Meeting for the third straight postseason, the Indiana Pacers host the Miami Heat in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
LeBron James and the Heat have eliminated Paul George and the Pacers in two straight postseasons, but this go-round Indiana maintains the home court advantage it sorely needed in Game Seven of last year’s Conference Finals.
During 2013’s duel, the teams traded victories until Miami came up with a 99-76 win in Game Seven with James tallying 32 points and eight rebounds, while George fouled out with seven points on 2-for-9 shooting.
Indiana and George will certainly need any extra edge that home court can provide, especially with Miami playing so well.
James, along with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the smooth shooting of Ray Allen have lit up the first two rounds of the playoffs, losing one game out of nine played.
James once again leads the Heat in points, rebounds, assists and steals this post season, and Miami has posted a winning margin of 9.75 points.
Meanwhile the 38-year-old Allen was largely responsible for eliminating his old teammates in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the 4-1 second round series win over Brooklyn. Averaging 13 points and 4.8 rebounds in the series, Allen actually did most of his damage by drawing fouls and knocking down 94.1 percent of his free throws.
With Allen attacking the basket, along with James and Wade, the Pacers will need to keep both George and center Roy Hibbert out of foul trouble while maintaining the focus the entire team seemed to have lost at the end of the regular season and in the first two rounds.
Indiana needed seven games to eliminate No. 8 seed Atlanta, with Hibbert averaging 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in that series, including two straight games with zero points scored in 12 minutes of logged time.
Hibbert bounced back in the second round against Washington, but the Pacers still showed signs of inconsistency. They could have ended the series in five games, but instead gave up a 102-79 loss to the Wizards highlighted by 38 points in the paint and the Pacers shooting a combined 30-for-77 from the floor.
George’s scoring dipped in the Washington series, but he still proved capable of taking over a game with 39 points and 12 rebounds in Game Four. He and power forward David West will be charged with somehow containing James.
This could also be a huge series for Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson. Last year he scored 20 points in Indiana’s series tying Game Four win, and came up with 12 key rebounds in Game Six to force the final matchup. This year he’s been a fairly consistent scorer for the Pacers with 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds, and his defense may prove pivotal against Miami’s drives or long-range shooting.
Start Time: 3:30p.m. EST
TV Channel: ABC
Betting Odds: Miami -3.5
Over/Under: 182 points
Prediction: Miami over Indiana 92-88