursday, May 17, TBA
Game 4: Sunday, May 20, 3:30
Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, May 22, TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, May 24, TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, May 26, TBD