The Miami Heat are back in the drivers seat, but need one more win to advance to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. Following a very convincing win in Game 5, the Heat will have to come away with a second win in the Pacers building if they want to avoid a Game 7. If Miami can figure out how to play this game the way they have played their last 6 quarters then there shouldn't be a problem.
As if playing on the road wasn't challenging enough, Miami will have to win this one without the services of the top two power forwards on their depth chart. Already playing minus Chris Bosh for the majority of the series, the Heat will also be without Udonis Haslem for Game 6. Haslem was suspended by the NBA for one game for his flagrant foul on the Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough during their win in Game 5.
The timing couldn't be worse for Miami to be without Udonis, as he has been playing his best basketball of the post season in his last two games. In Game's 1-3 Haslem scored just 6 total points on 18.1% shooting while grabbing a total of 12 rebounds. In the last two games of the series however, UD has come away with a 14 point 4 rebound effort in Game 4 and followed it up with 10 points and 6 rebounds in Game 5.
He shot an impressive 5-of-6 from the field in both games, but now the Heat will have to find another source of productive ‘big guy' minutes to fill the newly created void. Odds are that we'll see a lot more of Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf, who have been playing some very good defense in the last two games, as well as LeBron James sliding down and playing a few more minutes at power forward then usual.
Miami is going to have to find a way to continue keeping the Pacers' big guys at bay if they want to end the series tonight. In the Heat's last two wins, Udonis has averaged 21 minutes per game, but Miami does have a lot of versatility on their roster. The key is getting production from those players; Shane Battier stepped up in Game 5, hitting 4 trey's including 3 in the 1st quarter to set the tone.
A similar effort by Battier will go a long way towards a Miami victory in Indiana tonight. The Heat could also use some big minutes from Mike Miller, who has provided some quietly strong minutes lately, but will need to show up on the scoresheet as well if he wants to help fill the Haslem-void. Then there is Mario Chalmers, or James Jones, or Anthony, or Turiaf...we just have to wait and see who steps up, or if it's a collective effort.
The Pacers are also dealing with a bit of uncertainty at the moment, as two of their starters and main contributors are hobbled. Danny Granger and David West are both suffering from ankle injuries, and West also has been dealing with a knee injury to boot. It seems that Granger has the more severe injury, but if I had to guess I'd say that both players will definitely be in the lineup and try to give it a go. It is an elimination game for them, after all.
The bottom line is that the Heat are going into a very hostile environment with several obstacles to overcome, but these kind of games are the tests that championship teams pass. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James seem to be gaining some momentum, but can their teammates add enough production to send Miami back to Round 3? We'll find out tonight at 8o'clock. Lets Go Heat!!!