The defending champion Miami Heat have essentially worked their way up the NBA’s Central division ladder in these 2013 playoffs. While “worked” might be a stretch, as Miami has rolled both the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls in the first two rounds, the class of this division now stands in their way from a third straight trip to the Finals and should prove to be a much stiffer test.
The Indiana Pacers took two out of the three regular season tilts against LeBron James and Co., suggesting they could be the Eastern conference team to challenge Miami’s crown. The Pacers captured those convincing victories with what seems to be the formula to make the Heat uneasy: superior height in the front court for rim protection, athletic perimeter defense and rebounding that leads to easy buckets.
Indiana gave us a preview of sorts in their conference semi-final against the New York Knicks. The Knicks, like Miami, play a style that’s of the small-ball variety. Head coach Frank Vogel refused to flinch, though, by sticking with the behemoth front line that has brought the team success. It obviously worked as the Pacers’ height advantage battered and bruised the Knicks on both ends of the floor.
This time around — against another team that punts size for versatility — should be a vastly different experience for the Pacers. Dig a little deeper and you begin to see some cracks in the foundation, weaknesses that could leave the Pacers vulnerable against the Super team from South Beach.
Indiana’s offense has been a turnover machine this year, as only four teams gave it away more during the regular season. Whether it’s sloppy entry passes to the post, poor decision-making in transition or just a simple lack of players that are quality passers, the Pacers put it all on display against the Knicks. However, New York couldn’t capitalize on those errors like the Heat surely will. Part of the reason why Miami is so deadly without prototypical NBA size is how they use their athleticism to flip the court in a blink of an eye when the opposition turns the ball over.
A good portion of the Pacers’ turnovers against the Knicks came due to the traps set for Indiana ball-handlers and post-players. One way to counter against a height disadvantage is throw quick double teams at bigs, who catch the ball on the block and begin their dribble or perimeter players that are iffy when handling the ball. Miami’s defensive schemes are similar to New York’s, yet the Heat offer more speed, better athletes, and to put it simply, willingness to play this defense on every possession.
On defense, the Pacers will continue to do what they do. The three-point line and paint will be virtually taken away while the mid-range area will look open for jump-shooters willing to take those shots. Roy Hibbert will once again be the focal point on this end, as his rim protection will be key against the lane penetration of both James and Dwyane Wade. He won’t be defending Tyson Chandler against Miami, though, as the Heat offer Chris Bosh.
Bosh’s performance in Miami’s lone regular-season win over the Pacers stands out more so than any other. Bosh scored 24 points on just 15 shot attempts, living in the mid-range area and dragging Hibbert out of the paint when flaring off screens. He rarely dives to the rim out of pick-and-rolls and this leaves the Pacers’ 7-footer with a decision that usually leaves him in “no-man’s land,” not exactly stopping the player with the ball, but too far off Bosh to recover quick enough.
While the similarities between both Miami and New York’s respective styles are in abundance, the comparisons can all stop there. Miami’s schemes and how they execute them are much more precise.
It’s not as if the Pacers don’t stand a chance, though, as their blueprint can cause Miami problems. But this is a system that is a version on steroids compared to what they beat out in six games against New York. It’s a well-oiled machine that has been clicking on all cylinders from the jump and it’s led by the best player the game has to offer these days.
In a match-up of Precision versus Power, Miami’s superstar talent is the wildcard that offsets the advantages for the Pacers.
Prediction: Miami in 6
Brandon Curry is an NBA writer for Rant Sports. Follow Brandon on Twitter @ByBrandonCurry