George Hill and Lance Stephenson have to step up in Game 2. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBA/Getty Images)
While the Miami Heat might not have played their best game yet in these 2013 playoffs, the Indiana Pacers know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they didn't play their best game in Wednesday's Eastern Conference finals opener, either — and they still came up just one remarkable play by LeBron James (and one arguably unwise decision by Pacers coach Frank Vogel) from scoring an upset overtime win that stripped home-court advantage away from the No. 1 overall seed. They were right there, and they think — they know — they can get there again.
Still, they've got some stuff to clean up in Friday night's Game 2 if they want to close the deal and send the series back to Indiana tied up with a chance to take a commanding lead at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Here are three areas where the Pacers must improve to come away with a win:
1. Slow the march to the front of the rim. In our series preview, I noted that the Pacers had done an excellent job during the regular season of keeping the Heat from feasting on shots from their favorite, and the most valuable, spots on the floor — the restricted area (the semicircle directly in front of the basket) and the 3-point arc, especially the shorter corners.
That's the centerpiece of the philosophy that made the Pacers the league's best defensive team this year — play tight D outside, don't give shooters space to rise and fire, stay true to your one-on-one assignments and close out like demons when you have to step away, offer help without over-helping and force drivers/pick-and-roll ball-handlers to have to pull up from midrange rather than meet 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert at the basket. It figured to be a critical element in the Pacers' attempt to overcome the Heat, and Indiana didn't do the best possible job of it in Game 1.
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