EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
1. Miami vs. 3. Indiana
Season series: Pacers, 2-1.
Key stat: Miami leads the NBA in field-goal accuracy during the playoffs, making 49.1% of its shots, while holding opponents to a league-low 40.9% shooting.
Outlook: As usual, the drama between these teams started before the series opener. Indiana Coach Frank Vogel irritated Miami with his comment about the Heat's being "just the next team that's in our way," one year after he accused Miami's players of being the NBA's most egregious floppers. LeBron James shot back that the defending champions were not just another team. They're both right. Each team has improved since Miami defeated the Pacers in six games in last season's conference semifinals. New Heat sharpshooter Ray Allen has been the team's fourth-leading scorer in the playoffs despite coming off the bench and forward Chris Andersen has brought toughness to go with his tattoos. Indiana hasn't experienced much of a drop-off despite the loss of Danny Granger, getting step-up performances from Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson in its previous series against the New York Knicks. One significant factor in Miami's favor is the presence of forward Chris Bosh, who sat out most of last season's series against the Pacers because of a strained abdominal muscle. But Dwyane Wade's bothersome right knee, which has neither fully healed nor regressed during the Heat's six-day layoff since its last series, could be an ongoing worry. For Indiana to win the series, Hibbert and forwards David West and Tyler Hansbrough need to significantly out-rebound their smaller counterparts and a Pacers offense that can be sluggish must find a way to score consistently against the league's top-rated playoff defense.
Prediction: James will win more than the war of words. Heat in six.