The Heat, who are just 7-6 on the road this season, are in Indiana to play the Pacers, who are currently riding a seven-game winning streak at home. Our panel weighs in.
1. What did the Heat learn from last season’s playoff series with the Pacers?
Tom Haberstroh: That they'll always have a chance with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Not that the Heat ever doubted that LeBron and Dwyane were really frickin' good at basketball, but the Indiana series showed that talent and athleticism can stand taller than height. Despite losing Chris Bosh for the series against 7-2 giant Roy Hibbert, the Heat rode LeBron and Dwyane to the Eastern Conference finals thanks to some of the greatest performances the duo ever put together.
Michael Wallace: That Indiana is a serious threat to Miami's status as the Beast of the East. The Heat had a weakened Dwyane Wade and were without Chris Bosh. But the Pacers proved in that series last season that they have the toughness and talent to go toe to toe with Miami. They lack a consistent closer.
Brian Windhorst: (A) The Heat have the talent to rally from being down in a series, even on the road. This would prove valuable later. (B) LeBron and Dwyane can intimidate opponents if they work together. (C) Roy Hibbert is not a center to be feared.
2. What did the Pacers learn from last season’s playoff series with the Heat?
Haberstroh: That they probably should've trusted Hibbert more. The Pacers were plus-26 with Hibbert on the floor against the Heat, but just minus-65 with him on the bench. Erik Spoelstra went small to speed past Hibbert and he ran into foul trouble at times, but Frank Vogel never played Hibbert more than 33 minutes until the deciding Game 6. That probably won't happen next time around.
Wallace: Indiana should have learned that all of the tough talk and silly antics don't amount to much when you're trying to get to the Finals. The Pacers also should have learned they should have continued to attack the smaller Heat in the paint with a strategy designed to give David West and Roy Hibbert as many touches as possible.
Windhorst: (A) They learned they can compete with the East's best team. (B) They learned they needed a better game plan on defending and limiting Wade, a lesson the Celtics took when creating their strategy for the next round when they focused on him and nearly pulled the upset. (C) They need to figure out a better way to use their size advantage.
3. What would it take for the Pacers to beat the Heat in a seven-game series?
Haberstroh: An injury to LeBron or Dwyane. The Heat losing Bosh, apparently, wasn't enough for the Pacers. And they had a healthy Danny Granger then. The Pacers' defense has made big strides this season, but let's be honest with ourselves: A healthy Heat team shouldn't have much trouble bottling up the Pacers in a seven-game series.
Wallace: An injury to LeBron James. Short of that, it'll require a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar performance over four games from Roy Hibbert and for West to play like Karl Malone. The Pacers are tough, but the Heat just don't leave much of a margin for error when they lock in on an opponent in a seven-game playoff series, when foes struggle to get two wins, let alone four.
Windhorst: (A) Perhaps Bosh and Wade to be hurt. (B) Winning games on their home court, not losing two of three like last season. (C) Getting Hibbert to actually earn his money, not talk a good game about someday earning his money, under pressure.