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Last updated: Sat. May. 17, 2014 - 07:31 am EDT

COLUMN

On NBA conspiracy, buzz and Indiana-Miami rivalry

Long-awaited series begins Sunday

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NBA Eastern Conference finals buzz is out there. The Indiana Pacers are going down. The Miami Heat are playing too well; the Pacers are too inconsistent.

And then there are the conspiracy theorists who insist that, in smoky NBA backrooms where officials do what you don't confess, the TV ratings mandate has been passed down:

LeBron James of Miami will face MVP Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City for the league championship. Whatever is necessary to make it happen, will happen.

Take a deep breath and consider the facts:

1) Nobody does drama like Indiana, which overcame rumor, the multi-game disappearance of 7-2 Roy Hibbert, the multi-game return of Hibbert and the 20-18 record since March 1that had critics wanting to bench Hibbert, trade Hibbert, fire coach Frank Vogel and get rid of Pacers president Larry Bird to be right where they want to be -- in position to take out the two-time defending NBA champs.

2) Indiana and Miami split four games this season, each winning on its home floor. The teams have, in fact, split their last 14 games.

3) The Pacers are 8-5 in the playoffs, edging No. 8 seed Atlanta 4-3 in the first round by winning the final two games of the series, then holding off No. 5 seed Washington 4-2.

4) The Heat are 8-1 in the playoffs, beating No. 7 seed Charlotte 4-0 and No. 6 Brooklyn 4-1.

5) Miami has the better offense, averaging 102.2 points in the playoffs to Indiana's 96.7.

6) The Pacers have the better defense, allowing 92.3 points to the Heat's 99.5.

7) Miami barely survived Indiana in last year's Eastern Conference finals, winning in seven games mainly because of home court advantage. The Pacers have the home edge this season, although it's unclear how much that will help given they are 5-1 on the road in the playoffs and just 3-4 at home, with an ugly blowout embarrassment against Washington in their last time at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

8) There are a couple of intriguing matchups, with Indiana forward Paul George going against James, and Miami's inside tandem of Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen facing Hibbert topping the list.

9) Finally, the Heat are two-point favorites for Sunday's opening game. Nearly every national expert has them winning in anywhere from four to six games.

Now, consider this:

Indiana was built to beat the Heat. It has inside size and power Miami can't match. If the 7-2 Hibbert plays at the All-Star level he showed in last year's finals and the first half of this season, the Heat are in BIG trouble. The simple analysis says if Hibbert thrives, the Pacers win. If he doesn't, Miami wins.

But then, Indiana and simple aren't in the same universe. Why would it change now?

The Heat will try to neutralize Hibbert with Haslem first and then Anderson, while mixing in Chris Bosh, Shane Battier and, perhaps, forever injured Greg Oden.

The James-George matchup could be a wash. They lead their teams in scoring, James at 27.1 points, George at 21.7 points. While James can play any position, George showed in last year's finals he can stay with the former MVP as well as anyone in the league.

Miami's Dwyane Wade is a huge X factor. When healthy, he rivals James and Durant as the league's best player, but bad knees have limited him the last few seasons. And don't forget Ray Allen, whose clutch shooting makes him the Heat you can never, ever, overlook.

Finally, when it comes to leadership and will, Indiana's David West looms as a series-deciding factor. He carried the Pacers in their Game 6 win at Washington, and he seems primed for a repeat against Miami.

This will be as physical and testy a series as the NBA has seen in a long time. It will come down to toughness, intensity, focus and, did we mention toughness?

The Pacers have spent a year waiting for this moment. The first 57 games of the season, they showed they were ready. Since then, not so much. Still, no matter the conspiracy theories or team drama, a championship is there for the taking.

So take it.

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.


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