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Mar, 25, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Miami Heat @ Indiana Pacers

Miami Heat (35-12, lost last 1) @ Indiana Pacers (28-19, won last 1)

Key Stats

Miami

* 101.76 points per game (3rd in the NBA) vs. 93.62 points allowed per game (9th)

* 48.2% FG (1st) vs. 42.4% FG allowed (2nd)

* 42.04 rpg (17th) vs. 40.15 rebounds allowed (15th)

* 21.02 apg (14th) vs. 15.15 TO pg (18th)

Indiana

* 96.23 ppg (16th) vs. 93.28 points allowed (6th)

* 43.5% FG (25th) vs. 43.2% FG allowed (8th)

* 43.38 rppg (8th) vs. 42.12 rebounds allowed (18th)

* 18.09 appg (30th) vs. 14.32 TO pg (11th)

Position-by-position Matchups

PG-Mario Chalmers vs. Darren Collison

SG-Dwyane Wade vs. Paul George

SF-LeBron James vs. Danny Granger

PF-Chris Bosh vs. David West

C-Joel Anthony vs. Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves

Miami-Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Ronny Turiaf, Udonis Haslem, James Jones

Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, Leandro Barbosa, George Hill, Dahntay Jones, Lou Amundson

Injuries of note

Miami-Mike Miller (ankle, out)

Indiana-None

Breakdown:

Maybe the fourth time will be the charm for the Pacers. In each of these two teams’ first three matches, the Heat have won by fewer and fewer points, starting with a 35 point smackdown in January, a 15-point dismantling in February and a dramatic, two-point win two weeks ago in Miami. That last loss was an emotional one for the Pacers, who followed it up with a disheartening loss the next night at Orlando to finish a Florida road trip. Since then, the Heat are 4-3, with all three losses in that span coming on the road. In fact, the Heat have just one road win against a team with a winning record on the month, coming March 16th @ Philadelphia. The Pacers aren’t much better, suffering a mini-four game road losing streak through the first two weeks of march, finally getting right last week with two road wins over a bottom feeder (Washington) and a fringe playoff team (Milwaukee). At the very least, these teams should be well prepared for each other. The Heat will be just the second opponent that Indiana has faced four times this season, with Orlando being the other.

Indiana is coming off of just one day of rest following a triple-back-to-back, while Miami is coming off of a decisive road loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which ESPN dubbed as a potential NBA Finals preview. The Heat won’t be rested, but they’ll be motivated to grab a win after that discouraging loss. The team gets a two day break after tonight’s game to rest up for a home tilt with the Dallas Mavericks. There is a chance, although slim, that this serves as a trap game for the Heat, but the Pacers shouldn’t get their hopes up. It’ll be a tough game, regardless of the circumstances. Statistically these teams don’t match up, but then, no team matches up with the Heat, who shoot a blistering 48% from the floor, while holding their opponents to 42%. When you shoot that much better than your opponent, chances are you win. Hence Miami’s current 2nd place Conference record. The Heat have very few weaknesses. They have three of the 15 best players in the NBA on their roster, they have a handful of competent role players, they play excellent defense, penetrate better than any NBA team and distribute the ball with the utmost efficiency. Their road record isn’t much better than Indiana’s, but they are immensely popular-probably more popular in Indianapolis than even the Pacers-and have a tendency to bring their “home” crowds with them.

The Pacers have to exploit the very few matchup advantages they hold over Miami. Hibbert has been hit or miss vs. the Heat this year, but if he truly asserts himself, stays out of foul trouble and attacks the rim, he’s too much of a load for the Miami bigs. Also the Pacers’ bench, with the recent acquisitions of Kyrylo Fesenko and Leandro Barbosa, simply outclasses Miami’s. Indiana has the depth and talent to hang with any team, but they lack the discipline and mental fortitude to close out games against elite ones, and have a tendency to let good teams go on full-quarter runs, and put games away before the waning moments. That obviously can’t happen tonight if the Pacers hope to beat one of the NBA’s best teams and improve their own playoff seeding.

Prediction: Pacers 101, Heat 99

The taxing road loss to Oklahoma City and the chance of a trap leading up to a two-day break and a game vs. another Western contender may lead to a window of opportunity for the Pacers to steal a win here, and I’m banking on them being extra motivated (though predicting when they’ll play motivated has proven a difficult task this season). Currently the Pacers sit at the #6 seed with a 2.5 game lead on the #7 team, Boston. Right now it’s looking unlikely, because of the NBA rules, that the Pacers will contend for a home playoff series (even if they end up in 4th place, the Sixers would have to overtake the Magic, who own a comfortable hold on the #3 seed, for Indiana to steal the #4 seed), but anything is possible, and the Pacers must know that every win is paramount at this point in the season.

Fantasy Outlook:

Mario Chalmers started this season as a sneaky add, but has struggled lately to the point that you no longer have to lock him into your fantasy rotation if you have better, or temporarily hotter options. Joel Anthony, for all the flack he gets as the Heat’s weakest link, is a quality source of blocks and steals. He has 17 blocks and 8 steals over his last seven, and is probably on your waiver wire because of his putrid standard numbers and low usage. But if you need blocks, he’s a near lock for two per night, and the Heat play three more times this week. Obviously your other starters  (read: Wade/James/Bosh) are good to go, and there’s not much to get excited about regarding Miami’s bench, which is largely inconsistent for fantasy purposes.

Roy Hibbert seems to be out of his annual mid-season funk, and that’s a good thing, because he doesn’t always emerge from it. Sometimes he just stays there until the off-season. Hibbert’s recent five game double-figure scoring streak has been encouraging. He’s also averaged 8.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in that span, which is about on par with what we expect going forward, given his early season numbers. The best part has of course been his shooting, which sits at 58% over the past five. There isn’t much other consistency to speak of, but Paul George remains a must-start, despite his recent foul-related usage struggles. George still has 14 rebounds, 5 steals and 8 assists over the past three, even though he only saw 14 foul-plagued minutes in Saturday’s win over Milwaukee. Sky’s still the limit and I’m still a believer.

As much as Lucas Klipsch loves his hometown, he’d gladly put up with the Heat and their annoying fans to live in South Beach. Just sayin…Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317

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