COMMENTARY | Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers have the distraction of the gay slur to contend with. But after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, it may be a moot issue. That said, unless LeBron James and the Miami Heat do these three things (at a minimum), an NBA Finals repeat this year is out of the question for the decorated team.
LeBron James must get in Paul George's head again
The Miami Heat star is athletic, as strong as a Cape buffalo and is the reigning 2013 NBA MVP of the regular season. That resume alone makes opponents tremble in their kicks and leaves them questioning whether an hourly job at a big box retailer is more in order.
LeBron James' cruel mind games against Paul George after the Heat's Game 2 loss was apparent. Miami trounced Indiana at the next meeting and George was left with the bill ("Twilight Zone" theme music playing in the background).
King James reeled the young fella in - hook, line and sinker - and I found myself trying to cosign James' strategy by virtually throwing up a high-five through my aging RCA projection TV set.
Saturday night, George returned the favor to James and the teacher was taken to school by his understudy. That can't happen Monday in South Beach in the presence of a capacity crowd. Can you imagine the headlines and comments on social media after the game?
James faces a confident standout Pacers sharpshooter who, like him, is strong in transition, midrange and on the glass.
That's unfamiliar territory for the game's best player, who is used to shredding his opponents like cheddar cheese.
In Game 7, the Miami Heat star must get in Paul George's noggin, this time during the game. A little trash talking in the eleventh hour can't be overlooked in this "win or go home" game.
While some analysts suggest LeBron should "go back to his Cleveland days," that does nothing to give Bosh and Wade incentive to get their heads in the game. And I don't recall James' one-man-show doing any good for the Cleveland Cavaliers except selling stadium tickets and helping create libraries of viral YouTube videos.
Even if LeBron puts on Superman's cape, it won't be enough against the Pacers, especially if he has little help from Bosh and Wade.
Right now I only see a Big One and his supporting cast. Two founding members are clearly missing in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade must show up
Don't you get the feeling that two Big Three members are missing in action? When the Heat's front office hired Bosh, undoubtedly they had wanted to take advantage of his midrange jumper, length and control of the paint.
By his own acknowledgement, and I paraphrase from a postgame press conference, Bosh said "you can't be weak down low." However, I get the feeling he's not acting on a page out of his own handbook. But here's the trouble: Bosh isn't getting down low, thanks to a no-trespassing zone in the paint created in part by Roy Hibbert.
And what about the former face of the Miami Heat's franchise? In the past, Wade would relish moments like this when his team's back was against the wall, when only a monumental effort would seal the deal.
Time and time again he was called on to make the tough shots. And as the team's closer, he often did. I would argue that fans hold little hope he will resurrect the past or even defy his aging and injured knees at this stage.
Like many other teams, the Pacers began this season focused on how to overcome the untouchable Big Three. The Heat continued their dominance from last season and appeared poised to repeat a trip to the NBA Finals.
LeBron James, along with his first and second lieutenants, made a strong case when the team rolled towards another milestone with 27 consecutive regular season victories.
But then things collapsed. Wade's knees weighed him down like sandbags and Bosh just appeared weighed down with not much in the tank in the playoffs. Arguably, he hasn't been the Hibbert antidote Spoelstra hoped for. Just calling it as I see it.
The Heat fared well, thanks to James picking up the pieces. But that's what teammates do, right? When one soldier goes down, another one picks up the slack. It's what got them to this point.
But they are playing against a younger nemesis this time around. Frank Vogel and his Pacers have figured out the Heat's offense by denying Bosh trips into the paint with easy buckets and then contesting those he is forced to take from midrange or downtown.
Miami has only lost six games this season in South Beach. However, the Pacers held them to 77 points in Game 6 and two Big Three players have yet to show up to the party in the playoffs.
Their victory Monday is anything but certain.
Birdman: Enough said
With all the focus on LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the Heat's lucky ticket back to the NBA Finals may be in the form of an unlikely source.
Chris Andersen's absence was felt in Game 6 as the Pacers tied the series 3-3. Joel Anthony moved up in the bench rotation after Birdman was slapped with a one-game suspension, but he lacked effectiveness in the minutes he played.
The five-year NBA veteran from UNLV teamed up with Bosh and Udonis Haslem around the paint, but they had no answer for David West and Roy Hibbert.
I concede that Andersen is often a ticking time bomb. But the energy he brings off the bench when called upon can't be discounted. Anthony does nearly everything Andersen does, but he hasn't been able to finish plays under the rim.
On the other hand, Andersen is seeing some of his best production on the court this season. According to Basketball Reference, Birdman is shooting 86 percent from the field, 75.8 percent from the line and is edging out Bosh with second-chance rebounds (1.7 to 1.1). That can make all the difference in the world if the game is close and the Pacers are in foul trouble.
At this stage, a hard foul or two is fair game and who is better suited to bring physical play than Andersen? Fans love it and the Heat may just need his type of raw energy down the stretch.
What else can Miami do to deny Indiana a trip to the big show?
Bradley is a professional writer, journalist, sportswriter, and avid fan of the NBA, Motorsports, NFL, PGA and all things tennis. He keeps a watchful eye on Miami Heat developments.
- Sports & Recreation
- Miami Heat
- Indiana Pacers
- LeBron James
- Paul George
- Dwyane Wade
- Roy Hibbert