Heat vs Pacers: Eastern Conference Finals Preview

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The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers have to wait one more day before they tip off their Eastern Conference Finals best-of-seven series. Pundits feel the Pacers stand the greatest chance of dethroning the defending champion Heat, but most of them are still picking Miami to win. Fresh off a physically grueling series with the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers promise a similar challenge–one that will force the Miami Heat to stick to their identity (to use an Erik Spolestra term) and grind out their wins.

The Season Series

Indiana took two of the three match-ups this season, that after holding a 1-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. The Pacers dominated the glass and held everyone on the Heat not named James, Wade or Bosh to just 11 points en route to the win in the first match-up, a 87-77 win in Indiana in January. The second game was also a Pacer win at home, as Indiana beat Miami 102-89 on February 1st. It would be the last Heat loss for the next 27 games, as Miami ripped off the second-longest winning streak in league history after the game. The Heat would exact a modicum of revenge with a dominant 105-91 win in Miami in March.

While the Pacers can point to those earlier wins as evidence they can beat the Heat, those games were played without a major Miami rotational piece in Chris Andersen. Indiana scored 93.3 points per game and grabbed 40.7 rebounds per game in the three games against Miami, while shooting 44% from the field and 39% from the three-point arc. The Pacers turned the ball over 14.7 times per game in the three contests. The Heat scored 90.3 points per game and grabbed 29.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 48% from the field and 43% from the three-point arc. Miami turned the ball over 12.3 times in the three game set against Indiana.

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Heat Survive Game 5, Advance to Conference Finals

English: Wizards v/s Heat 03/30/11

The Miami Heat opened Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal with the Chicago Bulls with such precision that is was hard to imagine an outcome other than one similar to the Game 2 blowout. Chicago, though, had other plans. The Bulls weathered the early Heat storm, and took complete control of the game. The Bulls led by as many as 11 in the second half, but a resurgent effort from Dwyane Wade and a much needed spark from the bench helped the Heat overcome the late deficit. Miami outscored Chicago 25-14 in the fourth quarter and won the game 94-91, eliminating the Bulls from the playoffs and advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third consecutive season.

The opening minutes of the contest were a testament to the Heat’s focus. Miami made its first seven shots from the field, and first six free throws attempts, en route to an 18 point lead, 22-4. Chicago, whose players have a penchant for screaming and clapping, refused to go quietly. The Bulls answered the Heat’s opening salvo with a 34-14 spurt of their own. Midway through the second quarter, Chicago had tied the game, and Jimmy Butler’s three-pointer with 4:46 left in the period, gave Chicago its first led, 38-36. Nate Robinson’s three-pointer with less than one second remaining in the period gave the Bulls a 53-47 at the half.

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