Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Half-empty: What ails the Heat? Shouldn’t they be running away with this?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Not much and no, in that order. Look, the Heat are human (odd as that might read). If Dwyane Wade were 90-95 percent of his old self, if Ray Allen were 90-95 percent of his young self, if Chris Bosh-with-a-few-fouls played defense with the same intensity as his mates, maybe this would be, what, 3-1? Indiana’s good and shouldn’t be a breeze for Miami. Now that we’ve seen something we might never see again – LeBron James fouling out of a huge playoff game on four whistles in the fourth – I anticipate something akin to last year’s ECF Game 6 in Boston from him Thursday. You want advancement and style points? By next week’s Blogtable, you’ll probably have both from Miami.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Nothing. No. The overreaction to the last thing we saw is amazing and overwrought. We have turned into a sports watching society of confused bullfrogs, constantly jumping back and forth across the fence. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when the Bulls took Game 1 against the Heat and the sky in Miami was supposed to be falling? These are the Eastern Conference finals. The Pacers have been a capable team with a solid defense all season. I don’t know many people or so-called experts who thought the Heat were going to sweep or even win in five games. This was always going to be a six or seven games series and now that’s what we’ve got. Settle in and enjoy the finish. At least until after Game 5 when it will be time to set our hair on fire and throw the loser of that one on the trash heap. If the Pacers win the series, it wouldn’t exactly be Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson. Having said that, the Heat will survive. Then lose to the Spurs.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Hey, give the Pacers credit for this series being tied 2-2. Look, we’ve all known that if the Heat have a soft spot it’s the interior and Roy Hibbert is proving he’s a man. Imagine had Indiana gotten cold feet and not matched Portland’s offer last summer. Wow. Also, hey, Dwyane Wade is no longer a magical player game-in and game-out, and Miami’s role players aren’t getting the job done as they did during that historic regular season. But, there’s this too: Are the Heat just supposed to sweep everybody they play? I think the Celtics a few years back went seven games in the first two rounds en route to the title. Indiana is good. Very good and very balanced. Let this thing play out. No one will remember any Heat struggles, if that’s what you want to call it, if they raise another banner.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m saying the Miami glass is half-empty because the Indiana glass is way more than half-full. This is about the Pacers. Indy came in with a rare level of confidence versus the defending champions thanks to the regular-season series, then hit the Heat where they are most vulnerable. Hitting Miami inside, hard, is attacking the area everyone knew the Heat were most vulnerable.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: First of all, they shouldn’t be running away with this thing. The Pacers are a very good team with some (not all) of the components (size, defense) it takes to make things tough for the champs. But what has been amazing about this series is how efficiently both teams have scored. The league’s No. 1 defense (Indiana) has allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions and the league’s No. 19 offense (Indiana again) has scored more than 110. On the defensive end of the floor, the Heat’s problems have been rebounds and fouls. The Pacers have averaged 15.3 offensive boards and 35.3 free throw attempts per game in the series thus far. Without great perimeter shooting or an ability to take care of the ball, this is how the Pacers score. And against this particular opponent, with its smaller frontline, they can really thrive in those areas.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Are we watching the same series? There is a big man in this series averaging 20 and 10 and dominating the area around the rim. That big man, Roy Hibbert, plays for the Pacers. That’s the same Pacers team that almost stole Game 1 in Miami, if not for the absence of Hibbert on the floor in the final seconds. We have to give the Pacers credit for being an absolute worthy adversary for the Heat in this series. Does it feel like they are playing over their heads at time? Sure. But that’s what you want from the challenger in a bare-knuckle brawl of this nature against the reigning champ at this stage of the season. This series if far from over. The Pacers have already shown us that they are more than capable of winning on the Heat’s home floor. So Game 5 should be wild. Running away with this one? Not even close.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, it’s not like the Pacers are a bad team. They aren’t a great offensive team, and they aren’t very deep, but that doesn’t matter so much in the postseason. To me the thing that jumps out when watching Miami, particularly in these conference finals, is that they just aren’t very consistent with their effort. Yes, they go on runs and streaks, and there are times when they look unbeatable. And then the tempo slows and they play half-court offense and they pass the ball around the perimeter without any real direction, and then defensively they stand around and watch Indiana crash the boards. I don’t know if they’re tired or worn out or what, but they have to summon that effort for 48 minutes.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: Someone is finally exposing the Heat’s lack of size. The Pacers are dominating the boards and controlling the paint with the 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, who’s back to an All-Star level after a tough start to the regular season. Miami doesn’t have an answer for him and David West (neither for reserves Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi, for that matter), largely because guarding West takes too much out of LeBron on the defensive end, and the Heat need the MVP to run their offense. Miami is still the best overall team here, but to win the East they need more from Wade (concerns mount around his knee) Bosh (3.3 rebounds per game, down from 8.6 against the Bulls) and their long distance shooters (Ray Allen is 29.4 percent from downtown, Shane Battier 15.4 percent, and Norris Cole is at 28.6 percent after hitting 81.8 percent against Chicago)
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: At this point the Heat have basically gone from the Big Three to a one-man show. Chris Bosh is being manhandled by Hibbert and West and Dwyane Wade simply isn’t himself. And as great as Miami’s supporting cast is, they really don’t have the guys that could step in and play like stars. Indiana’s philosophy is to not let 3-point shooters beat them and to dominate the boards — which is exactly the way to beat Miami. It’s obviously easier said than done, but with the underwhelming way that Bosh and Wade have performed so far, it’s possible.
Hanson Guan, NBA China: Dwyane Wade, at a position where the Heat should have the greatest edge over their opponents, is the key to the rest of the series. However, after going 5-for-15 in Game 4, it marked the fourth time in nine games in which he hit fewer than 50 percent of his shots. In those four games? The Heat have gone just 1-3, including Game 2 of this series. The Pacers are tough, and with the Heat’s chances hurt by inside weakness, they have to bring their strengths into full play. James has done what he could; now it’s Wade’s time to rise to the challenge and push Miami through.