2014 NBA Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Finals Rematch Again Favors Miami Heat

Eastern Conference Finals

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One year after last season’s epic Eastern Conference Finals, the NBA has the rematch it has been waiting for all season.

The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat will square off for the third straight year in the playoffs, with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. All the storylines and characters from last year’s showdown remain the same, except for one key difference: Indiana holds home-court advantage.

The Pacers’ primary goal all season was to snag the top seed in the East away from Miami, as many believed that proved to be the difference in last year’s series. However, Indiana comes in as the underdogs against the two-time defending champions due to their recent struggles at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.

On the other hand, Miami has been nearly unstoppable in these playoffs, but Miami will be faced with the challenge of not holding home-court advantage for the first time in two years. Nevertheless, there will be several important keys to this series that could decide whether Indiana or Miami advances.

First off, the pace and tempo of this series will play a huge role. Both teams are well coached and terrific defensively, but their approaches are very different. While Indiana loves to slow the game down and grind it out, Miami enjoys getting up and down the floor as if it were a track meet. If Indiana can take care of the basketball and force Miami to work in the halfcourt, the Pacers have a great shot.

However, if Miami is able to speed the game up by forcing turnovers and getting easy buckets in transition, this series could be over very quickly. The higher the scoring, the more it favors Miami.

The bench will be crucial for both teams in this series. In last year’s series, Miami’s bench was the difference as it completely outplayed Indiana’s. As a result, the Pacers thoroughly revamped their bench in the summer by bringing in Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, as well as Evan Turner at the trade deadline.

However, Miami’s bench is not what it once was. Along with inconsistent performances all season, Mike Miller is gone and Miami has been unable to find a big man who can match up with the size of Indiana’s frontcourt. The team with the more productive bench should win this series.

The third and most important key to this series is which team will win the battle in the paint. While Indiana is one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA, Miami was the worst this season. Therefore, this could be Roy Hibbert‘s moment to shine as Indiana’s MVP despite his up-and-down postseason so far. Besides controlling the glass, Indiana will more importantly need to keep Miami out of the paint.

The Heat’s offense is predicated on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade getting into the paint, forcing the opposing defense to collapse, and then getting the ball out to their shooters such as Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. When Miami’s shooters get hot, the defense must respond to them by staying out on the 3-point line. As a result, it re-opens the paint for James and Wade to do what they do best.

Furthermore, because Chris Bosh loves to roam outside the paint, it often forces Hibbert to come out and guard him when Bosh is having a great night. Miami will concede the rebounding battle if it still means the Heat can dominate points in the paint. Indiana must force James and Wade to both work long into the shot clock and have to take outside shots.

Both All-Stars are still a threat from outside, but not as much as when both are in the paint. When Miami is unable to get into the paint, their offense tends to become very stagnant. As a result, this might be the most important key to this series.

Despite Indiana holding home-court advantage, I like Miami in this series because of their superiority on the offensive end and the fact that Miami is playing much better than Indiana right now. Besides Indiana’s size and rebounding advantage, which is no different from last season’s showdown, the Pacers have not given anyone another reason to believe that they are better than the Heat.

Pat Ralph is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph, like him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.

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