Last night Indiana defended home court against the champs in a “heated” contest. This Eastern Conference Finals preview was destined to happen since Miami knocked them out a year ago to repeat. For the record, the top-seeded Pacers are undefeated at home against the top teams in the East: Miami, Chicago, and Toronto.
You can’t deny the depth on that Pacers’ bench, however the apparent weakness continues to be their point guard play when you look at the bigger picture. This is a hungry squad with a feisty coach. They physically drain you with the best defense in the league and mentally frustrate you by slowing down the tempo. Like every team, they got riled up to play Miami and were probably bored before that, being in a lull since the All-Star break.
The thing is, we’ve seen this before when Derrick Rose and the Bulls were healthy. Sure, Indy looks better on paper and holds their own in the regular season, just remember that these games mean more to the Pacers and Bulls. The goal for a championship team is to stay relatively healthy, so they can play their best ball come playoff time to defend the throne. LeBron James might not catch Kevin Durant in the MVP race, the thing is that he’s been given somewhat of a break with the emergence of Dwyane Wade. That’s probably the most dangerous weapon for opponents in a playoff series, Wade looking healthy and hitting outside shots. Of course, the back-breaker tends to be Chris Bosh, the forgotten man on the floor that sinks a timely jumper because you have to worry about the two playmakers or Ray Allen spotting up.
Chicago, they play the right way and it’s admirable, especially for high school and college players to watch their fundamentals and work ethic. They trust each other, unselfish offense that enables anyone to shoot when open. The defensive end is anchored by Joakim Noah who’s thrusting his name into MVP consideration. Although the MVP campaign continues to be between James and Durant, guys like Noah and Kevin Love have entered the top 5 . That’s huge for those teams, these All Stars continue to improve. Ignoring the future of Love’s contract status, perhaps we’re watching the tip of the iceberg in Minnesota with him and Ricky Rubio.
The Windy City should keep their hopes up as championship contenders, because Noah has elevated his play with former MVP, Derrick Rose anxious for next season. Chi-town will have the cap space to go after a free agent, maybe Carmelo Anthony, and within the next two years get the best player in Europe, Nikola Mirotic. His anticipated landing as a stretch forward looks like it will compliment the Bulls offense with what they’ve been lacking.
Not to spend too much time on the upcoming draft, it is very obvious that teams are tanking and you can’t blame them with the current NBA format. There’s only a handful of teams with realistic hopes of dethroning the Heat, so why wouldn’t the majority of teams sideline good players or make questionable substitutions all season long, like the Pistons. What better way to repay the Lakers for the Chris Paul controversy, denying that trade which enabled the rival Clippers to turn their franchise around, then by awarding them a top 3 pick to get back on the map. Putting Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, or Andrew Wiggins alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash would bring the “Lake Show” back to center stage. Even the purple and gold threw in the towel before the season began.
As for “Lob City,” they might have the best chance of beating Miami for the title. Doc Rivers found a way to beat “King” James before, also mustering up an overachieving effort with an aging Celtics team the past couple of years. His presence has taken Blake Griffin’s game to another level. CP3 has been the class of point guards for awhile, now he’s surrounded with role playing wings left and right: Danny Granger, J.J. Redick, Jamaal Crawford, Jared Dudley, and Matt Barnes even broke out with a couple 20-point games. The man in the middle, DeAndre Jordan, playing consistent as ever by owning the paint.
They will have to get by the Spurs and Thunder, none will go down without the fight of their lives. The savvy veterans in San Antonio are like the New England Patriots. Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan are like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They’re going deep into the playoffs. They get the necessary and strategic rest to stay fresh and make another run. OKC, basically, didn’t have Russell Westbrook for last year’s postseason campaign. And you can see they’ve been working on ways to put points on the board with role players, whether it comes from Serge Ibaka making some jumpers he didn’t in the past or the guards off the bench are contributing. The combination of those things are certainly their “x-factor.”