What: The 2014 Eastern Conference Finals
Who: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
When and Where:
- Game 1 in Indianapolis: Sunday, May 18th at 3:30 PM ET/12:30 PM PT
- Game 2 in Indianapolis: Tuesday, May 20th at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- Game 3 in Miami: Saturday, May 24th at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- Game 4 in Miami: Monday, May 26th at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- *Game 5 in Indianapolis: Wednesday, May 28th at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- *Game 6 in Miami: Friday, May 30th at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
- *Game 7 in Indianapolis: Sunday, June 1st at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT
TV: Game 1 on ABC, Games 2-7 on ESPN. Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Doris Burke will call the games. Marc Kestecher and Jon Barry will call all games on ESPN Radio. AND THIS JUST IN: Mark Jackson will re-join his former broadcast mates Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy for the rest of the playoffs! Mama there goes that man!
Regular Season Series History:
- Dec. 10, 2013: Pacers defeat the Heat 90-84 in Indianapolis.
- Dec. 18, 2013: Heat defeat Pacers 97-94 in Miami
- Mar. 26, 2014: Pacers defeat Heat 84-83 in Indianapolis
- Apr. 11, 2014: Heat defeat Pacers 98-86 in Miami
Also, the Heat defeated the Pacers in seven games in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. Two years ago, the Heat defeated the Pacers four games to two in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. So to recap, out of the last 17 contests, the Heat have won 10 and the Pacers seven.
How they got here:
The Miami Heat swept the Charlotte Bobcats in Round 1 and then eliminated the Brooklyn Nets in five games in Round 2. Things were considerably more difficult for the Indiana Pacers as they needed seven games to take down the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1 and six games to get past the Washington Wizards in Round 2. The Pacers have played four more games this postseason than the Heat.
Erik Spoelstra, a 43-year old alumni of the University of Portland and the first Filipino-American head coach in American professional sports, is in his sixth season as the head coach of the Heat and has a 314-162 (.660) record in the regular season, and a 58-30 (.659) record in postseason play. Spoelstra’s Heat have won the Eastern Conference each of the last three seasons, en route to winning the NBA Finals the last two seasons.
Frank Vogel, a 40-year old graduate of the University of Kentucky who spent time as an assistant at both Boston (2001-04) and Philadelphia (2004-05) before joining Indiana, is in his fourth season as the Pacers head coach. He has amassed a regular season record of 167-100 and a postseason record of 26-22. Last season’s ECF departure was the farthest Vogel has gone in the playoffs, and after the Pacers lost 13 of their last 23 regular season games, Vogel’s seat was getting a bit warmer.
Teams’ ECF History:
The Miami Heat are seeking a place in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season, the fifth time in the last nine seasons…and the fifth time in their franchise history, because the Heat had never reached the NBA Finals until 2005-06.
The Indiana Pacers are attempting to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 1999-00. Before that, the Pacers hadn’t reached the Finals since their ABA days in 1974-75.
What (Else) You Need To Know:
- This rematch will be heated (ooh! ooh! No pun intended). The Heat plan to win the NBA Finals again, period. They’ve prepared all season to do as much. Dwayne Wade rested significant amounts of time as well as LeBron and really the entire Heat roster were paced throughout the season. The Pacers on the other hand, fueled by revenge, scrapped and clawed their way to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 56-26, overcoming their aforementioned rough finish to the season and securing the No. 1 seed in the East. One can be certain there’s been only one thing on the Pacers mind all season long, and that is not winning the NBA Finals, it’s slaying their proverbial dragon, the Miami Heat.
- When discussing the Pacers the last few weeks, the topic on everyone’s mind is Roy Hibbert. Why, you ask? Over the last few years, Hibbert has grown into the Pacers go to force down low, averaging at least 12 points and 8 boards per game each of the last two seasons prior to this year. 2013-14 saw Hibbert experience a 1 point, 1.7 rebound and .009 percent drop in his statistics. Nothing major for sure, but it is his harsh dropoffs in postseason averages that are alarming. Last year, as the Pacers took the Heat to seven games, Hibbert averaged 17.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 51.1% from the field and 80.6% from the free throw line. This postseason? Hibbert’s per game averages have dropped to 8.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 46.8% from the field and 74.2% from the line. When you’re looked at as the go-to presence in the post for your team, well, you don’t have to go any further than old cliche, “Big time players make big time plays.” Hibbert has played poorly down stretch, only showing faint signs of life the last few games. Needless to say, he’ll have to step up in this series for Indiana to have a chance.
