Sunday, May 18, 2014
Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Why The Pacers Should Be Favored To Beat The Heat
For those of you who don't know, the Eastern Conference Finals tips off Sunday at 3:30 PM ET on ABC and the teams facing off will be the #2 Miami Heat and the #1 Indiana Pacers. After some uncertainty along the way (due to the Pacers going stupid), we have ended up with the Eastern Conference Finals matchup that we foresaw back in December once it was clear that the Bulls weren't going to contend. The only question was which team was going to get the #1 seed and the Pacers ended up being the team to get it. But even after getting the top spot, many are still very skeptical of the Pacers' chances of winning this series against the Heat after their very up and down post-season. What I will do is argue that despite their flaws and shaky play, the Pacers should be favored to win this series.
The number one reason why the Pacers should be favored to win this series is pretty obvious, which is that they have home court advantage in this series. I wrote an article on here earlier in the year that said if the Pacers got home court advantage over the Heat, they should be slight favorites, while if the Heat got home court, we might as well hand the Heat the Eastern Conference Finals trophy. What this means is that home court advantage is really important. Well, at least to me it is. If there was anything that had to give the Pacers some sort of confidence and hope throughout the playoffs, it was the fact that they knew that if they get to a Game 7 against the Miami Heat, Game 7 would be in Indiana. I think this was in the back of their minds throughout their struggles and it gave them the confidence to turn things around. They knew they were much better than how they were performing, and I think what they could point to as inspiration was having that top seed.
As for what home court advantage does in this series, it's pretty simple: The Pacers get the edge to draw first blood in Game 1 and the edge to close out the series in a Game 7. The two most important games in a 7 game series is Game 1 and Game 7, which is why home court advantage is so important. Game 1 because the winner sets the tone for the series and has around a 75% chance of winning the series. Game 7 is obviously the most important game if a series gets to that point since the winner wins the series and the loser is done. The fact that home court advantage ensures home court for both games is why a team wants home court advantage. They want the edge to draw first blood and the edge to close out the series in a Game 7.
As for the actual basketball part of this series, we have seen that the Pacers' style of play gives the Heat tremendous problems. David West and Roy Hibbert (who has awoken from his basketball coma) give the Heat problems inside and Paul George can defend and contain LeBron James as well as anybody in the NBA. In addition, Lance Stephenson plays like a madman on the court (in a good way), which makes things really tough to plan for if you are the opposition. The Pacers do two things really well which is defending and rebounding, which is the formula to beat the Heat since the Heat can't rebound.
Now while the Pacers do matchup well against the Heat, there are reasons why the Pacers are yet to beat the Heat in a 7 game series, which means there is reason to pick the Heat in this series. First off, the Heat have LeBron James. Yes, this is stating the obvious, but having the best player in the series is a huge advantage to have in any series, and the Heat have that checkmark by a wide margin. The Pacers' best player is Paul George, who is really talented, but isn't on the same level as LeBron James. He's not even close. If LeBron James has a big series, the Pacers will be hard pressed to find a way to answer LeBron.
In addition, the Heat have been way more consistent throughout these playoffs. There has been no question that the Heat would get to this point. They dispatched of the Bobcats rather easily, and they had only moderate trouble with the Nets. The Pacers on the other hand were taken to 7 games by the Hawks and for a while looked to be on the verge of complete self-destruction. So while it is true that all appears to be well with the Pacers, there is good reason to think that the bad Pacers could show up again, which means the Heat win easily.
Lastly, the Heat have championship experience and have been to three straight NBA Finals' winning two straight titles. The fact that the Heat have won the titles that they have and have beaten the Pacers is huge in this series because they have reason to have belief in themselves since they've actually won titles and gotten over the hump.
That being said, what makes this year different is that the Pacers have home court advantage in this series and they also have been a surprising 5-1 on the road in this post season. Losing a game in Indiana doesn't at all spell doom for the Pacers, but having Game 1 and Game 7 (If Necessary) in Indiana does spell hope for the Pacers. The bottom line is that I think that with home court advantage and prior knowledge of the Pacers taking the Heat to a Game 7 last year, the Pacers should be slight favorites to win this series in 7 Games. It may not be the popular opinion, but I do think it is the opinion that makes the most sense overall. They've shown to be able to play the Heat really tough and now that they actually get home court advantage, it's time to show the Pacers some love and give them the edge to win this series even with all the recent troubles they've had.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord