The Miami Heat and Indianapolis Pacers start the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night.
The defending champion Heat are heavy favourites, but the Pacers have a 2-1 record this season against the Heat.
Here are five keys for the Pacers to pull off the upset:
1. Hold the Heat under 90 points. The Pacers are 5-10 against Miami since head coach Frank Vogel took over. In those five wins the Pacers held the Heat to an average of 81 points, never scoring above 90. In those 10 losses Miami averaged 106 points, always scoring at least 93 points. The Pacers must work to slow the tempo of the game. Miami was only 20th in fast break points this season, but they have been the most efficient offensive and defensive team this postseason. Fewer possessions will help mitigate Miami’s seamless play.
2. Hope Chris Bosh misses his jumpers. The Heat prefer to play small. Bosh has become Miami’s de facto centre and his jump shooting forces opponents’ big men to stretch beyond their comfort zone. Indy’s 7-foot 2-inch centre Roy Hibbert will likely defend Bosh all series and Bosh’s ability to knock down jumpers will play a major factor. If Bosh is making his shots, Hibbert will have to leave the paint open for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade drives. If Bosh is missing, Hibbert can stay home to make more blocks like the one on Carmelo Anthony:
3. Dominate the glass. The 90 points threshold is the most glaring trend in the Pacers 15 games against the Heat under Vogel. The other trend is the glass dominance. In their five wins the Pacers outrebounded Miami by +14 on the glass, in their 10 losses they were outrebounded by -5. The Pacers were the NBA’s leading rebounding team this season and third in offensive rebounding. Hibbert led the team with 8.3 boards per game this season, but shooting guard Paul George and power forward David West both average over seven rebounds per game. Winning the battle on the boards will go a long way to keeping Miami’s possessions to a minimum.
4. Find bench scoring. The Pacers’ playoff bench scoring fell from 22 points per game in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks to 15 in the second round against the New York Knicks. Reserve point guard D.J. Augustin was the only bench player to break double-digits in the second round. One player to watch will be Gerald Green. The reserve wing scored double-digits three times against the Hawks, but played a measly 19 minutes in the Knicks series. The Heat’s role players have routinely been the difference in playoff series and coach Vogel may have no choice but to look to Green to help counteract Miami’s second team scoring.
5. Get the bounces. When played at their highest levels, games are often determined not by the incredible plays or fantastic finishes, but the slightest of breaks. An out-of-bounds call. A lucky rebound. A questionable call (not going down the NBA referee conspiracy rabbit hole). The littlest of differences are magnified the closer teams get to the Finals. If the Pacers are going to upset the Heat they will need their fair share of breaks.
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