After Larry Brown was replaced by Paul Silas in Charlotte, the Bobs pulled off a 9-5 January, putting themselves right in the thick of things for the final two playoff spots in the East. Similarly, after saying goodbye to Jim O'Brien, the Pacers now find themselves on a four-game winning streak, placing them just ahead of Charlotte in the standings. Surging Philadelphia has also vaulted into contention, and Milwaukee, despite a recent four-game slide, is in the conversation as well.
Only two of the aforementioned four "bad teams" will make the playoffs in the East, and while none would seem likely to pull off a first-round upset against Boston, Miami or Chicago — the candidates for the East's top two seeds — there is one matchup that could be more intriguing than you'd think.
Let's be clear. There's just about zero chance that Boston or Chicago lose in the first round. They're both too experienced, balanced, well-coached, deep and talented to do so. Miami, though, has the glaring weaknesses that could make them vulnerable to a team that can play a certain way — no matter how talented they are.
Way back on Nov. 22, the Heat played host to the Indiana Pacers, and Danny Granger and company made a mockery of Miami, winning 93-77 while holding Dwyane Wade to 1-for-13 from the field.
Since, Miami has improved dramatically, and the Pacers struggled mightily until their recent resurgence, but that game wasn't a total fluke. Just as eighth-seeded Golden State had the perfect personnel and played the perfect style to defeat top-seeded Dallas in 2007, Indiana could be just the team to throw a wrench in the Heatles' plans.
Where are Miami's weaknesses? They lack a solid, traditional center, and their point guard play is suspect at best. They are poor rebounders in the half court, and they become a mediocre, jump-shooting team in that context.
Enter the Pacers, a team built for half-court play. They feature a towering young center in Roy Hibbert, and while his form has dipped some as the year has gone on and he rebounds poorly for his size, he is physically the type of player that Miami dreads — tall, long, and below the basket. The Pacers also have two gritty power forwards, Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough, who rebound at pretty high per-minute rates and could surely outmuscle Chris Bosh. At point guard, the Pacers feature Darren Collison, a player who is simply too quick on both ends of the floor for Mario Chalmers of Carlos Arroyo to deal with. Miami will need to help to stop him, and if he can find the open Pacer accordingly, the Heat will be in trouble.
That's especially true given how well the "open Pacers" shoot. Mike Dunleavy, though he does have his well-documented shortcomings, can legitimately score from range, as can Brandon Rush and James Posey. Rookie Paul George, likely to be guarded by Mike Miller during second-unit time, can be a dangerous offensive threat as well.
Indiana's best player, Granger, is far from the player that LeBron James is, but he'll do enough at both ends of the floor to not be totally blown off the court by LeBron. If that's the case, it's difficult for the Heat to win.
If Miami tries to force a fast-break game on the Pacers, they'll run into difficulty as well. The Pacers, largely due to Collison's quickness, play at the fifth-fastest pace in the NBA, and though they'd be wise to avoid that style against Miami, they are certainly familiar with it.
Obviously, you'd be a fool to favor Indiana against Miami, but if one first-round upset were possible, it would be the Pacers pulling off a shocker in South Beach.
Could Miami be upset in the first round? Leave your thoughts below.
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