Last Word on Pro Basketball is giving you an NBA Playoffs preview for each series as it begins inside the bubble.
After a unique NBA season for the history books, the 2019-2020 postseason tipped off earlier today. All 16 teams will remain in the bubble for the duration of the postseason.
The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are set to square off in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Pacers defeated the Heat 109-92 last Friday to close the regular season. Note that both teams started their “caution” lineups to rest their key players for the postseason.
Can Indiana and T.J. Warren continue their hot streak or will Miami’s young players carry the Heat over to the second round?
NBA Playoffs Preview: Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
While the Heat are clearly the younger team, they balance out with Jimmy Butler‘s perimeter defense and aggressive offensive game. In addition, Miami’s success defensively will also be determined by Most Improved Player candidate Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson, who finished the season tied fourth in three pointers made per game (3.7), three point percentage (44.6 percent) and second in effective field goal percentage (66.7 percent). The Heat’s frontcourt is tied for fifth in points per game (74.1).
However, the Heat will have a challenge in the first round, facing a Pacers team ranked sixth in defensive rating at 108. Their front court has a defensive rating of 23.4, third in the league, which could give the Heat some trouble. Myles Turner is the Pacers’ defensive anchor, averaging 2.1 blocks and 5.2 defensive rebounds per game and solid man-to-man defense.
Indiana is home to the Bubble’s story of the year: T.J. Warren, who has been lights out offensively, scoring 53, 34, 32, 16, 39 and 12 points in six games. The match-up between him and Butler is something to look out for, since both were involved in a verbal conflict on the court and social media in January. However, one concern is the possible absence of first-time all star Domantas Sabonis,although the Pacers have been able to adjust down low.
Expect an entertaining battle down low in the post and perimeter, but Miami could struggle if their 3-point shooting does not translate to the postseason. However, the Pacers’ shorthanded team could affect them, particularly in the frontcourt, so Miami should have an edge over the Pacers.
For basketball (and Heat) fans, this is where the sun shines on Miami the most: their backcourt. This season, the Heat have shot 37.9 percent behind the arc (2nd in NBA) and average 13.6 makes per game (6th).
Robinson is not the only successful three-point shooter on the Heat. On the roster, four players are shooting at least 40 percent from behind the arc. They are also fifth in assists per game (25.9). Veteran point guard Goran Dragić has shown some gas in the tank, averaging 16.2 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 44.1 percent per game. Rookie Tyler Herro is having a solid season, averaging 13.5 points, 2.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 42.8 percent per game.
Despite the Heat’s backcourt success, they lack one key aspect: experience. Their starting backcourt are 24 and 22 years old.
In the game of basketball, the best teams not only have a solid starting lineup, but also a strong bench that can be relied on to carry the game ahead. Since the bubble’s start, Miami ranks seventh in points (45.6) and sixth in total rebounds (19.1) per game.
Head Coach Erik Spoelstra is known to utilize his bench as much as possible for deep rotations. Herro is one of the Heat’s crucial pieces off the bench at only 20 years old. However, Andre Iguodala will come in for his perimeter defense and clutch shooting. Derrick Jones leads Miami’s bench in shooting percentage at 52.7 percent. Jae Crowder has successfully subbed in for Butler, averaging 10.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
On the other hand, Indiana’s success is not fully credited to its bench. While they do a solid job finding good looks for assists (7th in league with 9.9 per game), Indiana struggles shooting wise. Doug McDermott and Jeremy Lamb are the only players that shoot in double digits off the bench. McDermott averages 10.5 per game, while Lamb averaged 12.5 before tearing his ACL. However, Justin Holiday is a solid defender who will give 15 minutes of grit on the court, making it difficult for opposing guards to run the offense.
The Pacers are tied for first in steals per game off the bench, which could give them an advantage if they double team the young Heat guards. They also protect the ball, only turning it over 4.8 times per game (tied for 3rd).
If the Heat excel shooting wise, this could be a big issue for Indiana. This NBA Playoffs Preview sees the Heat having too much depth from various levels of experience for a short handed Pacers’ team.
Both teams are coming off disappointing ends to their previous seasons: Miami missing the postseason and Indiana losing in a four game series against the Boston Celtics during the First Round. The Pacers lost key players in Bojan Bogdanović and Darren Collison,but this year’s team relies more on the “little” things: setting screens and passing the ball.
According to stats.nba.com, the Pacers are seventh in screen assists at 25.6 and tied fifth with Miami in assists per game (25.9). The little things reflect on hustle and coachability, which cannot be taught. It shows that they are willing to do the dirty work, which separates someone from others. However, the Heat are third in screen assists (26.5) and first in box-outs (19.2), according to stats.nba.com.
This NBA Playoffs preview finds that the Heat also hold leads over the Pacers in many hustle stat categories, which goes beyond learning how to shoot and rebound. You can’t afford to not do the little things in the postseason, which is something Miami has an advantage of.
Nate McMillan spent 20 years as a player and coach for the SuperSonics. However, he has yet to get past the Western Conference Semifinals, when the SuperSonics lost to the San Antonio Spurs in six games during the 2004-2005 season. He is known for his hard-nose coaching style, hence the Pacers’ increased intensity within the last three seasons. He has not missed the postseason since taking over for Frank Vogel in 2016, so it shows his consistency as a head coach within at least the first round.
Spoelstra has been the Miami Heat’s head coach since 2008, taking over for Pat Riley. In 11 seasons, he has only missed the postseason three times and won the 2012 and 2013 NBA Finals. He is the second longest-tenured head coach in the NBA, behind Gregg Popovich, who has coached the Spurs since 1996.
Both are solid head coaches, but Spoelstra has more success in the postseason and is also more consistent with his lineups and rotations.
NBA Playoffs Preview Final Prediction: Miami Heat in 6
The Miami Heat have an advantage over Indiana with a better bench, coaching staff and frontcourt. However, Miami’s overall inexperience makes it difficult to predict how they will perform as a team.
What separates this year’s team from previous years is the balance of veterans and young players, but postseason play is another level. Expect Spoelstra to play Iguodala in late game situations and Crowder to provide more offense down the stretch.
The Pacers have a more experienced backcourt and their tough defense will tire out the young backcourt, expanding the series’ length. The main question is if Oladipo can return to his All-Star form. If he does, he will give Miami some trouble with Malcolm Brogdon and Warren. If not, Miami will move on to the next round.
The first game of the Heat and Pacers series will take place on Tuesday at 4 P.M. ET. Game 2 will take place on Thursday at 1 P.M. ET. The winner will advance to the next round and face either the Milwaukee Bucks or Orlando Magic.