NBA 2nd Round Preview: Miami-Indiana

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers both took care of business as favorites in their first-round playoff series, closing out the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic respectively, in five games. On Sunday the Heat and Pacers tip off their second-round series and TheSportsNotebook previews the action…

Miami was the favorite to win the East to begin with and the fall of Chicago and to the extent anyone even considers the possibility they might lose prior to the Finals, those thoughts focus on Boston rather than Indiana. That drastically underrates the Pacers’ chances.

Depth is a big problem for Miami. The Knicks were a two-man team themselves, and Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire were no match for Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, the newly anointed Most Valuable Player for 2012 (The SportsNotebook picked Kevin Durant). Indiana counters the star system with a team concept that gets contributions from 7-8 players. The depth is especially good in the backcourt. Wade abused the lousy Knick guards, and the disappointment that is Mario Challmes could be covered up. While Indiana’s guards aren’t dominant, the foursome of George Hill, Darren Collison, Leandro Barbosa and Paul George will ensure fresh defenders.

Indiana has a big edge at center where Roy Hibbert has the potential to dominate Miami in the paint. Udonis Haslem has been disappointing for Miami, while Joel Anthony has been a positive disaster. Hibbert consistently rebounds and can block shots. The issue will be his scoring. He has the ability to produce offensively, but he’s not a natural scorer and was inconsistent against Orlando. Hibbert needs to be in the 15 points/10 rebounds area each game for a series upset to be in the cards.

What we’ve just discussed is what Indiana has going for them. Now let’s look at the problem and it’s that their best two players are small forward Danny Granger and power forward David West and they each played very well in the Orlando series, including moments where they each put the team on their backs the way playoff stars have to do. So what’s the problem? Well, if this series comes down to whether Granger can outgun LeBron at small forward, the Pacers are in trouble. West vs. Chris Bosh at power forward isn’t quite as big a problem, but it still presents a matchup edge for the Heat.

LeBron was locked in during the New York series, scoring 137 points in the five games and rebounding consistently. This gets overlooked by the media who focus on the fact that the star isn’t obsessed with taking the last shot. This is the same media who rips on Kobe Bryant for his ball-hogging. What everyone seems to have forgotten is that no less a stud than Michael Jordan was known to pass off on occasion for a big shot (John Paxson in the 1993 Finals and Steve Kerr in the 1997 Finals). LeBron will have to win multiple rings before he gets the benefit of the doubt, but while I’m not a big fan of his, nor am I a hater, and a bar has been set for him that’s unreasonable. Bottom line for this series? As good a player as Danny Granger is, the Pacers are the team that has to try and win this series by going to some facet of their team that’s less than the best.

Indiana’s depth in the backcourt and the possibilities of a big series for Hibbert make this a competitive series and I give the Pacers a serious chance to win. But ultimately, homecourt advantage of having the single best player are often prohibitive in the NBA. Miami’s got those, and they’ve got the second best player in Wade. They’re a heavy favorite in Las Vegas—you have to give 1-9 odds if you want to bet the Heat, while you can get 6-1 on the Pacers if you’re upset-inclined. I’d only put money behind Miami if the odds were more like 5-4, because I think this one’s going the distance.