Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s been one-year in the making, but the Eastern Conference Finals will match up the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat starting Wednesday night. Both teams are ready for the matchup and there certainly isn’t any love lost between the two squads.
Last year, the two teams met in the Eastern Conference semifinals and between hard fouls, some blood-letting, flagrant fouls, technical fouls, and choke signs, the series saw a little bit of everything.
The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink only to see LeBron James and Dwyane Wade put the team on their backs and will the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. This year, LeBron is once again the NBA MVP and Miami should be the heavy favorite again to move to the NBA Finals.
Just don’t tell that to the Pacers.
Indiana head coach Frank Vogel, who needled the referees and the Heat last year before the series started, was at it again Saturday when he said the Heat were “just the next team that’s in our way.”
That caught the attention of the world’s greatest player and LeBron responded, “We’re a great team. We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them. If we’re just another team, you don’t prepare, you really don’t prepare for just another team. We’re not just another team. You have to prepare for us.”
After losing to the Heat last year, perhaps giving LeBron and company some bulletin board material wasn’t the best move for Vogel. After all, last year Indiana had Miami down 2-1 and still couldn’t close the deal.
But, Indiana also won two out of the three matchups with the Heat this year during the regular season and that could signal problems for the Heat. But, Miami has been playing at an other-worldly level in the second-half of the season and comes into the series winning 45 of their last 48 games.
“If we’re the same team that we were last year, that won’t be good enough,” Spoelstra said. “Period. Fact. That’s why we’ve spent so much time this year trying to develop habits to improve. We don’t feel we’re the same team that played the Indiana Pacers last year.”
Indiana poses one of the toughest challenges for the Heat simply based on their length if nothing else. Between center Roy Hibbert, who stands 7’2” and power forward David West, the Pacers’ front line is one of the best in the NBA.
Adding in a rapidly developing George Hill and Paul George and Indiana’s roster is almost tailor-made to try to take down the defending champion.
Miami will attempt to exploit this by using a smaller lineup and running Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh at Hibbert to pull him out of the lane more on the defensive end, thus opening up holes for LeBron and Wade to exploit.
But Miami will continue to need a complete contribution from the entire roster including players like Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. Chalmers was almost non-existent in the series against the Bulls and Cole stepped up his game to replace Chalmers’ lost offense.
Cole could be Miami’s x-factor with his speed on both the offensive and defensive end of the court. It could also come down to three-point shooting and Miami would like for Shane Battier to rediscover his shot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The winner of the series will head to the NBA Finals to battle it out against the Western Conference champion which will be either the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies.
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