Miami needs challenge to ensure return to championship form

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami/Pacers rivalry is a scrappy one, however with Miami cruising through the post-season and the Pacer's implosion one must come to the realization that to ensure a return to championship form, Miami must be challenged in the ECF.

For the third straight year, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will meet in the post season. What once began as a simple playoff match-up has become an extreme rivalry over the last two years, and remain the Pacer's only motivation for "hanging on" so to speak. Both teams have undergone changes over the last two seasons, the absence of Danny Granger being the most evident for the Pacers that have in turn led to various trials and tribulations for both clubs. While Miami slumped in March, the Pacer's implosion took place in the latter half of the NBA season and bled into the playoffs. When comparing these to squadrons as the moment, it is obvious that the defending champions are cruising towards a fourth straight finals appearance, while the Pacers are hanging on for dear life.

However, regardless of how the Pacers have faired this postseason they always seem to come alive agains Miami. The reasoning behind this is unknown, but through my viewings of these series throughout past seasons I've chalked it up to a mix of pure resentment and adrenaline. In their wars waged with Indiana, Miami has only failed on one end stopping Roy Hibbert. However, as aforementioned the Pacer's are struggling and that is almost entirely a result of the self sabotaging Hibbert. The un-athletic center has spent is whole career playing into shape, and becoming the best he could possibly be (even achieving all-star status) however, (with the exception of a few games) he seems lethargic and unprepared. With that being said, the success of the Pacers championship dreams rest in the hands of Paul George who has yet to prove if he's capable of handling the load in a do or die situation.

While the Pacers are in terrible positioning at this moment in time, Miami seems ready to bulldoze through them. If this was to be the result I fear for our championship aspirations. While the Nets series was close at times, it's hard to say Miami has been challenged yet this postseason and that is worrisome. The Western Conference is terrifying. Their is a surplus of talent on all teams, and that has subsequently led to great playoff series whereas (while entertaining) the Eastern conference series has been predictable. Miami diffused Charlotte with ease, and struggled at points with Brooklyn before sending them golfing. Compared to Oklahoma City, who were taken to game seven, and involved in a heavy weight match-up versus Los Angeles it's obvious that Miami has not endured a challenge like that of past seasons. In some ways this aids our squadron as we are predominantly injury free at this time, while players like Serge Ibaka are out indefinitely.

I feel as if we are to be successful in another finals appearance, Indiana needs to test us. In doing so I believe Miami will find the identity the struggled in realizing at various points in the seasons and be prepared for battle come June. Indiana is one of the most physical squadrons in the league, and to survive their trial by fire would give Miami an advantage over their opponent mentally come the finals. This is how I envision Miami being successful and completing the three-peat, but of course this all depends on what Pacers team shows up this afternoon.

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