Can Paul George and the Pacers stop LeBron James and the Heat tonight?The two best teams in the Eastern Conference face off tonight at 8 ET on ESPN. Here are the key storylines for the Indiana Pacers heading into this huge matchup between the #BeastsoftheEast.
What’s at stake
The Pacers are currently in first place in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of the Miami Heat in the loss column. Following this game, the teams will meet for the final time in the regular season on April 11 in Miami.
The Pacers have been adamant they want home-court advantage this postseason after losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami last year. Home teams are 91-23 all-time in Game 7s (.798 win percentage).
Indiana has been tied or in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference all season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last two teams to go wire-to-wire atop a conference were the 2007-08 Celtics and 2008-09 Lakers. Both of those teams went on to win the NBA title.
The Pacers can clinch the Central Division title with a win tonight, giving them back-to-back division titles for just the second time in their NBA franchise history (1998-99 and 1999-00).
Stumbling to the finish line
The Pacers are just 7-7 this month with four games left and if they have aspirations of winning an NBA title this season, it would benefit them to finish over .500 in March.
Beasts of the East?
Since 1970, only four NBA teams have finished March with a record of .500 or worse and gone on to win the title that season: the 1969-70 Knicks, 1972-73 Knicks, 1976-77 Trail Blazers and 1994-95 Rockets.
George defending LeBron
Stats & Info has tracking data for the Heat-Pacers games from last year’s postseason and this year’s regular season – 9 games in all. Among items we have tracked is every offensive possession for LeBron James and Paul George, including how they fared depending on who was defending them.
While nobody is disputing George’s defensive chops, the narrative that he shuts down LeBron better than anyone is not supported by the numbers.
When guarded by any Pacer not-named Paul George, James averages 0.82 points per play. When guarded by George, that number jumps to 0.99, a 20 percent increase. Additionally, James has shot 51.5 percent when guarded by George but just 35.9 percent when guarded by all others.
Defending the Heat and LeBron in the paint
Indiana is holding opponents to 52.9 percent shooting in the restricted area, the lowest percentage in the NBA. The Heat, meanwhile, shoot a league-best 68.4 percent from that range, a number that is driven up LeBron James, who shoots a league-leading 78.7 percent in that area.
LeBron James on Drives vs Pacers
With Roy Hibbert On/Off Court
Just how important is it for the Pacers to keep LeBron away from the basket?
Since scoring a career-high 61-points against Charlotte on March 3, James has made just 25 percent of his shots outside the restricted area but is connecting at a 67 percent clip inside the restricted area.
Roy Hibbert was in foul trouble for most of the second Pacers-Heat matchup this season, playing only 22 minutes. The Heat won the game and shot 20 of 25 (80%) inside 5 feet of the basket. In the first meeting, a Pacers win, the Heat shot 16 of 28 (57%) inside 5 feet.