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2013 NBA Playoffs: 4 Reasons The Indiana Pacers Can Upset The Miami Heat

Evan Budrovich |
May 22, 2013 | 3:40 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Paul George has usurped Danny Granger as team leader, and that's a good thing (Chris Isherwood/Creative Commons).
Paul George has usurped Danny Granger as team leader, and that's a good thing (Chris Isherwood/Creative Commons).
Last season, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade led the Miami Heat out of a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. We heard talk about the Pacers being the one team to challenge the Heat thanks to their size and length, and now the basketball gods have presented the dream matchup with bad blood brewing all over the floor. 

This time around, improvements in personnel, philosophy, and team maturity have created a Pacers team that is better equipped to handle the Heat. The Pacers were one of two teams in the NBA to have a winning record against Miami in the regular, and Indiana defeated the other squad to do so (New York) last round. The road won't be easy, but here are five reasons why the Pacers can push the Heat to more than six games this time around.

1) This Year's Pacers Defend the Three-Point Line

The Pacers won two out of three against the Heat for a multitude of reasons, with none more important than their defense beyond the arc. The Heat's deadly three-point percentage (.396) ranked second in the league, but was relatively quiet against a league-best Pacers' three-point defense that held opponents to less than 33 percent from beyond the line.

What the Pacers did was place Paul George on LeBron James on the wing, and supply little help from their big men, Hibbert and West. Indiana limited the Heat sharpshooters to under 40 percent overall shooting in their matchups, and constantly contested the shots of the usually-dominant Heat offense.

The additions of Lance Stephenson, who choked down on opposing players rather than himself, and Sam Young have increased the Pacers' defensive intensity. Ray Allen and Shane Battier have been the Heat’s best options to catch and shoot daggers from three, but both have struggled against Indiana, with the two a combined four-of-20 from deep in the three regular-season games. 

2) A Shorter Bench Gives the Pacers More Desperation 

Frank Vogel has taken the path of many NBA coaches, limiting his rotation in the playoffs in favor of playing his starters over 40 minutes per night. When the Pacers lost Danny Granger in the beginning of the season, other players were forced to step up in his absence. This has shortened the bench, but not affected the results of the Pacers' starting five.

When the Pacers' starting five is not on the court together, all other Indiana units are a combined minus-49 in 340 minutes, per NBA.com. Young will likely get spot minutes backing up George because Vogel trusts his defense, but Young poses little threat on offense. D.J. Augustin has provided some clutch shots off the bench, shooting 17-of-43 from downtown, but the Pacers ultimately live and die by their starting lineup.

The squad's strengths lie in their size and desire to feed the post in order to overpower other teams and get their opponents in foul trouble. Therefore, it would be less than ideal for Vogel to sub in Ian Mahinmi and Tyler Hansborough, who provide little help offensively. 

Vogel understands the importance of sticking to his guns, as he played Hibbert and West at least 35 minutes in all six games of the Eastern Semifinals against the New York Knicks. The Pacers' starting five pound the paint, take away fast break opportunities, and can switch with nearly anyone on defense despite their affinity for playing big in an increasingly more small-ball NBA.

3) Paul George's Emergence Gives the Pacers a Fighter's Chance

George has come on strong this season, emerging as an elite two-way player that can drive to the basket and defend the best scorers in the league (ask Carmelo Anthony). In this series, he has to continue to be physical and make LeBron work on both ends of the court, or else the King will dominate the basketball in convincing fashion. 

LeBron James will make a tremendous impact on this series, but do not undermine the physical toil James took against Jimmy Butler all series long against the Bulls. The King did not notch a thirty-point game against the Pacers this season, and averaged three assists below his usual numbers in those three matchups. George has emerged as the Pacers' leader this year, and will need of all of his defensive ability to keep the winner of three of the last four MVP awards in check. 

4) David West's Improved Offensive Game

While Roy Hibbert is beginning to develop a strong offensive post game, David West has become the Pacers' go-to guy down low. Last postseason, West averaged 14.8 points per game against the Heat while only attempting 12.5 shots per game, the Pacers would be wise to feed him early and often once again. 

In the two Pacers wins last postseason, West got to the charity stripe a combined 17 times, not only getting the Heat in foul trouble but also limiting fast break chances for the most dangerous transition team in the league.

Offensively, West can not only throw a shoulder into your chest but even averages three assists per game. If the Pacers are going to avenge last season’s loss, West will need to catch the ball in the middle of the lane, nail short floaters, get physical with Chris Bosh, and dish to corner shooters. 

The Pacers are attempting three more three-point shots in the postseason than in the regular season, in large part due to the number of double-teas opposing teams are giving to the tandem of Hibbert and West. If that remains the case, West's passing will be vital to keep finding open shooters and fueling the Pacers' offense from the inside out.

Keep in Mind…

While the Heat are obviously the favorite in this series and have LeBron playing at a completely different level right now, the Pacers' new-look club can present problems to Miami's quest as repeat champions. It may not result in a series victory, but the hard-nosed, tough-minded Pacers have the experience and scoring balance to challenge the Heat in ways not possible last season. 

Reach Staff Writer Evan Budrovich here or follow him on Twitter.



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