After three straight victories, the Miami Heat have the Indiana Pacers sputtering, grumbling and on the ropes. Miami can do what only two other franchises in NBA history have done -- reach the NBA Finals four consecutive times -- and the Heat's first chance will come Wednesday night at 8:30 in Indiana.
The conventional script towards eliminating a team on the road is familiar -- withstand the early run and make the decisive plays down the stretch to win the game. The Thunder did that to the Los Angeles Clippers last week, overcoming an early 16-point deficit to advance to the Western Conference Finals. Miami did that to eliminate the Pacers in Indianapolis two years ago; the Pacers jumped out to a 19-8 lead, but a 41-point outburst from Dwyane Wade carried Miami. Of course, the Heat couldn't eliminate the Pacers with their first opportunity last year, losing Game 6 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals 91-77 before blowing out Indiana in Game 7.
How can Miami avoid extending this series and rest up before a Finals series? Miami is unquestionably coming into this game from a position of strength, fresh off a wire-to-wire victory over the Pacers in Game 4. As Zach Lowe said in his report on the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami has solved a player who has confounded its players and coaching staff for two years -- Roy Hibbert. The Heat have scored just as well against Indiana regardless of whether he has been on the floor and dramatically better with Hibbert on the floor for the past three games, per NBA.com. Heat players have gone right at Hibbert at the rim. And Miami's offense has had extended stretches of beautiful basketball, forcing turnovers, finding open shooters and earning trips to the foul line.
On the other hand, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen -- two key bench players -- are questionable for Game 5. Andersen will travel with the team to Indianapolis, a good sign that shows it's plausible that he'll play. An absence from Allen would be especially missed considering that Allen played 27 minutes in Games 3 and 4 and has helped the Heat compensate for a sub-par Mario Chalmers in this series. These nagging injuries only heighten the importance to close out this series Wednesday night. The Pacers have done a lot of talking since the beginning of the season. Wednesday night is simply about showing which team can back it up.