Why Indiana will struggle to handle the Heat

Indiana have home-court advantage but you get the feeling Miami have them just where they want them.

When Heat superstar LeBron James famously gave Pacers opponent Paul George a mid-game high five during last year's Eastern Conference finals, it was seen as a sign of respect, welcoming the youngster to the NBA's elite.

The Heat, with James leading the way, went on to vanquish Indiana in that series in a deciding game seven in Miami.

Indiana vowed to ensure if they met again in the 2014 play-offs, they'd be the ones hosting the final match.

Miami simply went about their business and survived a seven-game dogfight with San Antonio to clinch a second successive title.

James copped criticism at the time for handing George what many thought was a premature elevation to the upper echelon of the league.

He'd been a decent young player at the Pacers who had stepped up to lead his team superbly last season after main man Danny Grainger went down injured.

George had won the most improved player award and seemed to be on an exponential rise up the pecking order.

James' high five seemed to have the effect of empowering Indiana into thinking they could dethrone King James and the Heat.

At the start of this season, George and the rising Pacers were living up to their star billing. George was being touted as a potential league MVP alongside James and eventual winner.

Pacers centre Roy Hibbert – who also had a breakout post-season last year – particularly in the Miami series, was a defensive beast.

Such was his dominance, just a week into the season he tweeted "DPoY. Goodnight!".

But after their impressive start to the campaign they started tailing off, leading into February's All-Star break. When the regular season resumed they were stone-cold stagnant.

They were losing to laughing stocks such as Detroit and Cleveland but still managed to scrape together wins against Miami and Oklahoma City in the closing stages to clinch top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Hibbert and George have been the main targets of the critics and rightly so. George has proved the doubters right by showing he's not quite ready to lead a talent-laden team past a champion side such as Miami. His numbers have improved in the play-offs but the Pacers were hardly impressive as they squeaked past the previously inept Atlanta Hawks in seven games the first round and their 4-2 triumph over a young Washington Wizards side badly afflicted by stage fright.

Hibbert has been AWOL on several occasions. He's not known for his offence, so not scoring in a match is not a capital offence, but how can a seven-foot-plus behemoth register a zero in the rebounds column?

Indianapolis will be the venue for the first two matches of the series. They've fulfilled their season-long pledge to possess home-court advantage when it comes to the crunch against Miami.

They coughed up that advantage to the Hawks and Wizards before recovering. They won't have that luxury against the Heat. And this time around there'll be no "welcome to the club" high fives. It's a safe bet that this series won't go beyond five games. Miami will be hostile and, on the evidence presented this season, the Pacers won't be able to handle the Heat.

The story Why Indiana will struggle to handle the Heat first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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