Meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive year, the Miami Heat will look to take away what the Indiana Pacers made a principal goal for the just-concluded regular season -- home-court advantage.
It might be easier than one might think, since the Pacers lost Game 1 in each of their first two playoff rounds this series. But, of course, Indiana managed to come back and win both of those series. Although at times Washington and particularly Atlanta posed problems for the top seed in the East, the Heat will look to keep the team that has aimed at the defending champions at bay for yet another season.
This season marks the third consecutive season that these two squads faced each other in a playoff series. Before their second-round matchup in 2012, Pacers coach Frank Vogel labeled the Heat "the biggest flopping team in the NBA." Yet again, comments have again garnered much attention. Lance Stephenson said Saturday that he hopes to "make [Dwyane Wade's] knee flare up or something. Do anything possible so the games will come easier for us." It's odd to hear an NBA player openly say that he'd like to force an opponent to get injured, and there's no no love lost between these two teams. Just in last year's Game 5, Chris Andersen committed a flagrant foul against Tyler Hansbrough, and Udonis Haslem and David West exchanged words.
Fans may pay attention to the Wade/Stephenson matchup Sunday at 3:30, but we could also see Haslem become a rotation player. Haslem started against the Charlotte Bobcats, but was not needed against a Nets frontline that included a pedestrian Andre Blatche, a 3-point launching Mirza Teletovic and Kevin Garnett's corpse. We could see the co-captain again utilized against David West and Roy Hibbert. For Haslem, it would always be a plus if he can also knock down those 17-foot jumpers he used to hit with regularity to make the Indiana defense honor him.
Hibbert has been an enigma in these playoffs. He was completely neutralized in Indiana's first-round series and went scoreless in the opening game of the second round. But then Hibbert scored 28 points on 10-of-13 shooting in Game 2 of that series and had a couple other solid games. Hibbert has always managed to cause problems for the Heat (it even got Erik Spoelstra to start Dexter Pittman for a game in 2012; will Spoelstra bring Greg Oden out in this series?), so that matchup will be one to watch.
Miami's goal for this week (yes, Game 3 isn't until Saturday) will simply be to get the split in Indianapolis. And beginning Sunday, we'll see whether Indiana really has fallen out of contention.