The Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat match up has everything a basketball fan could hope for with intriguing match-ups, contrasting styles and methodologies and even the story line of South Beach glitz vs. Indiana grit. Let’s break down the individual match-ups to try and get a head start on what will happen when the ball goes up.
Point Guard - Mario Chalmers vs. George Hill
George Hill has supplanted Darren Collison has the starter, and Indiana are reaping the benefits. Hill has helped the Pacers defensively as he allows them to switch on the perimeter much easier, leaving Collison free to cause havoc with the second unit. For the Heat, Mario Chalmers always seems to be a different player in the postseason, and this year is no different as he has raised his game, bringing defensive intensity and clutch three point shooting without the multitude of bonehead mistakes that so often comes as part of the Chalmers package. The defensive presence at the 1 and a deep option on kickouts are really the only two things the Heat need from the point guard position.
Of course any discussion about point guards and the Heat needs to acknowledge that the Heat play large stretches without a traditional point guard, going big on the perimeter with either Shane Battier or Mike Miller, while Lebron controls the offense. For the purposes of this review, we will look at the likely starters, although the way the team finishes games might be quite different.
Note: When comparing Chalmers and Hill, it’s a draw. Including the two team’s ability to change things up at PG gives a significant advantage to the Heat both defensively and offensively.
Shooting Guard – Dwyane Wade vs. Paul George
Any discussion which compares shooting guards where Dwyane Wade is featured is likely going to be a mismatch. He of the Beatles names, Paul George, is going to be a fine NBA player, but he can’t hold a candle to the best two guard in the league at the moment. George has fantastic size for a two and moves very well laterally, with nice defensive instincts, but he will struggle against Wade due to the extremely high work rate that Wade puts in, as well as the savvy ability of Wade to understand the moment and what his team needs. George typically has an advantage against other wing players due to his extreme size for the position (6’8″ 215lbs), but while Wade gives up 4 inches in height, he has a strength advantage and the smarts and hops to negate any potential physical advantage from the younger player.
Outcome - Advantage Miami
Small Forward – Lebron James vs. Danny Granger
I’m tempted to just write “Advantage Miami” straight away, but we should explore the match-up as Danny Granger brings a lot to the Indiana Pacers and is almost All-Star quality in his own right. He just pales in comparison to the best player in the league. The spotlight is always shining on Lebron James and everyone has a pretty solid understanding of what he does well (everything on a basketball court) and not so well (the mental approach), but Danny Granger is also a skilled, big small forward who provides many things to his team. While Granger isn’t in the same ball park as a passer, he does shoot the long ball better and at a much higher clip than James. His defensive value through rebounding, blocks and steals as well as defensive positioning and ability to guard multiple positions all pale in comparison to James however.
Outcome – Big advantage Miami
Power Forward – Chris Bosh vs. David West
Chris Bosh is definitely the bigger name in this comparison, but both players do very similar things on the court for their teams. Unfortunately for Indiana, Chris Bosh just does them much better. Both are mostly pick and pop weapons, although Bosh is at his best when being aggressive and attacking off the dribble from the high left post, something he rarely does in Miami, he has a deadly jump shot out to 18 feet. West made his name as Chris Paul’s sidekick in New Orleans, hitting mid-range jumpers off Paul’s penetration, but he is not the same player anymore as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He is in many ways the veteran leader of this Pacers squad and the catalyst behind their strong showing this season, but he is not as effective as he was in the Big Easy. While it’s true that both players tend to operate from the mid-post area and are predominantly jump shooters, in the four games against each other this year, Bosh shot 39% from his favoured spot against West, whereas West was at 27% against Bosh (stats courtesy of the NBA Advanced Stats Tool). This equates to Miami wanting to force West to
Outcome – Advantage Miami
Centre - Udonis Haslem vs. Roy Hibbert
Udonis Haslem is a fine player and he tries hard against bigger players but one of the few obvious weaknesses of this Miami team is the lack of a big body to throw against opposing centres. Haslem gives up 6 inches and 30 pounds to Roy Hibbert, so in addition to having a number of fine post moves, the big Indiana centre will have the advantage of seeing straight over defenders to find open shooters on double teams. If Hibbert buys into the game plan effectively then he could average 5 assists in this series and cause Miami some real issues. Given this, expect Eric Spoelstra to go small and attempt to use Miami’s advantage at the other positions to get the ball out of Hibbert’s hands. The forecast in Miami is for full court ball pressure, playing the passing lanes and strong double teams to disrupt any flow inside for the big man, but the advantage is here for Indiana if they are able to exploit it.
Outcome – Big advantage Indiana
Last year any discussion about a bench in Miami was typically a short one as there wasn’t one. This year with the return of a healthy Mike Miller, Joel Anthony returning to a bench role (allowing Spoelstra to play him only when he provides a genuine advantage) and newcomer Shane Battier the Heat actually have something that can be called a bench. James Jones and rookie Norris Cole may also see some minutes in this series depending on match-ups, although they are probably best referred to as fringe chances.
Indiana on the other hand has a fantastic and varied bench which allows them to play fast or slow, big or small. Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa are two exceptionally quick guards who can change the tempo quickly, Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough are rugged and energetic bigs who can dirty up the game and get very physical and even fringe players like Dahntay Jones and Lance Stephenson could see spot minutes depending on foul issues and match-up issues if the Heat indeed go with a bigger lineup.
Overall – Nil advantage.
Note: While Indiana clearly has the better bench, the Heat advantage will be in not having to use theirs. The more they can keep their key starters on the bench, the better off they will be.
Miami should win this series in 5 games, however at least three are going to come down to the wire. Indiana are a fantastic team and will be a force to be reckoned with next year with a full training camp behind them. Miami’s huge advantage at three positions will be too much for the Pacers to overcome, as will the positional advantage of the big no PG lineup which ironically is the one lineup strategy the flexible Indiana bench can’t match-up against.