By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Mind the gap.
The three-day hiatus between Game 2 (Tuesday) and Game 3 (Saturday) in the Eastern Conference finals – with a similar gap Wednesday-to-Sunday in the West – will play as big or small a role in the series as the teams permit. For most NBA fans, the action blackout across 96 hours is like a missing front tooth from a photogenic smile. Jarring and unsatisfying.
For the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, though, the extended break is what they make of it.
There’s a reason coaches, if not players, generally prefer no more than one day between games. Momentum matters. Good habits, like winning, can be elusive. Bad habits, like losing, are best addressed and eradicated swifty. Players actually embrace back-to-back scheduling in the regular season because it allows them to rinse the bad taste of a particularly haunting defeat from their mouths.
Imagine how, at a certain level, it might stink to the be the Pacers right now, having to wait so long for a chance to correct what they messed up Tuesday – the good shots missed of which forward David West spoke afterward (he and Paul George were a combined 9-of-32), a handful of ill-timed defensive lapses and turnovers. Now imagine what it would be like for Miami had it fallen to 0-2 – three days of wailing from Heat fans, criticism from Heat non-fans and around-the-clock speculation about the route LeBron James‘ moving vans might take when he bails via his contract opt-out this summer.
But in this instance, extra time between the games can actually make for a better series.
The Pacers welcome the lag time in George’s recovery from the concussion he suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Their leading scorer and designated James-defender must be cleared via the NBA’s official concussion protocol before he can play again. That means passing a series of exertion tests (stationary bike, treadmill, court activities) and answering a doctor’s questions with no lingering symptoms. Some players recover quickly, other take longer. In this case, 96 hours is better than 48.
George was held out of practice Thursday, with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporting that George wore a red, no-contact jersey during the session. “Hopefully all is well and he’s out there and he’s Paul George on Saturday,” Dwyane Wade said after Thursday’s Heat practice. It was Wade’s knee that inadvertently struck George in the back of the head with 6:50 to play. “We want to make sure that both teams have all their weapons coming into the game.”
Indiana coach Frank Vogel and his crew also have corrections and adjustments to make in two days on the practice court before flying to Miami Friday evening. Both teams took off Wednesday, but now it’s all about finding answers.
In the Pacers’ case, the issues include Norris Cole‘s ability to blanket and slow Lance Stephenson in the fourth quarter, workarounds for the help defense that were sent at George and how West and Hibbert can get back to punishing Heat up front, at least when an increasingly effective Chris “Birdman” Andersen isn’t on the floor. At the other end, of course, it’s finding a way to slow James and Wade – the final quarter takeover artists – without handing opportunities to Chris Bosh, Ray Allen or others.
The Heat get all the same rest and prep time as the Pacers, and aren’t shy about using it. Wade’s left knee didn’t escape unscathed from its collision with George’s head; in fact, Miami instantly was worried given the shooting guard’s litany of knee problems. But 96 hours is the equivalent of sitting out one or two games, something Wade did plenty (28 absences) this season.
James, Andersen and others were noticeably gassed at times in Game 2, not just from the minutes they logged but from the intensity of each one in the playoffs. Then there is the opportunity the Heat have: Defending home court in Game 3 and Game 4 would put Indiana in a 3-1 hole from which only eight NBA teams have climbed in the history of the seven-game series.
Oh, and the way San Antonio is playing over on the other side of the bracket, neither the Pacers nor the Heat want to be taking on extra games recreationally. The sooner one can snuff, the better.
“So with these three days,” James said late Tuesday, “we’re not comfortable and we’re not satisfied at all.”
At least the teams will stay busy. Their dissatisfied fans can only wait. Breaking down video is one thing, finding a movie worth seeing is another.