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May 18, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Heat Goes Cold

by Dan Feldman

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at Indiana 94, Miami 75 (Indiana leads, 2-1)
Pace: 83.1
Offensive Ratings: Indiana 116.4, Miami 87.9

Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra's sideline spat showcased everything wrong with the Miami Heat. Wade accomplished little productive, Spoelstra escalated a problem, and Chris Bosh had absolutely nothing to do with any of it.

Wade (2-of-13 for five points with five turnovers) played one the worst playoff games of his career (bested, perhaps, by this). Offensively, he didn't attack (1-of-2 from the free throw line) or set up his teammates (one assist in 37 minutes). Defensively, he didn't always get back, and when he did, he didn't always stay close enough to his man off the ball. That Miami was outscored by 25 with him on the court is completely telling.

Hopefully for the Heat, Spoelstra's starting lineup isn't as telling, because, by all indications, it appeared he panicked. If Spoelstra is replaced with Pat Riley or Phil Jackson or any coach deemed more championship-ready, tonight's game will be pinpointed as a chief reason for the switch. Anytime a Spoelstra supporter tries to defend him, his detractors will have a two-word argument: Dexter Pittman.

The Pacers hold a decided interior advantage with Bosh out, and Miami hasn't figured out how to even minimize it. Spoelstra's latest attempt--starting Pittman in the second-year center's playoff debut--fell laughably flat. Pittman played just 3.5 minutes--long enough to get his shot blocked by Roy Hibbert twice, commit a foul and do absolutely nothing else--before getting pulled with Miami down 7-2.

Pittman didn't see the court again. His tormenter, Hibbert, barely left it. After Game 2, I said Indiana's success would, in part, hinge on how many minutes Hibbert could handle--regardless of how well he plays in them. Thursday, Hibbert played a lot (33 minutes) and brilliantly (19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks). He anchored the Pacers on both ends, but he was only a piece of the puzzle.

The Pacers' starters outscored Miami by 28 points in 28 minutes, which should no longer come as a surprise. Hibbert, David West, Danny Granger, Paul George and George Hill had outscored playoff opponents by 51 points in 148 minutes entering the game. Even before boosting its net numbers Thursday, that unit already had the best plus-minus in the playoffs.

The key: balance. Hill (20 points), Hibbert (19 points), Granger (17 points), West (14 points) and George (nine points) scored fairly evenly, and everyone played unselfishly. The Pacers assisted 20 of their 33 field goals, and their ball movement was especially effective in creating good three-point looks. Indiana made 8-of-14 (57 percent) from beyond the arc, and seven of the eight makes were assisted.

The Heat, on the other hand, shot just 4-of-20 (20 percent) on three-pointers. Miami is shooting 30 percent from long distance in the playoffs, and until that mark improves, the Heat will struggle to score efficiently--unless LeBron James and Wade get to the free-throw line at Game 1 rates.

Thursday, they took five free throws (and made two).

LeBron (22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals) played fine, but his performance was comparable to Mario Chalmers'. Chalmers (25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, six rebounds and five assists) played with purpose. His impressive dribble drives, mostly using ball screens, led to many good looks.

No knock on Chalmers, who kept Miami in the game as long as he could, but LeBron should be taking more responsibility if he's truly interested in making the sacrifice necessary to win a championship. That starts with playing more power forward and defending David West.

LeBron and Shane Battier took turns on West tonight, and LeBron did a bit better job than Battier. More importantly, when positioned in the low post, LeBron is a much better weak-side help defender than Battier. For Miami's team defense to function best, LeBron should take over Battier's share of guarding West.

I still find it difficult to believe--if Wade's horrid performance was a one-night circumstance and if LeBron is willing to take a greater burden--the Pacers are that much better than the Heat. But at this point, it's not the only factor. Miami, needing three wins before Indiana plays two, can no longer play the Pacers even.

NBA teams leading 2-1 win 82 percent of series, though that drops to 66 percent when the team that played Game 1 on the road--i.e., the team with the worse regular season--leads. This series is far from over, but it's time to recognize that the Pacers are more likely than the Heat to advance

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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