Saturday, March 10 at Miami, 7:30 p.m.
Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (23-14) vs. Heat (30-9)
By Conrad Brunner
SCOUTING THE PACERS: Defense, rebounding and depth are the pillars upon which this team is constructed, and all have been wobbly of late, particularly against quality competition. That's why the Pacers are in desperate need of a victory over an elite team. They've lost two in a row overall but six straight against teams with winning records. In those six, they've given up an average of 101 points on .467 shooting overall, including .394 from the 3-point line; they've been outrebounded by 59 and outscored by 31 on second-chance points. In the last two, the bench has been outscored 85-52.
It will be tough to get well against a Miami team that has dominated them in two blowouts this season; the Pacers trailed by at least 35 in each game. They'll need to get better production up the middle, as point guard Darren Collison (five points, seven assists, 2-of-13 shooting in the last two games) and center Roy Hibbert (19 points, 4-of-16 shooting in the last three) both are struggling. So is Danny Granger (10-of-29 in the last two). David West (16.0 points, .600 shooting in the last three), George Hill (14.0 points in the last three) and Paul George (14.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.67 steals in the last six) have been the top performers recently.
SCOUTING THE HEAT: Chicago may have a better record but no team is as intimidating to face than Miami -- particularly for the Pacers. The Heat led by 37 in a 118-83 blowout on Jan. 4, and led by 35 in a 105-90 blowout on Feb. 14. Both games were decided by halftime. In the first meeting, the Pacers shot 1-of-15 and committed 10 turnovers in the second quarter and were outscored 33-12 as Miami led 62-39 at intermission. In the second, the Pacers fell behind 33-16 after one, Granger limped out with a sprained ankle and it was 68-39 at the break.
Though the team positively reeks of glamour with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Miami does the dirty work with a strong defense and effective bench. The Pacers have shot just 7 of 34 from the 3-point line in two games with more turnovers (40) than assists (27), an indicator of just how tight the Miami clamps. The Heat recently had an eight-game win streak in which all of the margins were in double figures and the average was 16.0. But road losses to the Jazz and Lakers brought that roll to a stop and Miami has since bounced back with home wins over the Nets and Hawks.
KEY MATCHUP: Granger must find a way to be effective. In two games against Miami he has made 3 of 17 shots and missed most of the Feb. 14 matchup with a sprained ankle. Though the Pacers have a share-the-wealth offense, they need their scoring leader to pose a serious threat to stretch the Miami defense and give Hibbert and West room to operate inside.
QUOTE MARKS: "I think you have to credit (Coach) Erik Spoelstra. There's always the concept of the team vs. the big three. They're developing a team within their big three talent and all the role-players they have. When those two things happen you see what you've seen with them in terms of clicking on a level where you're beating every team by double digits every single night." - Pacers Coach Frank Vogel on the Heat
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, Jeff Foster (back) is out, while George Hill (left shoulder) is day-to-day. For the Heat, no injuries are reported.
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast at 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game with Brook Olzendam hosting the pregame show starting at 7. The radio broadcast will air on WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle and Austin Croshere, with Kevin Lee hosting the pre-game and halftime shows.
INTERACT: You can get in-game commentary from this group of Pacers personalities throughout the game on Twitter.