- Kevin Durant may have won the MVP this year, but that does not mean LeBron was not exceptionally good. LeBron averaged a career low 17.6 field goal attempts per game this season and his 6.9 rebounds per game was his lowest since 2006-07 in Cleveland when he averaged 6.7 boards per game. That said, he had career bests in both field goal percentage at 56.7% and 2-point field goal percentage with a 62.2% mark. In these playoffs so far, LeBron is shooting 56.4% from the field, 63.5% on 2-point shots and 80.6% from the free throw line, all easily career postseason bests for James.
- This year’s Indiana Pacers squad features C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Evan Turner while last year’s team had D.J. Augustin, Tyler Hansbrough and Gerald Green. That said, this year’s Pacers squad is nearly identical to last year’s, both in terms of roster composition and players’ per game averages in the postseason. Paul George, David West, Lance Stephenson and George Hill are all averaging more than 35 minutes a game this postseason just like last year. The only difference this year may be who you see in Roy Hibbert’s spot down the stretch.
- In terms of any possible differences between this year’s Heat squad and last year’s incarnation, you aren’t going to find very much. Things are darn near identical with the only exception being Rashard Lewis and James Jones picking up the small amount of minutes lost with the departures of Joel Anthony and Mike Miller. You know when you’re little and you lose, and your competitive nature gets awoken for the first time. You pipe up and say, “Let’s go again!” or “2 out of 3!” That’s what we get in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals — a second crack at a Best of 7 series between the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, this time with home-court advantage belonging to the Pacers.
- We’d be remiss not to examine John Hollinger’s efficiency statistics courtesy of ESPN.com. Specifically, let’s compare how these two squads have done in both the regular season and the postseason so far. Miami finished the regular season ranked second in offensive efficiency with 109.o point per 100 possessions and they’ve increased that number by 4.2 points here in the playoffs. Indiana ranked near the bottom in the regular season in offensive efficiency, 22nd at 101.5 points/100 possessions, and they’ve become less efficient in the playoffs with that number dropping 2.3 points. Indiana is known for their strength on defense however, and they led the league in defensive efficiency in both the regular season and playoffs so far, with 96.7 points/100 opponent’s possessions in the regular season and 96.8 so far in the postseason. Miami is more middle of the pack in defensive efficiency, ranking 11th in the regular season at 102.9 points allowed/100 possessions and sixth in the postseason with 104.2 points allowed/100 possessions. Also of note in this postseason, the Heat have led the postseason in effective field goal percentage with 55% while the Pacers have ranked ninth at 49%.
- Who’s my X-factor? I’ll avoid the obvious – Roy Hibbert – seeing as I covered that already. I’m going with Paul George. Heading into this season, George looked like he could be on the verge of a breakout season in which he proved he was one of the best players in the league. And on different occasions throughout the season he showed his potential, going 7/15 from 3-pt range and finishing with 43 points on December 2nd against Portland, pulling in double digit rebounds on 13 different occasions, and recording a triple-double on March 21st against Chicago. This last series against Washington saw a fairly lackluster effort from George as he scored 18 points or less in four of the six contests, shooting no more than 40% from the field in all but one game and pulling down no more than eight rebounds in all but one game. That one game, however, was an example of the kind of performance the Pacers need out of Paul George. In Game 4, Paul George scored 39 points on 12-20 from the field, 7-10 from beyond the arc and 8-10 from the free throw line, adding 12 boards and 2 steals. If that Paul George – podium game Paul George – shows up in these Eastern Conference Finals, the NBA Finals may just be returning to The Hoosier State for the first time in a long time.
Prediction: You know how I just outlined how almost nothing has changed between this year and last year? Let’s remember that the Miami Heat won last year. I don’t see why that would change. As much as I detest cliches – ironic for a guy who uses them pretty often – and I especially detest the old sports adage of, “this one is going to come down to who wants it more,” well, this one is going to come down to who wants it more, darnit. The Pacers looked amazing for most of the season until it looked like they fell asleep. I’m not sure they’ve awoken yet, and I’m pretty confident Roy Hibbert hasn’t. The Heat, on the other hand, appeared relaxed throughout most of the regular season and even the first round against the Bobcats. That was nothing. They’ve been there and done that time and again. Their eyes are on another NBA title. True, the Nets gave them a slight scare. But now the question is, can the Heat take things “one game at a time,” (more cliches!!!) and not lose sight of their current opponent? I think the Pacers take at least Game 1 and maybe Game 2. Remember, Indiana wants it (to defeat the Heat) more. At that point, the collective competitive edge and drive of every single Heat player will be awoken. They may drop another contest, but they’ll be done phoning it in. They’ll compete and they’ll win the Eastern Conference Finals yet again. So to summarize, I’ve got the Heat in 6.