For every postseason matchup, Ball Don't Lie's resident dummy will offer a topically appropriate entry from the best-selling series of "Deep Thoughts" books written by legendary humorist Jack Handey, plus some of his own original thoughts on the playoff series. The combination will cost you literally nothing; we suggest you use the savings to purchase one of Mr. Handey's life-changing books.
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 3 Indiana Pacers
"When the tire blew out on Gary's car, he and Bob got out and fixed it. But they had only driven a few miles when another tire blew out. 'Well, I guess I'm the blowout king,' said Gary. Bob tried to smile, but it was hard. He had always thought of himself as the blowout king."
Despite dropping a game to the New York Knicks, the Miami Heat were the blowout kings of the postseason's opening round. Erik Spoelstra's team rolled up a +70 point differential in their five-game series against the Knicks, posting an average margin of victory of 18 points that outstripped their fellow advancers, including Western Conference sweepers San Antonio (+64 against the Utah Jazz for an average margin of 16 points) and Oklahoma City (+26 over the Dallas Mavericks, average margin of 6.5 points).
That dovetails pretty nicely with the Heat's yearlong resume of distancing themselves from opponents -- they had the league's fourth-best point differential during the regular season -- and its performance against the Pacers. Miami won three of the four meetings between the two squads during the season, including a 38-point drubbing in the first week of January and a 15-point road win on Valentine's Day that wasn't as close as the final score.
The last two times Miami and Indiana played, though, things shook out a bit differently. An early March matchup resulted in a two-point overtime victory for the Heat that very easily could have gone the other way, as Jared Wade wrote at Pacers blog Eight Points, Nine Seconds. And in their final encounter of the season, the Pacers were the ones busting out the whuppin' stick, battering the Heat on the boards and forcing 17 Miami turnovers en route to a 105-90 win that served as something of a late-season statement game for Indy; you might think we're second-tier, but we can run with the best this league has to offer.
That's not wrong -- as I wrote before the Pacers' first-round matchup with the Orlando Magic, Frank Vogel's team entered the postseason on an offensive tear, averaging nearly 109 points per 100 possessions (a mark that would've ranked among the league's five best over the course of the season) in its final 20 games. And while they were awful offensively in dropping Game 1 to the Magic, they bounced back in their four consecutive wins, averaging a touch over 109-per-100 in Games 2 through 5. Now, you might slough that production off by saying Indiana merely got well against a Magic defense with a gaping hole in the middle, and that's fair. But it's not like the Heat have a shot-changer under the basket themselves these days; Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem are taking up most of Miami's minutes at the five at the moment, and neither one would be confused for Alonzo Mourning in a lineup.
No, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are Miami's best rim protectors. If the Pacers' wings can keep them even a bit occupied, then post threats Roy Hibbert and David West should be able to get some room to operate, and when Indiana can establish the post, worlds open up for them.
They can run high-low actions between Hibbert and West, two gifted passers with mid-range touch who can keep frontcourt defenders guessing. They can have their wings and guards cut off the post players' position, rubbing their defenders off the 6-foot-9 forward or 7-foot-2 center on the way to the opposite corner and, if they can create enough daylight in the skirmish, leave themselves open for a dump-off. And as they showed in that 15-point win in late March, they can use deep post position to demand double-teams, then swing the ball around the perimeter, find open looks and drill them -- Indy shot 36.8 percent from 3-point land this year, the league's sixth-best percentage, and four Pacers (Paul George, Danny Granger, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa) hit at least two triples in a 10-of-18 long-range barrage in that March 26 win.
I believe Indiana can score on Miami. I believe the Pacers are going to enter this series looking to punch the South Beach bullies in the mouth, announce their presence with authority and prove that they will not be intimidated by awards, flash and bravado. I believe Indiana is coming into this series with something to prove and the means to prove it.
What I don't believe is that they're going to be able to stop the Heat from scoring.
James averaged 26.8 points per game against Indiana this year on 47.4 percent shooting, 50 percent from 3-point land and 72.5 percent from the charity stripe, while Wade put up 22.3 points on 52.3 percent shooting, a 44.4 percent mark from distance and 85.7 percent from the line. They carved up Indiana's wings, making life miserable for the likes of Granger and George, and I expect they'll do it again.
But those guys are going to get theirs regardless; what's more interesting to me is how Bosh could affect the series. He averaged 15.5 points per game in a complimentary role in the four Heat-Pacers games this season, but in all of them, he lined up at the four alongside Joel Anthony. Last year's shot-blocking and rebounding revelation has since been relegated to a reserve role, though, sliding Bosh to the pivot for large chunks of time.
Heat alignments that put Bosh at center seems like nightmarish covers for Hibbert, who's not that fleet of foot or comfortable away from the basket. Bosh acting as something of a stretch five could pull Hibbert out of the lane, distracting the Pacers' primary paint deterrent, opening up driving lanes for Miami's wings and collapsing Indiana's interior defense, which inevitably leads to those ball-swing 3-pointers that Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers seemed to be endlessly canning against New York. Even if Bosh doesn't score 20 a night, his ability to change the shape and the angles of an Indiana defense that finished in the NBA's top 10 in defensive efficiency this year could provide just enough room for his better-billed teammates to get what they want.
I don't think the Heat will blow the Pacers out — I think Vogel's team is too deep and too disciplined for that — but I do think that, in stretches, Miami will blow Indiana's doors off. And, at the risk of ripping off a commercial from a couple of years back, Miami's better is better than Indiana's better. There's no shame in that for the Pacers, but there's also not much of a future in it.
PREDICTION: Heat in 6.