The Miami Heat are on their Robinson Cano lately—feeling very disrespected. There are a growing clique of cats out here big-upping the Indiana Pacers, predicting them to put the Hoosier Stomp on the NBA’s two-time defending champs and dead LeBron and Co.’s domination of the Eastern Conference.
It’s not like these prognosticators are predicting 90 degree weather at The Winter Olympics. It's very possible that Indiana takes that next step. Dwayne Wade has lost some hops, Chris Bosh (14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is now just a decent player making max-money and Indiana is as well-rounded as any NBA team on paper. The post presence of Roy Hibbert, budding star Paul George and multi-faceted locomotive Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson from Brooklyn (Home Of The Coffin) are just a few of the fingers that make the Pacers a hand full.
This will also be the third year in a row Indiana faces Miami in the playoffs, and Frank Vogel’s squad has gradually closed the talent and experience gap. The streets are talking about how this season's playoffs will be Indiana’s shining moment, like Isiah Thomas and The Bad Boys finally dusting off the Celtics or Jordan getting past the legendary squads that preceded his Bulls dynasty.
Despite losing to Central Division-rival Detroit on Monday 101-96 (Indiana's first loss at home this season), the Pacers have set the tone and proved to be the more dominant regular season team so far. It’s an inevitable first step towards dethroning a giant. Conquer your division. Conquer your conference. Conquer the NBA World.
With “The Python” Danny Granger returning to the mix, it will be interesting to see how a player who used to be the go-to guy meshes with a completely different team dynamic. Regardless, it can’t hurt to have a dude that can drop 25 digits a night in the lineup come playoff time, when teams are grinding it out and points are hard to come by.
LeBron James can be compared to the master killer in those old-school Kung Fu flicks. It takes an army of supreme assassins to even have a chance of defeating him. The Pacers feel like they have The Five Deadly Venoms needed to tag-team their way to an NBA c’hip.
George was oozing with confidence well before the Pacers swarmed the East with a conference-best 20-4 record (Miami is 18-6). Back in July George told slamonline.com, “We’re positioned really well. The only thing we really needed was the experience, and with everyone coming back together again, there’s no doubt in mind that we should win a championship.”
Just because George believes that doesn’t mean it’s going to go down like that. Messing with Miami’s Big Three should still cause a lot of concern. Sounds like heads are suffering from fresh meat syndrome. Like when a dime girl moves into the neighborhood and comes to your school, everybody quickly forgets the formerly popping prom queen and gets enthralled by the ”newness” of the recent arrival.
Assuming that the Pacers are going to go into Miami against a Heat team that is chasing history and actually knock LBJ’s immortal hustle is a provocative thought. But MJ, a guy many basketball observers so liberally compare LeBron to, also had some strong contenders to his throne.
The Cavs could never stifle him, though. Madison Square Garden was like a second home court. Alonzo Mourning’s Heat D and The Utah Jazz’s two HOF cowboys couldn’t quite do it. Neither could Chuck’s funky Phoenix Suns, Magic’s Lake Show or Clyde’s flying Trailblazers.
On most nights, Indiana brings a stifling defensive unit to the hardwood, but LBJ’s efficiency has been through the roof this season. He’s shooting 59 percent from the field and is sure to have more tricks up his sleeve in these playoffs, which could be his last with the Heat.
Don’t fall into the common trap of putting too much emphasis on the regular season, either. Miami is in cruise control right now. They have nothing to prove for a couple of months. For them, it’s about a next level of fine tuning that only defending champions could understand.
The Pacers carry a chip on their shoulders the size of Hibbert’s sneaker, which should give them an edge in some aspect. However, the more people act like the Heat are some easy lick and talk greasy about Pat Riley’s Big Three, the more the sleeping giant awakens.
Heads better recognize that closing out Miami would be the equivalent of trying to close out the seventh game of a World Series facing Murderer’s Row. It’s an order taller than Manute Bol on stilts.
Indiana's band wagon is growing quicker than the Best Man Holiday racked up ticket sales at the Box Office, but Miami’s still the main attraction and the gate keeper of the NBA’s greatest riches. A Pacers ECF victory would not be the ho-hum occurrence many would have us believe. As far as Miami’s concerned, it’s a pipe dream that will get burst again in the spring.