The 2013 Heat have a shot at some real immortality thanks to their massive winning streak and general dominance this season. In total, the Heat have lost only 19 games in 2012-2013. The Pacers have dealt them four of those losses.
The competitiveness of this series shouldn’t be a surprise. The Pacers won two of three vs. the Heat in the regular season this year – LeBron James played well in both Miami losses. This comes after Indiana took two wins off the Heat in the playoffs last year.
After that, the Heat reeled off three in a row to quash the threat. But it would be surprising to see Miami win Thursday and then again in Indiana, where they’ve had lots of trouble putting together a complete effort.
The fifth game in a seven-game series is considered the swing game. With the Heat and Pacers tied at two wins apiece, this Game 5 is absolutely crucial for the rest of the series and the rest of the season. The Heat lost two in a row just three times this season, and two of those “streaks” came during long road trips. Returning home should be panacea for them, especially with a Miami crowd that’s been fairly good considering they could all be partying in South Beach.
But Indiana has won in Miami already this series. Miami has one win in four tries in Indiana this year. This Pacer team and Indianapolis crowd just hates LeBron and co., and have been extremely pleased to see Miami struggle.
And the Heat have struggled, at least as much as a team winning 8 out of 9 playoff games can struggle. LeBron has dropped off slightly from his regular season averages – his 3-point shooting is down, his field goal percentage is too, while his minutes have upped to more than 40 per game. He was kicked out of Game 4, in a classic “Someone whose initials are David Stern wants this series to go to seven games” way. This after not committing a single foul in Game 3. Apparently in two days he went from flawless to Rasheed Wallace.
Chris Bosh, whose injury nearly derailed the Heat in last year’s playoffs, has been basically invisible on the boards and also tweaked his ankle in Game 4. He will play Thursday, but a limited Bosh means more room for resurgent Roy Hibbert to operate, as well as the very effective David West. The Heat can’t exactly match Indiana size-wise, but they still trump them talent-wise as long as Dwyane Wade and Bosh are playing well.
But without Bosh, and with a potentially hobbled and tired Wade, it becomes the LeBron show. And short of one of his epic performances, the Pacers seem content to let LeBron score as long as the rest of the Heat struggle.
That’s the trump card in this series: even though the Pacers match up better on paper, the Heat can still go all Super Saiyan and beat anyone running away. Two losses in this series may be cause for worry, but this is still a team that rattled off 27 wins in a row and boasts the best player on earth. It’s a question of whether they’ve run out of steam, or are looking past Indy to the on-fire Spurs, or if they’re simply slumping a bit. Game 5 will go a long way toward determining who wins this series, and who gets to face Tim Duncan in the Finals.
More likely than not, the Heat will get it together, win two more games, and then battle the Spurs to the finish. But an Indy upset would shake up the NBA – and probably lead to the least-watched Finals in NBA history. Paging David Stern!