Indiana Pacers at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Pacers 102-98 in their last meeting on March 12. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What did we learn from Miami’s first game of the season?

Couper Moorhead: That you can’t expect everything to be perfectly in place on Day One. We won’t be able to know for sure whether that has anything to do with the shorter preseason across the league, but all the talk coming from Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the team following that loss was defense, defense, defense. The HEAT will usually live with an opponent hitting tough contested jumpers, which Orlando did some of on their way to an offensive rating of 108.7, but it was allowing 56 points in the paint that everyone appeared to be particularly focused on two days later. Some of that was due to miscommunications in transition, some of that was from the pick-and-roll coverages not being as tight as they need to be, but it’s early season now and those are all things the team cleans up each and every year.

We should also note that though Miami was down double digits for much of the second half there was also a significant run led by James Johnson (in foul trouble most of the night) that, while it ultimately fell short, captured exactly the type of controlled, desperate energy that became the team’s trademark in the second half of last season. You don’t want the team to need to be down double digits to tap into that energy, but more so than any scheme or coverage the HEAT’s ability to just flat-out play harder than just about any other team is always going to be one of this group’s best attributes.

Joe Beguiristain: We learned that there are still some things to improve on. While it’s important not to overreact one way or another following just one game, (especially the first one) the HEAT’s defense could have been better. In fact, the Magic scored 116 points on 47.8 percent shooting, and as Erik Spoelstra said after practice on Friday, “116 points is not the type of [amount] that we want to give up…we just weren’t able to defend and stop the bleeding.”

All that said, Miami still mounted an impressive comeback bid in the fourth quarter behind the strong play of Hassan Whiteside (who is out for Saturday’s game) and James Johnson. The duo combined for 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in the period, as they helped cut the deficit down to two with 2:39 remaining before the Magic closed things out.

Long story short, the defense was very atypical for the HEAT, but the never-say-die attitude was what you’ve come to expect from this squad.

2: How have the Pacers changed in the past year and how will those changes affect this matchup?

Couper: You’ve no doubt heard about Indiana trading Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. No other move is going to even approach that one in terms of significance, but the team also swapped out Jeff Teague at point guard for the combination of Darren Collison (starting) and Cory Joseph. And though he didn’t play in the first game, Al Jefferson and his never-ending bag of post moves has also joined the frontcourt.

It’s tough to tell based on one game, but after being one of the slowest teams during preseason the Pacers and Brooklyn Nets played a game of 116 possessions the other night (140-131) – which happened to be one of the fastest NBA games in the last decade. That’s more than likely the Brooklyn effect, given that Nate McMillan teams have generally played at a slower pace, but you don’t put up 140 points by accident and it’s possible the Pacers are bucking the trend and trying to become a more explosive offensive team. 

Joe: As Coup chronicled above, the Pacers look a whole lot different than they did a year ago. Case in point: Indiana started four new players against Portland on Friday (Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanović and Domantas Sabonis). Of course, Myles Turner would normally get the start at center, but he’s currently dealing with a concussion and sore neck. Even if he did start, there are still plenty of new guys that need to figure out how to play with one another.

All these changes make this matchup with the Pacers pretty unpredictable. Coup already talked about how Indiana was slow throughout the preseason and then super fast against Brooklyn on Wednesday. Similarly, the Pacers were ranked in the top ten in defensive efficiency in the preseason, but tallied a 111.9 defensive rating versus the Nets. With a bunch of new pieces and the regular season in its infancy, it’s just too early to tell how Indiana will fare.

3: With both Hassan Whiteside (knee) and Myles Turner (neck) out, how do you expect each team to adjust?

Couper: The Pacers have said that Sabonis, a skilled big man with some stretch to his game, will start in place of Turner. As for Miami, you probably know by now that Spoelstra isn’t going to announce anything before he has to. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bam Adebayo vault into the starting lineup given how Spoelstra typically replaces starters, often grabbing someone from deeper in the rotation so as to not destabilize the rest of his lineup card. But given how early it is, with few lineups actually set in stone, this might be an opportunity to experiment a little bit by starting Kelly Olynyk at center and possibly James Johnson or Justise Winslow (or even Okaro White) slotting in at power forward.

Whoever ends up with more minutes in Whiteside’s absence, it won’t change how this team plays too much though you might see more handoff actions with Olynyk in place of the more traditional pick-and-rolls run with Whiteside.

Joe: As I stated above, the Pacers rolled with Sabonis against the Trail Blazers on Friday.

In terms of how the HEAT will adapt without Whiteside, I agree with Coup. I think that Coach Spo will slide Kelly Olynyk over to the center position and start either James Johnson or Justise Winslow at power forward. If you start Winslow, the Brothers Johnson can continue to come off the bench and do some damage. While you lose that dynamic if James Johnson starts, Winslow can also run the two-man game with Tyler Johnson. Luckily enough, the former Duke Blue Devil showed excellent court vision against the Magic on Wednesday.   

As you can see, an argument can be made either way. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.



March 12 – HEAT at Pacers

Feb. 25 – Pacers at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won four of five against the Pacers.
  • Indiana is 1-1 on the season after falling to Portland on Friday night.
  • Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery) and Hassan Whiteside (left knee contusion) are out for Miami. 
  • Myles Turner (concussion & sore neck) is out for the Pacers.


Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 97.8 (22)
  • HEAT Defense: 108.7 (22)
  • Pacers Offense: 110.0 (8)
  • Pacers Defense: 112.6 (28)

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