The Indiana Pacers are a confident bunch. They talk about how they've grown in the playoffs and how they're applying what they learn to the next opponent.
After moving past the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, the Pacers take on the defending champion Miami Heat starting Wednesday, with a trip to the Finals on the line. Indiana finished 16 games behind the Heat, had a sub-.500 record on the road and have to win four playoff games against a team that has lost three times since Feb. 2.
Impossible? No. Doable? Well, yeah, if so much goes right.
The Pacers can build off their 2-1 edge in the season series -- the victories came in Indianapolis. While both teams are improved since those meetings, the Pacers' two victories came before the Heat began demolishing most opponents and before forward Chris Andersen gave Miami more inside strength.
Miami beat Indiana 4-2 in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals, and Heat forward Chris Bosh missed the final five games of that series with an abdominal strain. This time, guard Dwyane Wade is dealing with a bruised right knee and his scoring is down, but the Heat are still rolling. They have just one loss in the playoffs, and their average margin of victory is 13.9 points.
The Pacers are underdogs, but they can make this a competitive series and possibly upset the Heat
Steal Game 1(AT)
The Pacers won Game 1 against the Knicks in New York and set the tone for that series. The Knicks were never able to recover.
Indiana has another factor in its favor. The Heat lost Game 1 to the Chicago Bulls in the conference semifinals after a seven-day layoff. They just had another significant break -- six full days off between the end of their series against the Chicago and the start of the conference finals.
"Obviously, it's a great environment and they're a great home team," said Pacers forward David West. "But we've grown in our ability to win on the road in tough environments. We're going to bring the lessons we learned in the first series and second series into this series and hope we have some carryover in that regard."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is making plans to cure any potential Game 1 lethargy. He said he'd spend more time looking at his team's preparation to determine if he needs to tweak anything.
"There's no shortcuts. You can't cheat the game. So you have to work at it," Spoelstra said. "You're coming off a very intense series, you're natural reaction is not to want to come in here and really get after it and sweat and condition. But you can't shortcut it."
The coach didn't blame the layoff for the loss to Chicago in the opener, saying "We don't want to make excuses. That would also take away from what Chicago brought to that game."
Still, the Heat looked somewhat sluggish after their rest and the Bulls, who had come off a seven-game war with the Nets, were the aggressor. The Pacers are coming off a similar test vs. the Knicks, being pushed hard before winning Game 6 late at home.
Of course, stealing Game 1 is no guarantee: After the Bulls pulled it off, Miami won the next four to end the series.
Battle Miami down low
The Pacers need to take advantage of their size and strength with West, center Roy Hibbert, power forward West, forward-center Tyler Hansbrough and center Ian Mahinmi. Indiana destroyed the Knicks in rebounding, and the Heat had the lowest number of rebounds per game of any team in the conference semifinals.
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