The Eastern Conference Finals will feature the Miami Heat taking on the Indiana Pacers. The Heat are familiar being in this position as they have advanced from here to the NBA Finals the last two years. Miami swept an outmanned Milwaukee Bucks team in the first round and were able to get past the resilient Chicago Bulls, 4-1, after being surprised in the first game. Chicago by the end of the Heat series were on fumes after having beaten the Nets in an epic 7 games and shocking them to win the series in Brooklyn. With all the injuries the Bulls had as Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Derrick Rose were all out for the series, it seemed destined to be a quick one against the best team in the NBA and it was.
There are a lot of Heat detractors out there. Some people do not like their bravado or how the media seems to hang on every word Lebron James says. But there is no denying the Heat are a great team. They are 45-3 in their last 48 games. Two of those losses came vs. the Bulls and the other vs. the Knicks. This is the best the Heat have played in Lebron’s three seasons with the team and have fired on all cylinders for most of this season. A key to this series will be can Dwayne Wade stay healthy? Without him, the Pacers might just be able to pull off a shocker. The other big key is what exactly will the Heat’s bench players provide? Mike Miller had 23 in the NBA Championship clincher last year. Miami’s bench players are crucial to giving the Heat the extra advantage.
Of all the teams in the NBA though, Indiana is one of the few I give a chance to upend the Heat. I predicted the Pacers to beat the Knicks and that happened. I like the Pacers a lot because in a league full of offense and superstars, Indiana has shown you can win a ton of ballgames playing as a team and playing great defense. The Pacers are at a disadvantage because they don’t have a Lebron James on their team, but what they do have is a solid group of ballplayers who know their roles and are proven winners and any of them can step up at a moment’s notice. To have any chance in this series, Roy Hibbert has to play like he did against the Knicks. He has really blossomed over the last year and has started to become a household name. Paul George must also be able to provide something on offense to give the Pacers a puncher’s chance while facing the daunting task of having to defend Lebron. Lance Stephenson has all the potential in the world as well as he showed in game 7 against the Knicks, will he continue where he left off is another big theme. He can be a great player in the future and now would be a great time to prove it. Stephenson has some youth on Wade so he’s going to have to find a way to take advantage of that.
Indiana won the season series this year 2-1, which is surprising. They also bowed out to Miami in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year, 4-2 after leading the series 2-1. Keep in mind, Bosh only played in one half of one game last year against Indiana, so having him back is a big advantage. At the end of the day though, the Heat have the best player in basketball in Lebron, a great supporting cast with guys like Udonis Haslem, Wade and Bosh, a solid bench, and a great team. Winning in any sport isn’t easy. But for about 4 months this year, the Heat have made it routine. To beat other professional teams 45 out of their last 48 games, shows that this team is special, and if Wade and Lebron stick around, can perhaps reach the “6 or 7 championships” that Lebron alluded to shortly after he made the decision. The Heat will be back in the NBA Finals, and I’m expecting a few more trips in the near future. (Dan Sohler)
HEAT IN SIX