The Miami Heat are a cocky team and they deserve to be. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up four years ago and have been to three consecutive NBA Finals, winning the last two. However, their blatant disrespect of the Indiana Pacers has cost them their opportunity to make it three consecutive.
WHAT DID THEY DO?
Before last night, the Heat had the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference in their grasp. In order to secure the top seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, they had to take care of business against the Washington Wizards (in DC), then beat the lowly Philadelphia 76ers (in Miami).
Instead, they chose to trot out the tank mirage lineup of Toney Douglas, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Wade. Justin Hamilton played 23:45, for crying out loud. They figured that resting James and Bosh was their best play, but that play almost certainly cost them their No. 1 seed.
Without their big guns in the lineup, Miami got housed, losing 114-93 in a game that wasn’t even that close. They allowed Washington to shoot 59 percent. I’m pretty sure Pat Riley burned the tapes of this game so if you’re looking to re-watch it, you should contact the Washington people.
WHY DID THEY DO IT?
They weren’t doing it to duck the Atlanta Hawks, I can tell you that for sure. The real reason they did it is simple — they don’t respect the Pacers. They either don’t believe the Pacers will make it to the Eastern Conference finals (thus giving Miami home court) or they’re simply not afraid to go on the road.
Literally, the Heat gave the No. 1 seed to the Pacers, just so LeBron and company could get a few days of (much needed) rest. With the amount of time that Wade has missed, James has had to pick up the slack and has played more minutes than head coach Erik Spoelstra would have liked.
James is playing 37.7 minutes per game this season, which is below his career average of 39.5 and just below last season’s 37.9. In April, he’s playing 38.7 minutes per game. There’s no question that those numbers are going to ramp up come playoff time, as James averages 43.1 minutes per game for his career. During last year’s championship run, he played 41.7.
SO WHAT, THE PACERS ARE STRUGGLING
This is the Heat’s point of view. They see a team that is struggling to find their identity. They see a team without a go-to guy. They see their previous version of kryptonite (Roy Hibbert) as a shell of his former self without any confidence at all. They’re figuratively betting for themselves by betting against the Pacers.
A closer look at the Pacers backs that story up. Sure, they’re coming off of a feel-good win over the Oklahoma City Thunder (102-97 on Sunday), but they’re still just 5-9 over their previous 14 games with seven of those losses coming by double-digits. But, the playoffs are a different animal. Also, don’t forget that the Pacers are still 35-6 at home.
In the playoffs, focus is sharper. Defense reigns supreme and a premium is placed on getting easy points. Indiana is No. 8 in the league from the foul line, shooting 77.9 percent as a team. One of the key players on the team (David West) is trending up. Over his last nine games, he’s scoring 14.7 points with 7.0 rebounds and a shooting line of .505/.333/.900.
You’ve got to believe that Paul George and Lance Stephenson will get back into a groove and if they can get Hibbert to believe in himself again, they’re simply the deeper team. In cases like that, it’s often home-court advantage that separates the winner from the losers.
The Heat shouldn’t have given that spot up so readily. When Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals comes calling and the Heat are sitting in the visitor’s locker room at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and a sellout crowd of 18,165 are in full throat, they’ll realize that.
Tags: Miami Heat