NBA Indiana Pacers

2013 NBA Playoffs: Five Keys for the Indiana Pacers to Beat the Miami Heat

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NBA Playoffs: Five Reasons the Pacers Can Beat the Heat

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The Indiana Pacers will make their first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2004 when the Miami Heat welcome them to South Beach for Game One on Wednesday night. Pacers coach Frank Vogel has already grabbed some headlines with the series still two days away from starting, saying the Heat are “just the next team that’s in our way” as they continue to compete for an NBA title.

Vogel’s comment was clearly overblown and misunderstood in an overall sense, but LeBron James responded on Sunday by saying he and his teammates are “confident” and don’t need bulletin-board material. If Vogel was attempting a bit of psychological warfare, it appears his mission was accomplished by James simply having to talk about what was said when reporters brought it up.

The Pacers and Heat faced each other in last year’s playoffs as well, with Indiana winning two of the first three games before Miami took charge and sent them home in six games. It was a contentious and physical series throughout, and that will surely continue and perhaps be upped some with the stakes higher for this upcoming series.

The Pacers should not be intimidated by the Heat, having gone 2-1 against them during the regular season. The playoffs are of course a different animal, but Indiana will not enter the series with a defeated mindset and that may be enough for them to remain competitive in every game.

It will obviously be a huge challenge for the Pacers to take down the Heat and earn the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals since 2000. But here are five reasons I think they can do just that.

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5. Depth

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers don’t have the star power Miami has, but nine players averaged at least 16 minutes per game during the regular season, and eight of those same players are averaging at least 13 minutes per game so far this postseason. Indiana's depth should help them overcome any foul trouble or injuries that come for the most part, which gives them an advantage over the Heat in at least one area.

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4. Defense

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana was second in the NBA in points allowed (90.7 per game) and first in opponent’s field goal percentage (42 percent) during the regular season, and they have remained stingy during the postseason, allowing 89.4 points per game with a 41.6 percent opponent’s field goal percentage. Stopping the Heat is a big challenge, but the Pacers have to maintain the defensive intensity they have shown all season.

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3. Forward David West

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

West averaged 22.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game against the Heat during the regular season, and he averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game during the playoff series between the two teams last year. If West can challenge Chris Bosh defensively and get him into foul trouble, the Pacers advantage around the basket could become even more pronounced.

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2. Center Roy Hibbert

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Hibbert is a mismatch for Miami’s frontcourt at 7’2”, but he was not particularly dominant against them during the regular season (9.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game). Hibbert needs to set a physical tone defensively (within the rules of course), help the Pacers dominate Miami on the glass, stay out of foul trouble and make the most of his offensive opportunities for Indiana to have a realistic chance to advance.

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1. Efficient Offense/Minimize Turnovers

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers have struggled to take care of the ball all season, ranking 22nd in the league during the regular season in turnovers (15.1 per game) and their 191 total turnovers (15.9 per game) are the second-most of any team in this postseason. Indiana simply cannot afford to give Miami extra possessions with sloppy play, or it could be a short series.