LeBron James plays big, lifts the Heat over the Pacers
The rivalry between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers continues this season. In the latest episode of the saga last night in South Beach, LeBron James dominated with his performance to lift the Heat over the Pacers with a final score 98 – 86. The Heat now have one game less than the Pacers in the loss column and they lie half a game ahead of their rivals. Miami took a big advantage when it comes to the clinching of the top seed in the Eastern Conference, which is accompanied with the home court advantage in a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup.
The Heat now have just three games to close the season, against the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards on the road and against the Philadelphia 76ers at home. If they win all three games they will achieve what the Pacers desperately wanted this season, to clinch the top seed. On the other hand, the Pacers have just two games left in their schedule. Their next one is a tough one against the surging Oklahoma City Thunder at home and then they close the season with a game against the Magic in Orlando.
Miami now has the advantage in the race and it also has the momentum. Their victory last night was clear. They simply owned the Pacers. Although the two teams were close by the half, with Miami holding a 45 – 42 advantage to close the second quarter, Erik Spoelstra’s group made a run during the third quarter and outscored Paul George and Co. by 11 points.
LeBron James led the Heat right from the start till the end. King James finished with 36 points, on an 11 for 20 shooting night, in yet another game where the Heat played without Dwyane Wade. The superstar shooting guard missed his ninth game in a row and so did Heat’s prospect big man, Greg Oden. Chances are, Wade won’t suit up again till the regular season ends. The Heat are certainly trying to clinch the top seed in the East but they are also trying to conserve their powers for the postseason.
On the other hand, after sitting all five of his starters, Frank Vogel chose to put them back in the starting lineup. However, it was thanks to the secondary unit that the Pacers managed to achieve a 13 – 0 run and get back into the game. Nonetheless, LeBron and his company managed to hold on to their lead and finally got the victory.
The Pacers’ struggles on the offensive end along with their issues taking care of the ball were once again exposed. Turnovers were once of the factors that didn’t allow Indiana to win the Eastern Finals last season and even if they eventually get the home court advantage by the end of the season, it won’t make such a big difference in that sector of their game. Indiana committed 16 turnovers last night in contrast to Miami’s nine. The Heat are the best and most unstoppable team in the NBA when it comes to exploiting opponent’s turnovers. Those 16 turnovers resulted in 18 points on the fast break and the Heat played with their second best fast break finisher, D-Wade. It’s obvious that if the Pacers don’t take better care of the ball in a potential conference finals, they will have the same result as last year.
The starters didn’t provide the offense needed either. Paul George finished with 22 points but shot seven of 17 from the field and three of eight from three – point range. Lance Stephenson wasn’t a factor in this game, finishing with just 11 points. The two Pacers stars combined for eight turnovers. In a game where Roy Hibbert was expected to dominate against a slim Heat front line, the giant center finished with just five points. David West was the only effective starter for the Pacers, going seven for 13 from the floor to finish with 18 points and also eight rebounds. George Hill finished with zero points, after attempting zero shots in 33 minutes of play. 30 out of Indiana’s 86 points were scored by reserves, who were the ones to make the difference in the second half. If I was in Frank Vogel’s shoes, I would have changed the starting lineup weeks ago, in an effort to shake things up. C.J. Watson should be in the starting lineup, judging from his outputs all season long and the way he changes the Pacers’ game when he is on the court. In fact, several analysts during the game tweeted and talked about the struggles of the Pacers’ starters. In fact, some of them made humor stating that maybe it would have been better for Frank Vogel to rest his starters for yet another game.
The thing is that the Miami Heat now have all the momentum as we head into the playoffs. The Pacers don’t look as dangerous as they did earlier in the season and in fact, Miami might be more concerned about meeting the Brooklyn Nets, who have swept the regular season series against Miami, rather than the Pacers. Indiana just doesn’t seem to have enough to beat LeBron and his company, not even when Wade is hurt. Even in the last meeting of the two rivals, a few weeks ago, the Heat did play well and it was only thanks to some small, non – repeatable details that they lost the game.
If the Pacers and Heat go all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, we will certainly see a very interesting and highly competitive series. Nonetheless, the Heat are the strong favorites and with the way the two teams are playing it would be fair to state that this could turn out to be an easier series than last year for Miami. Unless the Pacers find a way to turn things around, they might just have to spend another offseason trying to find what went wrong.