For the second straight season, we all have the privilege of watching the Pacers and Heat battle it out in the Eastern Conference Finals. It will be difficult for these teams to replicate the instant classic that was last year's Eastern Conference Finals, but NBA fans everywhere (myself included) would love nothing more than to see another great series.
Last year's series featured one of the most famous coaching blunders in recent memory when Frank Vogel decided to pull Roy Hibbert with 2.2 seconds remaining in OT in Game 1 in favor of Tyler Hansbrough, leading to an easy path the the basket for LeBron James for the game winner. This all came after Paul George hit the game tying three-pointer with just 0.7 seconds on the clock in regulation. This all game in the incredible Game 1. The Heat eventually prevailed with a dominant performance in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals.
This year, the Pacers are the ones with the best record in the East, and they are looking for revenge from last year's bitter loss. Miami is aiming to become the sixth team ever to three-peat, and first since the 2000-02 Lakers
Why Indiana Will Win
1. Roy Hibbert was irreplaceable in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, leading all players with a .557 FG%, and averaging just over 22 PPG, as well as 10.4 boards per game. The Heat have zero defensive presence in the post, and Hibbert must take advantage of his size advantage down low if the Pacers have a chance to win this series. Miami's kryptonite is big men who can score, and although he has been non-existent on the offensive end for much of this season, Hibbert has the size and ability to dominate.
2. Lance Stephenson (3.4 nERD) had a season-long coming out party this year, despite only averaging six more minutes per game than last year. His production was remarkable at times, and he led the NBA in triple doubles. Stephenson has shown the ability to take over a game on both ends of the floor, and contributes in every single statistical category. His work defensively on Dwyane Wade in this series could go a long way.
Why Miami Will Win
1. LeBron is the most explosive athlete in the NBA, and he may be the best overall athlete on the planet. He has quietly dominated inferior opposition throughout this year's playoffs, averaging 30 PPG on a remarkable 56.4% shooting from the field. His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 2-to-1, and he is facilitating in ways that few other players can. James averaged 29 PPG in last year's Easter Conference Finals, and there is no reason to believe that this year will be any different. We all know what LeBron is capable of, so there is no need for me to bore you with more details. LeBron is really, really good.
2. Chris Bosh's perimeter shooting. Bosh has transformed his game in this year's playoffs, and has shown his ability to stretch the floor. He is shooting an outstanding 48.6% from deep (17-35) this season, and has already eclipsed the number of three-pointers he made in last year's playoffs (15 in 23 games) in just nine games. David West is an average defender outside the post, and Bosh's ability to shoot the long ball will be very problematic for Indiana if he can keep up this torrid pace.
numberFire's projections give Miami a 52.65% chance of a return trip to the NBA Finals, and if Bosh and LeBron continue their current pace, I don't see any way Indiana pulls off the upset.