May 18, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade (3) is guarded by Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (3) in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 107-96. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Pacers vs. Heat: Much More at Stake Than a Series

Well, here we are again. Pacers. Heat. Eastern Conference Finals. The matchup that has been predicted/we all wanted since before the season tipped off has come to fruition.

For the second season in a row, these teams are battling to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Obviously, that is enough to make the series captivating, but, there is much, much more at stake for both teams.

Future of the Pacers

We all know what could happen to Indy’s roster when the season ends. The biggest piece in question is Lance Stephenson. There is no guarantee Born Ready is wearing blue and gold next season. While Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill are slated to return (though you never know with Larry Legend), in today’s NBA, it’s very hard to win a title with just one elite player (George).

Think about it. Jordan and Pippen. Kobe and Shaq. Paul Pierce, KG, and Ray Allen. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. The list goes on and on.

Is Stephenson a “superstar?” No, and he still has a long way to go before he is considered as such, but he is the closest thing Indiana has to an elite companion for George. Love him or hate him, he is talented and having Stephenson makes the Pacers a much better team. Combine his possible departure with, West’s age and Hibbert’s sporadic play, and the Pacers’ championship window could be closing just as soon as it opened.

The present could be Indiana’s best chance at bringing home the franchise’s first title for some years to come. No matter the outcome of this series, Indiana’s roster could be very different in September 2014, so the Pacers need to take advantage.

Future of the Heat

Much like Indiana, Miami’s roster is very much in question. For each of the Big 3, the sunshine of South Beach may no longer be home. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade can opt out of their contracts, and though Bosh said he and James will stay, you can never be sure until the ink dries on the paper. Each situation — a win or loss to Indiana — presents two very different roads for the Heat.

If the Big 3 gets through the Pacers and eventually wins a third-straight championship, why wouldn’t they keep the band together and go for a four-peat? On the other hand, a loss to Indiana could send Miami into disarray.

Wade’s knees aren’t getting any better. While he hasn’t missed a playoff game, he only played in 54 regular season contests. And if Wade is out and the Heat want to change directions, Bosh isn’t guaranteed to be around much longer either.

If those two no longer want to be in Miami or if Pat Riley doesn’t want them around, then James is faced with a tough decision (again). He already experienced the whole “I’m going to be the only superstar on the team” thing in Cleveland, which led to a grand total of zero championships and much frustration. So, it’s reasonable to think that if King James believes South Beach can no longer supply him with a good change to win, he could easily take his talents elsewhere and combine with a new set of all-stars.

Depending on how this series goes, the Heat could go from perennial championship favorite to watching ping pong balls at the draft lottery.

 Paul George’s Reputation

As the Pacers have had an up-and-down season, so has Paul George. Until the All-Star break, he was an MVP-candidate, perhaps the league’s third-best player. Immediately after, a sharp downturn began, and quickly, the conversation switched to whether George was really one of the league’s elite.

Now, in the playoffs, George is back to playing top-notch basketball. He’s averaging 22.1 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.2 steals per game, while shooting 43.8% from the field and 42.4% from three.

Yeah, this is the George we got used to seeing at the beginning of the year.

But which George is the real one?

The answer will likely come in this series as he has James once again staring him in the face. How will he respond against the world’s best player? These two have had great battles during the last couple of seasons, but for the most part, James has been better.

If George truly wants to be considered a superstar, now is the time to cement his status. Yes, in Game 1 the Pacers used a team effort to win, but most likely, whether or not Indiana advances will depend on his play.

Can he put up enough points to pace Indiana offensively? No one has really been able to stop James, but can he at least slow him down? Will he get the Miami monkey off his back, or will the 2013-14 Pacers become just another team Miami’s Big 3 defeated during their heyday?

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