Star power vs. balance as Heat face Pacers

The under-the-radar Indiana Pacers head south to take on the larger-than-life Miami Heat as their Eastern Conference semifinal series tips off Sunday at 3:30 ET on ABC.

The Pacers have had a pair of unsuccessful trips to South Florida this season, getting blown out by 35 on Jan. 4 and losing on a Dwyane Wade buzzer-beater on March 10. The 35-point loss was the Pacers' worst in more than two years.

Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger was held to just six points and made 2 of 13 shots from the field in that loss, a major reason he averaged just 13.3 points against the Heat in the regular season, more than five points below his team-best 18.7 scoring average.

While Granger was one of five Pacers to average at least 10 points per game in the regular season, no Miami Heat player topped that level outside of the team’s All-Star trio of Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, who led Miami with 27.1 points per game.

This Season

For the seventh time in seven attempts, James was able to lead his team to a series win in the first round of the postseason this year. But things are about to get tougher for the three-time MVP.

While James is unbeaten in seven first-round series, his team has lost three of his six conference semifinal series, dropping a seven-game series to the Detroit Pistons in 2006 and losing to the Boston Celtics in 2008 and 2010.

It will be strength against strength when James and the Heat attack the Pacers with the pick-and-roll. Miami averaged 0.94 points per play with the pick-and-roll in the regular season, sixth best in the NBA. But Indiana defended the pick-and-roll nearly as well as anyone, allowing just 0.86 points per pick-and-roll play, fourth best in the league.

A better bet for the Heat might be to dump the ball down low to Bosh or have James set up on the block. Indiana allowed 0.91 points per play in post-up situations in the regular season, better than just five teams.

Indiana’s offensive balance is undoubtedly an asset at times, but the lack of a go-to scorer has hurt the Pacers late in close game this season.

Indiana has made just 2 of 12 game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of a game this season, with six different players attempting such a shot. Granger and Paul George lead the Pacers with three shots each in such situations, but neither has made a game-tying or go-ahead bucket in the final 24 seconds this season.

While the Heat’s end-of-game struggles have been more scrutinized, the Pacers have first-hand knowledge that Wade has emerged as the Heat’s most reliable option late in close games. Wade’s game winner against the Pacers on March 10 was one of his three game-tying or go-ahead buckets in the final 24 seconds this season.

Miami’s problem is if it can’t get it to Wade in such situations. While Wade was 3-for-6 on game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the final 24 seconds this season, the rest of the team was a combined 3-for-10.