MIAMI (CBSMiami) – It’s becoming almost an annual occurrence, the Miami Heat are in the Eastern Conference Finals again. Since 2005, the Heat have played in five of the nine Eastern Conference Finals and won two championships.
“I know I’m blessed to be going to the Eastern Conference finals for my fifth time,” Wade said. “But I would like a lot more in my career. It’s a good thing. We’ve been very successful in my tenure here. But I want more.”
For Wade and Udonis Haslem, this marks five East finals appearances in nine years. For LeBron James, it’s a fifth trip to this round in the past seven years, now three straight with Miami after a pair of trips to the East finals with Cleveland.
On the flip side, the Indiana Pacers haven’t been to the conference finals in years and only one player on the team has ever even played in a conference finals game. Backup center Ian Mahinmi played 71 seconds in a game in the 2011 Western Conference Finals.
Still, the Pacers have no fear when they look at the mountain that is the Miami Heat standing in their path to a bid in the NBA Finals. The Pacers won two of three meetings against the Heat this season and both teams expect the series to be physical.
For the Heat, the key will be managing the Pacers’ big men around the basket. Indiana lines up 7’2” center Roy Hibbert and 6’9” power forward David West and will want to attack Miami’s lack of bulk down low.
Last year, the Heat countered the Pacers by utilizing a smaller lineup that ended up propelling Miami to the NBA championship. The Heat will have an added weapon this year in the form of center Chris Bosh who missed much of last year’s playoff run against Indiana.
What Bosh will do is challenge Hibbert to either leave the lane and cover him on the outside, or, leave the Heat center open for jumpers on the outside. If Hibbert chooses the former, he opens up lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to attack. If Hibbert stays inside, then he allows Bosh to attack with his jump shot.
Defensively, the Heat’s big challenge will be to keep West from getting going down low while also protecting the perimeter against Paul George and George Hill in check on the outside.
The Pacers’ starting lineup includes George, West, Hibbert, Hill, and guard Lance Stephenson. The Pacers will be without forward Danny Granger for the rest of the playoffs.
The Heat will counter with its traditional starting lineup of LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers. Miami doesn’t have anyone listed on the injury report, but Wade’s knee will be an issue for the rest of the playoffs.
If Wade is near 90 to 100 percent, the Heat may be unstoppable when it comes to the Eastern Conference Finals and the NBA Finals. However, if Wade is not able to play at his normal level, Miami could be vulnerable against a young and improving Pacers squad.
The tipoff for Wednesday night’s Game 1 is expected to happen around 8:30 p.m. and can be seen either in person at the AmericanAirlines Arena or on television on TNT.