Indy's biggest concern? OKC hope?
As the conference finals series change locations, we take a look at the top storylines heading into this weekend's pivotal Game 3s for Pacers-Heat and Spurs-Thunder.
1. Fact or Fiction: The Heat have enough to make short work of Indiana.
Dan Feldman, Piston Powered: Fact. LeBron can do so much more, directly and indirectly. In both Game 1 and Game 2, he touched the ball just once every 44 seconds -- by far his longest gaps between touches in a game this season. (His season average is about 30 seconds per touch.) Get the ball in his hands more and not only can the best player in the series maximize his own skills, he'll draw defenders from his teammates and allow them to thrive.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Fiction. I doubt the work will be short. Indiana outplayed Miami over the first two games, and Chris Bosh continues to look lost against this particular opponent. I say the Heat win, but it won't be easy.
Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Fiction. Nothing about this series is going to be quick or easy for the Heat. That doesn't mean they haven't taken control of the Pacers, who squandered a tremendous opportunity by falling apart physically and psychologically in the final five minutes of Game 2. Still, at 1-1, this series is far from complete.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fiction. I'm not sure about the "have enough" -- I think the Pacers have enough to extend the series by winning. The Pacers won handily in Game 1, were ahead in the fourth quarter in Game 2 and have played well on the road in the playoffs.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fact. They have LeBron James. That qualifies as "enough" in my mind to make short work of anyone. You saw what happened in Game 2 when LeBron finally flipped on the switch in the fourth quarter. He took over, made shots and tied the series. He's more than capable of leading the Heat to four straight wins.
2. Fact or Fiction: Paul George's health is Indiana's biggest concern.
Feldman: Fiction. It's clearly not. The Pacers examined him on the bench during Game 2 -- which is not the "quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation" the NBA requires. Then, by diagnosing him with a concussion Wednesday, they confirmed he played with a concussion Tuesday -- another big no-no. George's health should be the Pacers' biggest concern. Then, they can worry about smaller issues like a bench that bleeds points.
Strauss: Fact, or at least I'd like it to be a fact. A young man's brain has been injured. If that's not a big concern for this organization, then its brains should also be checked up on by doctors.
Wallace: Fact. At least in the short term. Once George is cleared to return from the concussion, the Pacers still have to figure out how to execute some semblance of offense in the final five minutes of games. If LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are just getting started, then Indiana has a huge set of issues on its hands.
Windhorst: Fiction. I think George will be OK in a few days; then again, it's not my head. The Pacers' biggest issue then is they haven't been able to win a game when the chips are down against the Heat: Games 4 and 6 in 2012, Games 3 and 7 last year and Game 2 this year. Those are five chances to take control/win against the Heat, and the Pacers are 0-5.
Young: Fact. Because the Pacers aren't winning this series without George playing at his highest level. I'd say LeBron is actually Indiana's biggest concern, but that goes hand-in-hand with George's health. It probably wasn't coincidental that LeBron got going in Game 2 soon after George took that hit to the head that caused him to black out.
3. Fact or Fiction: KD and Russ make a "2012 comeback" a real possibility.
Feldman: Fiction. The Thunder have been outscored by 52 points in this series. Nobody has ever won a series after such big setbacks in Games 1 and 2. It's over.
Strauss: Fiction. The 2012 team was one of the most talented teams in the history of this sport. With Serge Ibaka out, the current version doesn't come close. The Thunder are likely cooked.
Wallace: Fiction. The Thunder are missing two key elements from that amazing rally: Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
Windhorst: Fiction. In 2012, the Thunder won four in a row. No one is beating the Spurs like that, not even the '96 Bulls. But I do not expect the Thunder to go easy, they will fight back.
Young: Fact. The Spurs have absolutely embarrassed the Thunder through two games, flexing their muscles as the raw power of team and system has triumphed emphatically over the two-man show. But that's also with Westbrook and Durant not playing all that well yet. The Thunder are better than they've played, and while the loss of Ibaka has sent them spinning, Durant and Westbrook provide hope.
4. Fact or Fiction: This is the best Spurs team in a decade.
Feldman: Fact. And I can't explain it. I understand that the Spurs have players who've lengthened their primes though intelligence. That should limit the adverse effects of aging. But why are they better? Some credit goes to Gregg Popovich, who has the Spurs more balanced than the defensive-minded units of a decade ago, but Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are incredibly defying typical career arcs. Adding Kawhi Leonard sure helps, too.
Strauss: Fiction. None of the Big 3 are at peak form at this point in their careers. This could very well be the best Spurs bench ever, though.
Wallace: Fact. The Spurs aren't as good and deep in the middle alongside Tim Duncan as they've been in previous championship runs, but they are far superior offensively. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have a greater impact than any supporting duo the Spurs have had next to Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili this decade.
Windhorst: Fiction. The Spurs were probably a Derek Fisher 3-pointer from winning three titles in four years between 2004-07 when the Big 3 was in its prime. Don't forget that.
Young: Fact. At first I thought, "No way." Then I looked at the season-by-season results from the last 10 years and, how about that, it probably is. This Spurs team was within a game of tying its franchise-best regular-season record, ripped off a 20-game winning streak and has cruised to the West finals. Age is just a number in San Antonio.
5. Fact or Fiction: We'll have at least one Game 6 this time next week.
Feldman: Fact. I'll take the Heat in 6 and Spurs in 5. The Heat have the tools to end this series quickly, but that doesn't mean they will. The Pacers are also good enough to compete, and their matchup advantages should net them at least one more win.
Strauss: Fact. I'm thankful for what should be a competitive Heat-Pacers series. Kevin Durant could also push the Spurs to 6. He's that great.
Wallace: Fact. So RSVP for 601 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.
Windhorst: Fact. I picked the Heat in six and see no reason to change. I also picked the Thunder in seven, so ...
Young: Fact. It feels like the Pacers and Heat are going the distance. Can't really say that about the Thunder and Spurs, though we probably need to see how Durant and Westbrook respond on their home floor before we actually call this thing over.