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Notebook: Pacers-Heat in a Battle of Wills

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 30, 2013, 5:00 PM

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MIAMI – The Pacers want to take advantage of their size and jack-hammer the ball inside to Roy Hibbert as often as possible. The Heat want to run at every opportunity, spread the floor and make room for LeBron James to spray his skill-set.

Whoever comes closest to imposing their will probably wins Game 5 tonight at American Airlines Arena and takes a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

“There's two different forces going at each other,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Who can impose that identity longer? That's what competition is all about They're not going to make it easy on us and we're not going to make it easy on them. So, we'll see what happens.”

The Pacers were more like themselves than Miami on Tuesday, when they tied the series with a 99-92 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They outrebounded the Heat by 19, outscored the Heat on second-chance points by seven, and outscored the Heat in the paint by 18.

Miami, meanwhile, did not fast break or get into the lane off of penetration nearly as often as it prefers.

“It's actually surprising we didn't lose that game by more,” Spoelstra said. “We played their style and tried to beat them at their game. Yet we still had a chance to win.”

Spoelstra won't make a lineup change to try to combat the Pacers' size advantage because for all its flaws in Game 4, his team had a three-point lead with less than five minutes remaining. From his point of view, it failed to execute down the stretch, missing eight of its final nine field goals. All but one were perimeter jump shots.

“We didn't get to our pace, yet we still had an opportunity to win,” he said. “Everybody has to bring more tonight.”

The best way for the Pacers to keep the Heat out of transition is to execute offensively and make it take the ball out of the net as often as possible, or at least get a shot close to the basket that doesn't produce a long rebound if it misses. That's where Hibbert comes in.

Hibbert is averaging 22.8 points and 12 rebounds in the series, providing the Pacers with their most favorable match-up. He averaged 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds during the regular season, when his teammates often struggled to get the ball to him in scoring position, but that's been less a problem as the playoffs have progressed.

“We're moving the ball a little better,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We're trying to move him into the post (while the ball is moving) rather than just come down and plant him on the block and let their defense load up. We're getting early strikes or post-ups out of movement, that's when we get the most out of Roy.”

The Pacers have gotten plenty out of Hibbert at the defensive end as well. He hasn't blocked shots at the rate he did in the series against New York, but that's partially because Miami hasn't challenged him as often as the Knicks did. According to ESPN stats, James has driven the lane with Hibbert in the game 18 times and scored five points on 1-of-3 shooting. With Hibbert out of the game, James has driven 10 times and hit 5-of-6 shots.

Same place, different team

The Pacers are in a familiar situation tonight, facing Miami in the fifth game of a series tied at 2-2. They had the same circumstance last year, when they won the second and third game of a second-round series with the Heat but lost the remaining three.

Miami won last year's Game 5 at American Airlines Arena, 115-83. The Pacers shot just 33 percent from the field in that game, and were outrebounded 49-35.

What's different this year?

“Different team, different mentality,” Hibbert said. “I'm a different player. Mentally. I'm ready to go. I'm ready for a tough battle. I don't even remember Game 5 last year to tell you the truth.”

Numbers don't lie

Miami will be an obvious favorite to win tonight's game, as the higher-seeded team on its home court.

It also has a bit of history in its favor: the last eight times it lost a game, it came back to win the next one by a double-figure point margin.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade also has a streak going. He's played 10 consecutive games without scoring 20 or more points, the longest such stretch of his NBA career. That could mean he's due to explode, or that he's simply no longer the player he once was.

Another relevant detail: the Game 5 winner of a seven-game series has gone on to win the series 83 percent of the time in NBA history.

“We have to come out and honestly play the best game we've played all year to have a chance to win this game,” Pacers forward David West said.