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Posted on Sun. May. 18, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Can Pacers' hunger overcome Heat's experience?

Game 1 could be pivotal in this series

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Frank Vogel, for one, has had enough of these first-game mess ups.

Indiana's coach understands how hard it was to gain NBA home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and how easy it is to lose it.

The Pacers survived first-game defeats against Atlanta and Washington, but now comes the Miami Heat, the two-time NBA champions who have made three straight finals and eliminated Indiana the last two seasons.

A first-game loss won't be fatal, but then again, it might. Miami has won 14 of its last 15 best-of-seven playoff series when winning Game 1. Indiana is 10-2 when it wins Game 1.

The home team has won 12 of the last 14 meetings when these teams play, including all four regular season games this.

“Our guys are upset they didn't win Game 1 in the previous two series,” Vogel says. “They're excited for the opportunity.”

And then, because the obvious question was asked, Vogel gave the obvious answer.

“It's really important to maintain home-court advantage.”

Opportunity comes twice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse -- today and Tuesday night. Indiana has a chance to show that a year of resolve can overcome two months of inconsistency.

“They've got the experience of having moved on,” Vogel says. “We have the hunger of not having moved on.”

There's plenty of hunger given Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink before losing in Game 7 last season.

“These guys have eliminated us two years in a row,” Vogel says. “We know what they're capable of. We hope we rise to the challenge.”

Much will be made of center Roy Hibbert's important. At 7-2 and ? pounds, he has the kind of size Miami struggles with. He had a big series against the Heat last year, and scored 21 points against them in a March 26 Indiana victory.

Plus, the Pacers are 5-0 in the playoffs when he scores in double figures. Conventional wisdom suggests he needs another for Indiana to get the upset, but you won't hear that from Vogel.

“We need consistency. Roy doesn't have to go for 20. Everybody has to finish plays when you're the open man.”

Turnovers hurt the Pacers against the Atlanta and Washington. That will likely get them beat against the Heat if they don't limit them.

“There's no question that's a top priority,” Vogel says.

Another priority is containing -- or at least slowing down -- four-time MVP LeBron James, who averages 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the playoffs.

Indiana's strategy is simple – stay in front of him and limit his transition opportunities. The biggest burden will go to forward Paul George and Hibbert.

“We need to keep a body in front of him,” Vogel says, “and execute on the offensive end so he doesn't get in transition.”

Then there's sore-kneed Dwyane Wade, who produced his best playoff game of the postseason by scoring 28 points in Miami's Game 5, series-clinching win over Brooklyn. The matchup between Wade and Lance Stephenson could be the best of the series.

Miami arrives without the wear and tear the Pacers endured after going seven games against Atlanta and six against Washington. The Heat blitzed Charlotte in four straight games and Brooklyn in five.

In other words, the bench could be a difference maker (this mostly means C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Evan Turner), although you won't hear that from Vogel, as well.

“We need everybody. Whatever minutes they get, they have to impact the game in a positive way.”

pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com


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