Indiana Pacers hope their superior size matters against Miami Heat
LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat have rolled through the first two rounds of the play-offs and now face the familiar, but unpredictable, Indiana Pacers as the last hurdle to reaching another NBA Finals.
The Heat, who have lost one game this post-season, are looking to become the first team to win three straight NBA titles since the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s, but the brawny Pacers could present a challenge.
Indiana will host Miami in Sunday’s opener of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals by virtue of finishing first overall in the East with a 56-26 record, two games ahead of the second-place Heat.
But which Pacers team shows up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is the question after a regular season in which Indiana soared to lofty heights only to sputter at the end of the campaign.
The Pacers, who last year pushed the Heat to seven games in a gruelling East Final, looked like world-beaters for much of the season as forward Paul George, a dogged defender with a silky jump shot, raised his game.
The Pacers charged to a 46-13 mark, yet turned lacklustre toward the finish, losing 13 of their last 23 games and then struggling to beat the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in seven games in their opening play-off series.
Rumours swirled about coach Frank Vogel’s future as the imposing Roy Hibbert lost form and seemed to disappear, quite a trick for a 7ft 2 ins centre
Hibbert, who averaged 22 points in last year’s bruising play-off series against Miami and their smaller front line, was held scoreless in two games and averaged a mere five points a game in the Atlanta series.
The big centre came back to life with 28 points in a Game 2 win in Indiana’s six-game series triumph over the Washington Wizards in the second round.
The younger, deeper Pacers will need more of that kind of performance to end the run by the Heat, whose leading man James is averaging 30 points in the play-offs, including a 49-point outburst against the Brooklyn Nets in Round 2.
“It’s only going to get tougher. We’ve been talking about this series all year,” veteran Pacers forward David West said of Miami. “We’re going to need everything from everybody.”
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Published: May 17, 2014 04:00 AM