5 Questions heading into Heat-Pacers in Conference Finals

USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat are 8-1 in the playoffs so far, but now they must be the road team, and dare we say underdog? The Conference Finals will showcase the two teams everyone believed would be here, and now the Indiana Pacers believe it's their turn to go to the NBA Finals.

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are meeting up for the third consecutive postseason series. Two years ago, the Heat beat the Pacers 4-2 in a series that was dominated by Wade and James because of the absence of Chris Bosh midway through Game 1 and the rest of the series. Last year, in the Conference Finals the Heat beat the Pacers handily in Game 7 in Miami.

This year, the Pacers have home court advantage and are hoping it's their year to knock off the 2x defending NBA Champions. There's a lot of storylines going into the series, and we want to tackle some key questions in preparation for Game 1 and the rest of the series.

1. Will Udonis Haslem start?
One thing I do know: Spoelstra isn't going to tell us until he has to. But I do suspect we will see Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup against the Pacers. Shane Battier has had his turn against the Pacers and isn't needed against them in a starting lineup. Haslem has been resting for the past two weeks getting ready for Roy Hibbert and David West. Haslem started against the Bobcats, but hasn't played but a few minutes since then. He should be rested and ready for a long, grueling series.

UD just loves these moments. ...It’s his opportunity to put his stamp on the game and the series. -Dwyane Wade

The only way I see that this wouldn't happen, is if Shane Battier was knocking down threes like his old self, but he simply is not. And the truth of it is that the Heat have altered their starting lineup in seven of the last nine playoff series because of either injury or matchup. Spo isn't afraid to move his pieces around to use whatever is needed. Thus is the benefit of having a veteran team.

"It's a luxury we have. It's definitely not for everybody. But you have to have guys willing to do what it takes. Sometimes it's uncomfortable. Sometimes with your competitive nature, you want to be out there, but in the end, you understand that it's all about raising that trophy." -- Udonis Haslem

2. Will Dwyane Wade play like he did in Game 5 against the Nets?
Wade scored 20 points in the first half and 28 overall in the series clinching win for the Heat. His attack, shot, and overall play helped pace the Heat before their final takeover. Wade has been mildly average throughout the playoffs until the last game. In order to beat the Pacers, Wade will need to be aggressive and effective.

I don't suspect Wade is going to average 25 PPG for the series, but he needs to have at least two games where he scores that much or more. LeBron will be himself, but on the road, it's going to take another superstar with a rhythm to get a win. Chris Bosh could be that person, but with how much he will have to focus on defense, it's more likely Wade will need to step up to the challenge. One huge benefit for the Heat will be the mid-week rest between Games 2 and 3. The Heat will leave Indianapolis Tuesday night after Game 2, and won't play in Miami until Saturday night for Game 3. That's three whole days off for Wade to recuperate, and in the middle of a series, that could be a blessing.

3. Will Roy Hibbert put his problems behind him?
Here's a breakdown of what Roy has been doing in this postseason. He has played 13 games: in 5 of them he has had 2 rebounds or less, he's gone scoreless 3 times, has yet to have a double digit rebound game, and in six games he never went to the free throw line. He's struggled, and yet has began to come around, scoring in double figures in 4 of the last five games. In his last game against the Heat, he had 5 points and 1 rebound while being guarded by Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen. Before that he had 21 points, most of which was guarded by Greg Oden.

Hibbert usually saves his best only for the Heat. It doesn't matter how bad he usually is, when LeBron and co. show up, Hibbert usually has Wilt Chamberlain's spirit inside of him. But has he put his problems behind him and will he be a problem for the Heat? I think he will be a problem. But that doesn't mean it isn't fixable. The Heat will always have to gameplan to prevent Hibbert from getting where he wants to be. Hibbert is only a problem for Miami in two ways, when he catches deep in the post, and when he abuses his verticality rules (don't get me started).

Haslem has done a great job of preventing him of getting to his spot, and he will have his work cut out for him. Roy may not drop zero-zero games on Miami, but the Heat can mute his effectiveness if they are intentional about it.

"It's back to a wrestling match now. For the latter half of the season, that's how we've been playing. So for us, I think it will be a smooth transition. This one was a little more difficult because Shane [Battier] hadn't played in a while and we were playing against a team that likes to switch everything. It's always tough trying to have an offensive package for that. But now we can kind of go to the classic style, really work on spreading [Indiana] out and play our game." -- Chris Bosh

4. Will the scoring be in the 80's, 90's or 100's?
This will be telling. The Nets slowed the Heat down to a pace that was slower than the Pacers play, but Miami was still efficient for most of the series. If the Heat are held in the 80's, Indiana has won the pace and play style and will likely win. If the series is in the 90's, it's anybodies game, but if it's in the 100's, it means that Miami is getting in the open court, shooting well and playing their game, and likely unbeatable.

The Pacers best chance is to limit the number of possessions the Heat have and keep them from the open court, which could be a problem because the Pacers have struggled with turnovers all season, and even into the playoffs. Where the score ends up will tell you a lot about who is driving the style of each game. I'd suspect you will see a variety of these games throughout the series.

We’ve been talking about this series all year. We’ve had a different path than [Miami’s] had, but we’re here. -David West

5. What are the best strategies for a Heat win?
I think this comes down to 3 key elements. The first is easy: Miami must win one of the first two games of the series. This is key for any road opponent wanting to extend the series, and Miami is clearly capable of doing this.

The other two are very much measuring their effectiveness and strategy. I see points in the paint as a big key for the Heat to beat the Pacers. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are attacking the basket and scoring in the paint, the Heat are extremely better. In fact, in two wins this season, the Heat had 50-30 and 44-26 advantages in the paint over the Pacers. But in the losses, they only had 42-38 and 30-30 as the margins. When the Heat can extend that gap, and keep the Pacers out of the paint, they set themselves up to win.

Lastly, the Heat have to be able to connect from distance. It's no secret that the Heat are a less efficient three-point shooting team than they were last year. But in four games against the Pacers this year, Miami is shooting 27.3% from downtown -- and never hitting more than six in a game. The Heat are dangerous from deep but can't be reliant on the three, as they are only 13-7 when connecting 11+ three-pointers in a game this season. Ray Allen has struggled against the Pacers in the past, and he will be key to a Heat series win. Bosh's ability to spread the floor will continue to be necessary.

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