The Indiana Pacers will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, and are already firing some verbal shots at the Heat, if only to convince themselves that they stand a chance of winning the series.
The third-seeded Pacers lost three of the four games they played against the Heat in the regular season, but even so, Pacers guard George Hill said "I don't feel like it's an upset if we win."
"It's a closer match-up than what people think," teammate Paul George said. "I guess we have to continue to prove ourselves. Everybody in this organization believes we can pull this series out, but everybody else doesn't expect that."
Danny Granger added, "I don't think we're underdogs by any means. Miami has more recognition with their Big Three guys, but I think we're a good team as well."
Granger at least tried to back up his assertion with data, but the best he could come up with was "We actually have a better record than Miami does after the All-Star break." That is true, but ignores the fact that the Heat could play like listless automatons for large stretches of the second half and still end up with the two-seed in the Eastern Conference.
How did they earn that privilege? By going 33-7 before the All-Star Break. Cherry-picking stats is easy when you don't provide any context for them.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of the match-up, "We are not viewing this in any way, shape or form like a David versus Goliath type of meeting." He said the Pacers "feel like we're one of the best teams in the league," and the series will be "two heavyweights going toe to toe."
Miami's three victories against Indiana came on margins of 35, 15, and 2 points. Indiana won the final meeting, on March 26, by 15 points. Miami's offense was the sixth most efficient during the regular season, scoring 104.3 points every 100 possessions (Indiana was 8th with 103.5). The Heat's defense was fourth best in points allowed per 100 possessions, and only Chicago and San Antonio had better point differentials than Miami's 7.2 per 100 possessions (Indiana was 9th with 3.1).
Indiana will pose a much bigger challenge than the New York Knicks did in the first round, but to suggest that the Pacers "are not underdogs," as Vogel did, is ludicrous.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert took the most over-the-top jab at the Heat. "We didn't do this the easy way," he said, referring to LeBron James' and Chris Bosh's decisions to join Dwyane Wade in Miami and form a super-team. "We didn't do this by signing a couple of superstars." (Because that was totally an option for the Pacers, superstars were banging down their door in Indianapolis).
Darren Collison was more wary of providing the Heat with any bulletin board material (or quotes to be repeated ad nauseum on social media in the 90% likelihood that the Heat win the series). "Whenever you're playing the Heat, it's just that motivation that you want to beat them. They have such good players on their team."
Saying the opposition is good never comes back to haunt anyone. Neither does complaining that the opposition milks contact to get favorable calls from officials, which is what Vogel said Thursday.
"They are the biggest flopping team in the NBA," he said, clearly hoping NBA officiating crews are paying attention.
"Every drive to the basket, they have guys not making a play on the ball, but sliding in front of drivers. Often times, they're falling down even before contact is even being made. It will be very interesting to see how the refs officiate the series and how much flopping they allow."
Having talked the talk, Indiana will get their first chance to walk the walk on Sunday.