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Game Preview: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers

Hello All, On Tuesday night, the Heat will host the Pacers before heading back out on the road. The Pacers are…well, they’re not very good. I am going to try and be nice here, mostly because my friend Doug is a huge Pacers fan. This is the only kid I know who ever actually owned a pair of Jermaine O’Neal’s short-lived signature shoes (white, purple and yellow Nike Shox). Let’s just say that the high tops were a little too big for Doug’s high school jeans, which lead to the always trendy "jeans bunched up above the shoes" look for most of our senior year. But I loved him anyway. And to make matters worse, he pulled far more ladies than I did. Anyway, Doug’s basketball world has been pretty crappy since that senior year season, which featured, amongst other things, the "Malice at the Palace" and the disassemblage of a team that was probably the best in the East and a surefire Eastern Conference Finals team (people forget that). So I am going to try and keep this as positive as possible. No need to dredge up a flashback that could lead to him blowing my car up. To be honest, there really isn’t much reason to be overly confident about the Heat in this matchup. In the last month, their play can only be described as wildly inconsistent. Just when I think they are getting on a roll, they do something like lose by 18 in Oklahoma City. The Heat come in at 20-19, the Pacers at 14-26 (sporting a 4-16 road record). When these teams locked horns in Miami on December 27th, the Heat won 114-80. PROJECTED STARTERS Heat Pacers PG Alston E. Watson SG Wade L. Head SF Richardson D. Granger PF Beasley T. Murphy C O’Neal R. Hibbert Last time around, the Heat got huge games from Wade and Beasley and a surprisingly big night from Richardson, who had 9 boards. The Pacers are a mismatched bag of parts. They are a running team (3rd most possessions per game in the league) that doesn’t really have the right personnel to run effectively. However, their philosophy de-emphasizes defense, so they are stuck in a kid of basketball purgatory. Danny Granger has struggled this season, although he has played better lately, and has been usurped as the team’s best player by Troy Murphy. Murphy is a 6’10" big man that likes to shoot it from outside, yet has put up 14+ rebounds in 4 of the last 5 games. Luckily, the Heat has a pretty good matchup for him in Beasley. Hibbert had a big game on Monday against the Hornets, putting up a 27 point, 12 rebound- effort that was the best of his young career. Look for O’Neal to go at him early and try to induce foul trouble. And of course, Wade should have a field day, although he will be seeing large quantities of defensive specialist Dahntay Jones off the bench. Jones is a Dukie and is therefore close to my heart, but he has got to be one of the most annoying players in the NBA to go up against. Odds are about the same that Wade will light him up for 40 or Udonis Haslem will break him over his knee Mortal Kombat style. STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN (via Statsheet.com; 1/18/10) Effective Field Goal % The Heat is 20th in the league at 48.9%; the Pacers are 25th at 47.6%. EDGE: Heat Turnover % The Heat is 2nd in the league at 12.7%; the Pacers are 18th at 14.6%. EDGE: Heat (Big) Offensive Rebound % The Heat is 17th in the league at 25.7%; the Pacers are 29th at 22.9%. EDGE: Heat (Big) Free Throw Rate The Heat is 16th in the league at 30.8%; the Pacers are 19th at 30%. EDGE: Even There you have it. The Pacers, on top of their aversion to defense, don’t take care of the ball very well. They have rebounded better as of late, but if the Heat can set a physical tone early, this could be another blowout. KEY TO THE GAME As said, the Pacers like to play transition basketball and shoot the three. Granger might have a big night, but look for Miami’s wings (Wade, Richardson, Dorrell Wright) and Beasley to have a big night and exploit the Pacers’ soft perimeter D. The Pacers will need big nights from their three best (Murphy, Granger, Hibbert) in order to win. Hibbert will have to control the hoop on defense and force the Heat in to a jump shooting contest, Murphy will have to play his inside-out game to draw an extra defender, and Granger will have to take advantage of both. It could very well happen, as all three have played well of late, but I still see the Heat honoring their tradition of switching off good games with bad. Always guard the inbound passer.