May 20 2013 10:03AM

2013 NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Finals Preview


Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

MIAMI HEAT vs. INDIANA PACERS

Now it gets interesting. Miami has its first test of the 2013 NBA Playoffs and it should be a fun one for us, the home viewers. The Miami Heat's Big 3 and their defending champion sidekicks finally play a real playoff team. And this is not supposed to be a knock against the 45-win Chicago Bulls, who were playing without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, but it kind of a rip against the 38-win Milwaukee Bucks, who couldn't even finish .500 in a weak Eastern Conference. The Pacers, however, are far from weak, showing their signature strength in their six-game second-round series with the New York Knicks, where Roy Hibbert's relentless rim protection, David West's powerful post presence, Paul George's tough overall all-over defense, Lance Stephenson's Herculean efforts and George Hill's catalyst charge were all instrumental in leading the 49-win Pacers over the 54-win Knicks. That is why it was so fitting that all five took the podium in Saturday's Game 6 postgame press conference. Only one other quintet that logged 600-plus minutes had a better plus-minus net rating than the Pacers' Fab 5 combo of Hibbert, West, George, Stephenson and Hill. And no playoff combo has played more postseason minutes together than these five who logged 236 minutes and posted an incredible +16.4 net rating thus far. It is going to take a mighty Heat effort to thwart the NBA's No. 1 defense orchestrated by Pacers Coach Frank Vogel. And Miami indeed is up for the challenge. Finally, a challenge. The Bulls showed heart and determination in trying to get Miami's attention in Round 2, but the Heat still has been able to post an 8-1 record and 13.9 margin of victory in the playoffs. How do they do it? However Coach Erik Spoelstra wants. LeBron James and Company can take your best punch and use it to get to the line 27 times per game while still making 55 percent of their two-point shots, like the Heat did against the Bulls. Or they can beat you at your own defensive game, like they did against the Bucks, limiting Milwaukee to a putrid 91.5 points per 100 possessions on offense, which was 6.3 points lower than the worst NBA team in the regular season. That's Miami playoff D, which may be able to ramp up to nearly the same intensity as Indiana D. On the Pacers side, George, Hibbert and the Pacers will be able to contain James as well as one team defense can. Dwyane Wade's busted knee may be all Indiana needs to keep his shooting percentages down. And if the Pacers, who were No. 1 in defending the 3 in 2012-13, can continue to fluster Miami's mediocre postseason outside shooters--Heat was a stunning 40 percent in regular season; mediocre 34 percent in playoffs-- we may indeed see a classic seven-game showdown. The only advantage Miami clearly has in the 5-on-5 game is the strength of its bench. After all, using past and present seasons as examples, James has been known to make second- and third-string teammates look like All-Stars at times. Plus, I don't think anyone in the world doubts Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Company are better than Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and whoever else Indiana throws out there. How bad is this Pacers' bench? Not one single reserve has a positive plus-minus score in the postseason. Look for Vogel to ride the five cards he was dealt for as many 40-plus minutes games as he can.

#1 HEAT

C Chris Bosh +2.40 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 32.1 mpg, 18.8 PER, +71

PF LeBron James +7.88 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 39.4 mpg, 27.4 PER, +105

SF Shane Battier -0.90 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 23.1 mpg, 4.8 PER, +71

SG Dwyane Wade +3.39 RSPM; Playoffs: 8 g, 32.9 mpg, 17.7 PER, +83

PG Mario Chalmers +0.14 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 26.6 mpg, 11.7 PER, +51

SG Ray Allen -0.60 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 24.8 mpg, 19.3 PER, +82

PG Norris Cole -4.57 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 22.1 mpg, 16.7 PER, +74

PF Udonis Haslem -2.00 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 17.7 mpg, 16.8 PER, +38

C Chris Andersen +3.06 RSPM; Playoffs: 9 g, 13.7 mpg, 29.3 PER, +81

#3 PACERS

C Roy Hibbert +2.27 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 34.8 mpg, 17.4 PER, +79

PF David West +1.91 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 34.9 mpg, 20.2 PER, +69

SF Paul George +2.11 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 41.5 mpg, 16.9 PER, +46

SG Lance Stephenson -1.18 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 34.1 mpg, 11.9 PER, +61

PG George Hill +1.25 RSPM; Playoffs: 11 g, 36.9 mpg, 16.6 PER, +73

PG D.J. Augustin -2.02 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 18.2 mpg, 11.1 PER, -34

PF Tyler Hansbrough -0.28 RSPM; Playoffs: 12 g, 14.2 mpg, 15.4 PER, -32

C Ian Mahinmi -1.77 RSPM; Playoffs: 11 g, 8.4 mpg, 10.7 PER, -24

SG Gerald Green -4.09 RSPM; Playoffs: 7 g, 13.0 mpg, 10.0 PER, -25

PREDICTION: HEAT IN 7



SOURCES: Regularized Statistical Plus Minus stats come from David Williams' You Have No Game website; Games, Minutes Per Game, Player Efficiency Rating and Plus-Minus numbers in the Playoffs come from Basketball-Reference.