Hick vs. Slick? Team vs. Dream?

May 10, 2012

Collison shoots over a three-pointer over a Heat defender. Photo credit: Issac Baldizon, NBAE/Getty Images

It isn't quite Hicks vs. Knicks in terms of the clash of sporting and geographic cultures, but Pacers-Heat can stand on its own merit.

This series could use a catchy theme but unless some of those New York Post headline writers moved to Miami—it wouldn't be the first time that particular migration took place—don't count on it.

You could try Hick vs. Slick, as in Larry Bird vs. Pat Riley, or perhaps Team vs. Dream.

Or not. Certainly, someone more creative than I will come up with something appropriate.

Even so, this series offers a stark contrast of philosophies, franchises and personnel.

Miami is built around star power, the Big Three followed by a cult-like swarm of national media. The city is all about glitz, glamour, high-fashion, trendy clubs and South Beach. It seemed like all of the Heat games were on national TV -- except, of course, those against the Pacers.

The team coasted through the regular season and all-but yawned throughout a first-round breeze through the Knicks (you get the impression the Heat lost Game 4 because the players simply were too bored to care).

The Pacers, of course, are all about team. They lack a singular superstar but thrive with a collective approach. This, naturally, is anathema to the TV networks, which explains why the Pacers played in the shadows all season long. Indianapolis is all about family, friends, blue jeans and Broad Ripple.

Nothing has come easily for this team, including the first-round series against Orlando. Scoff all you want about the Magic being easy prey without Dwight Howard but Stan Van Gundy's team played extremely hard throughout and with one more Orlando bucket at the end of regulation or overtime in Game 4, we wouldn't be having this discussion yet.

There are some important similarities, however.

Both front offices are led by iconic figures.

Bird might very well be the most accomplished man in the history of the sport; not only a megastar as a player, but a highly successful coach and the likely Executive of the Year for the work he has done rebuilding this franchise. Riley isn't far behind, although his playing career was much more modest.

Roy Hibbert goes for a dunk with LeBron James trying to stop him. Credit: Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Both teams coached by a new breed.

Frank Vogel and Erik Spoelstra didn't rise through the ranks because they were ex-players or veteran assistants with connections; they did so the hard way, starting in the dark isolation of the video room and climbing the ranks through the merit of their work.

And then there is the ultimate shared trait.

Both teams still have something to prove.

LeBron James, Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh are supposed to win multiple championships together. They're supposed to dominate the NBA because of their rare combination of elite talent. And yet they haven't even dominated their conference, finishing second to Chicago twice during the regular season. Their trip to the jewelry store was sidetracked by Dallas, a team not dissimilar to the Pacers in its reliance on depth, defense and balance. If Miami fails to win a championship this year, all of that sunlight shining on those superstars will turn to fire.

The Pacers are on a quest for respect. They finished with the third-best record in the East, fifth-best in the league, and yet they seem to be the only ones that know it -- or care. At the very least, they must challenge the Heat as they did the Bulls a year ago, give the heavy favorite a much tougher fight than anyone had a realistic reason to expect. Anything short of that and they will be dismissed by the national media as a nice little team that had a good year, and the quest will have to start all over again next season.

Miami is trying to reach the final step. Indiana is striding toward the next.

Game 1 can't get here fast enough.

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