Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers: Crunch Time in the NBA brings more questions than answers.
It’s the time of year in the NBA again – there are as many NBA GMs watching March Madness and scouting and salivating as there are sweating over Playoff position. It’s been a season ridden with injury, tanking and teams running hot and cold but here we are, the final stretch as some tantalising West match-ups are taking shape and everyone is cursing the fact that the Suns and the T-Wolves aren’t Eastern conference teams. In spite of many of the lesser teams trying to out-suck each other, some fascinating storylines have emerged and many will be on show on March 26th with a great set of games, led by one in particular…
Heat win +125
Pacers win -145
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
These are two teams who are coasting. People may not like this phrase but it’s the truth. As of time of writing the Pacers are 5-5 last 10 and the Heat are 4-6. The Heat remain 3 games behind the Pacers and it seems reasonable to say this game is a must win if the Heat want to grab the top seed.
Both teams have question marks over their heads – we’ll start with the reigning champs. The first problem is their starting 5. Mr Reliable Shane Battier hasn’t been all that reliable, shooting 33% from 3 and struggling on defence on occasion. Those are two pretty big problems for a 3 and D specialist. Coach Spoelstra has responded by declaring Greg Oden will start at centre for the team from now on. It’s an interesting move – Oden won’t play any more than 10minutes even if he is starting but he remains an interesting X-Factor.
Perhaps the bigger impact on the Heat is how it affects LeBron. Last year, the self-proclaimed King played most of his minutes as a power forward in spite of being listed as a small forward. This was feasible because Battier could guard quicker players, one of the most under-rated defenders in the league and the master of taking the charge. With Battier struggling, it will be interesting to see if his minutes are cut and if so, what do the Heat do with LeBron?
One situation to watch is Dwyane Wade. LeBron is incredible, he’s possibly the second best basketball player ever depending on who you ask. He will not win the title without Wade, even with the massively under-rated Chris Bosh. Wade has looked very nice when he has played but concern is still growing. Will he be able to handle such intensive series over such short spells?
The Heat certainly have issues but in happier news, Ray Allen appears to be leaving his slump. It was a big concern for the Heat. Two of their major issues are the trouble with great offensive rebounding teams and the lack of shooters and with Battier cold, Allen’s 35% from deep was a major concern. However, since the ASG, Allen has found his touch, shooting a much more impressive 41%. A man of RayRay’s talents has to be in that ballpark as he was last year.
There’s a tendency to ignore the Heat struggling because we know how good they are, but there are one or two little doubts creeping in. The push for a Threepeat will be brutal. The minutes will take their toll (are they already?). There’s a reason only an Mikan led Lakers in a diluted league, Russell’s Celtics, MJ’s Bulls (twice) and the Shaq and Kobe Lakers are the only teams to do it – it’s really hard. But this is a team capable of it, and in spite of the questions, if it was my money to put on the Champions this year, it’d be on this Heat team or the Spurs.
The Pacers, meanwhile, came out crushing every team in their path. They’ve been excellent this year, but much like the Heat there are nagging questions. The problem for the Pacers is that they don’t have the last two titles to fall back on as an excuse.
This Pacers team is built on defense. In most positions they have an above average defender, they have toughness and they have a centre allowing a shade over 41% at the rim. They lead the league in Defensive Rating, which means the concerns come on the other side of the court.
The general rule of thumb for contenders is that the team should be in the top 8 or 9 in both Offense and Defence. Three teams fall in these parameters – the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers. Notable by their absence are the Heat and the Pacers. The difference is, as previously mentioned, we know that the Heat can turn on their defence when it matters (their offense leads the league). The Pacers’ offense is a bigger question.
Paul George has been tremendous this year, improving on both sides of the ball. Earlier in the season, he was playing great basketball – making 48% from the field and 41% from deep. He put up 28PPG in October. However, since the All Star Game, George is shooting under 42% from the field and in March, he has made under 30% of his 3s. His PPG have fallen to a hair over 20.
The Pacers made their move on trade deadline trying to acquire another scorer but Evan Turner has thus far failed to pan out. Seen as a Jamal Crawford / Nick Young offensive spark, he has averaged under 9 points (not awful given the minutes he plays but more concerning when his usage rate is taken into account). The Pacers don’t need to be the Clippers and score 110 a night, they are a far superior defensive team but their offense needs to be better than it is. They rolled past two good teams in the Hawks and Knicks last year and held the Heat below 95 points per game in their series. But their offence let them down again against the Heat. Having a go-to scorer is essential and that is where my doubts lie. Make no mistake about it, this Pacers team will not be easy to beat. They will give the Heat a hell of a series should they meet but the smart money goes with the Heat.
Wednesday’s match-up will be easier to call when the health of Wade is known. For now, smart money goes to a tight spread. These games rarely have more than 3-8 points between them due to the defence played and I can see Coach Spoelstra experimenting with his line-ups as usual in the regular season before rotations tighten. My tip would be Pacers with the aforementioned tight spread.
Betting Instinct Tip – Pacers -2.5 is -110 with AllYouBet.ag
DIARMAID HILL (@dhillmu7) is a basketball and football fan who plays both even worse than he writes about them. He supports the LA Clippers and Manchester United and yes, he’s heard every joke about both. Follow him on Twitter @DiarmaidHill