It was around this time last year that the Miami Heat finished off the Indiana Pacers in the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals. There’s no doubt it was a disappointing outcome for the Pacers, who dropped three straight games after taking a 2-1 lead early on in the series.
Tomorrow, the two teams kick off another seven-game series, this time in the Eastern Conference finals. Some of the context is the same. The Heat, now defending champions, are favored again and possess the home-court advantage. The series boasts Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, and Eric Spoelstra versus Roy Hibbert, Paul George, and Frank Vogel. And like last year, the overblown “war of words” has begun.
But as we would expect, there are differences this time around, too. Here are a few of the main ones:
1. The Danny Granger injury. The Pacers have been so productive without him that’s it’s easy to forget that they’re playing without their best scorer from a year ago. Granger didn’t have a great series against the Heat last year, but he did take up a lot of attention from Lebron James and the Heat, attention that this year will probably go toward the Paul George.
2. The health of Chris Bosh. Last year, as you may recall, the Heat’s center and part of “the big three,” Chris Bosh missed most of the series with an injury. It definitely made things more interesting, but the Heat were able to get enough contributions from elsewhere to get the job done. Unless something changes, Bosh will be healthy this year. Against the Chicago Bulls, Bosh played a lot of minutes, scored in double digits in every game except one, and shot four for eight from three-point range. But that doesn’t mean he can guard Roy Hibbert. The two are very different kinds of players, and it should be interesting to watch.
3. The presence of Ray Allen. A year ago, Allen was preparing to take on the Heat as a member of the Boston Celtics. This time around, he plays for the Heat. Let’s be honest, Allen isn’t what he used to but he can still shoot the rock. He averages double figures in points on 40% shooting from 3-point land. Insert that kind of specialty into a lineup with the likes of James, Wade, and Bosh, and you’ve got all sorts of problems defensively.
4. No more Larry Bird. Last year, the Indiana legend and then-Pacers President of Basketball Operations made headlines by challenging the Pacers toughness late in the series against the Heat. He then departed from the organization after the season’s end. It remains to be seen whether the absence of pressure he created will be good or bad for the team.
5. Numbers-one-through-four on this list could suggest an advantage for the Heat, but the Pacers are better than they were a year ago. Their youth is further along in their development. They’ve showcased that fact at times during the playoffs, especially in dismantling the higher-seeded New York Knicks in six games. George and Lance Stephenson, among others, are much improved. During the regular season, the Pacers beat the Heat two out of three times, largely by dominating in the paint. But obviously these games mean more. Are the Pacers ready for the big-time? We will see soon enough.