On Sunday, the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers are set to square off in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Before the season began, most people would have expected the Heat to be playing in the second round, but few would have thought that the Pacers would be here. After winning their respective first-round series in five games each, LeBron James and Danny Granger will lead their respective teams in a battle for the right to head to the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat won the season series 3-1, and are favored in the series. But here are the five factors that will determine whether or not the Pacers will have a chance to pull off a major upset.
- 1. THE LOVE THE ROCK FACTOR: If you want to beat the Miami Heat, there are two things you must do. The first is refrain from turning the ball over and the second is rebound the basketball. Fortunately, if you’re a fan of the Pacers, you can find solace in the fact that your team has proven that it can do both. During the regular season, the Pacers were the third best team in the league at taking care of the ball. They turned the ball over only 13.2 times per game (only the 76ers and the Clippers turned it over less). Additionally, the Pacers grabbed 43.9 rebounds per game — fourth best during the regular season. If the Pacers can live up to those standards against the Heat, things will be interesting. However, it should be noted that the Heat were the third best team in forcing turnovers during the regular season. They got their opponents to cough it up 15.8 times per game, so during this series, something will have to give.
- THE GRANGER FACTOR: Granger is the Pacers’ most reliable perimeter threat and their go-to-guy. During the regular season, in four contests between the teams, he averaged just 13.3 points per game on 34 percent shooting from the field. For the Pacers to have any chance in this series, Granger will need to figure out how to effectively score against the duo of LeBron James and Shane Battier. James and Battier were successful is defending Carmelo Anthony, so it stands to reason that they would be able to have similar success against Granger. The major difference between Granger and Anthony, though, is that the Pacers are sometimes content to have Granger play off the ball and take advantage of catch-and-shoot opportunities. If James or Battier get caught on screens, or with their backs turned to Granger, he could hit some open jumpers and—if hot—lead his team to a win or two. Whether or not that happens will play a major role in how this series turns out, though.
- THE ROY HIBBERT FACTOR: Standing at 7’2″ and weighing in at 275 pounds is the centerpiece of the Pacers’ offense. Roy Hibbert, fresh off of his first All-Star appearance, is the one player on the Pacers for whom the Heat have absolutely no answer. Hibbert’s season, though, has been marred by ups and downs and inconsistency. In their five first round games against the Orlando Magic, Hibbert averaged just 11 points per game. Although Hibbert grabbed 10.8 rebounds per game, the truth is that without Dwight Howard, Hibbert should have done much more. On the interior, he has the size and strength to give the Heat a tough time, and if he can put together a string of consistent games and abuse Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem, he will make a world of difference for the Pacers.
- THE FACTOR OF THE 1: What became abundantly clear to anyone that watched the Miami Heat beat up on the New York Knicks is that any team that wants to have a chance to beat the Heat needs to have a point guard that can take Mario Chalmers off the dribble and disrupt the Heat’s half-court defense. And although Chalmers gets overlooked on a nightly basis, he’s capable of knocking down some big shots. Odds are, when you’re playing the Miami Heat, you’re already losing the shooting guard, small forward, and power forward match-up. If you’re to have any chance of beating them, your point guard and center must outplay the Heat’s “other guys.” Conversely, if Mario Chalmers outplays George Hill and Darren Collison, the Heat may very will sweep the Pacers. That’s how critical the battle of the “1″ position will be.
- THE OTHER GUYS: The Heat probably have the top three players in this series, but none of them will average 48-minutes per game over the course of this series. Bench production—or a lack thereof—will probably swing the pendulum one way or another in a few games during this series. For the Pacers, Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa, and Tyler Hanbrough will be entering games after the opening tip and trying to help Coach Frank Vogel respond to whatever Eric Spoelstra and his Heat throw their way. The only Heat reserves who will get significant minutes are Shane Battier, Mike Miller, and Udonis Haslem (unless he starts), but Miami’s Big 3 have proven capable of winning games with very little help from their bench. In the playoffs, though, things are a bit different than they are in the regular season. So if the Pacers get strong play from eight guys, it’s difficult to believe that Miami will easily beat them without significant help from a fourth of fifth player.
SHERIDAN: Heat in 5.
HUBBARD: Heat in 5.
HEISLER: Heat in 5.
BERNUCCA: Heat in 5.
HAMILTON: Heat in 6.
PERKINS: Heat in 4.
ZAGORIA: Heat in 4.
PARK: Heat in 5.