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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Guys, we haven't even tipped off the NBA Eastern Conference Finals series yet between the heavy-duty favorite Miami Heat and the gritty/gutty Indiana Pacers and there's been a slew of barbs tossed back and forth. Yikes!

Okay, so Indiana head coach Frank Vogel did tell anyone that would listen that he didn't, in fact, call the defending champion Heat "just another team" the other day but rather the "next team" that was in the Pacers' way but be sure the verbal blows have otherwise connected with full force and now the obvious question is did the Pacers really have to go there and incite a Miami team that's looking to be the NBA's first repeat champion that hails from the East since the 1996-97-98 Chicago Bulls ... hey, remember those guys?

Maybe the Pacers have popped off a bit just to let the sports world know that they're still around - remember that the know-it-all oddsmakers had the New York Knicks as a - 185-to-$100 betting favorite for that last playoff round and Indy stepped it up with its four games-to-two series win - but common sense dictates that everyone on the Pacers should stay silent but there are some hard feelings that date back to last year's post-season when Indy blew a two games-to-one lead and lost in the conference semis to LeBron James and friends.

And remember that the Heat did have its hands full in a couple of those games against Chicago in that five-game series win last round and - last time we checked - have not yet established itself as the modern-day version of the early and late 90s Bulls teams just yet.

Are we headed for a go-the-distance series here in the East - or is 7-to-1 betting fav Miami gonna make sure this one's finished in six games or less?

Here's some more thoughts on the series:

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
#3 INDIANA at #1 MIAMI
- Game 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT

Let's cut right to the real story here - we've said enough about the barb-tossing that's been going on both sides of the aisle - and tell you that Indiana has real reason to be concerned with some health issues: Forward David West - an underrated big part of that just-completed series win versus the Knicks - has an injured right leg that's been receiving treatment while 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert has a bum right thumb after getting whacked in practice a couple of days ago and suffice to say Vogel's tight-knit crew can't be short-handed here in Game 1.

Hibbert - who was a regular double-double guy in his matchup against NY's Tyson Chandler - needs to be a force here against a Miami squad that regularly gets out-boarded but his rebs must lead to some "easy" points and that's a real key if/when Miami's Dwyane Wade is slow to get back on defense with his wobbly knee issues.

Toss into the mix that Indiana's tandem of Paul George and George Hill - simply put - must come somewhat close to match the James/Wade stat line and while that may seem a bit crazy at first blush just consider that Vogel has hinted that his George/Hill tandem could go for 40-plus points per game here providing they get some gimmes in transition.

On the flip side, Miami - a notorious slow-starting team in most of its games this year - cannot let things get away from 'em in the first half here in Game 1 and beyond because Indy's suffocating defense could prevent the Heat from going on those patented 18-to-5 type runs that gets Erik Spoelstra's squad back in front faster than you can say Alonzo Mourning!

No need to remind you that Miami F Chris Bosh and PG Mario Chalmers have to get involved here and not allow James/Wade to take all the shots - usually is Bosh is getting 12-to-15 field-goal tries and Chalmers is allowed to hoist up a half-dozen threes than the Heat is a balanced bunch.

Time to go on the record and say this: If Indiana - a 7 ½-point underdog in Game 1 - can steal the opener of this series, than we'll get seven games. If not, than Miami (losers of only one game these playoffs) likely won't be threatened in a serious mode.

Here's the Pacers-Heat regular-season series game-by-game re-cap (note home teams are in CAPS):

DATE

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

1-8

INDIANA

+ 2

Miami

87-77

2-1

INDIANA

+ 2

Miami

102-89

3-10

MIAMI

- 6.5

Indiana

105-91

Editor's Note: Home teams won/covered all three of the regular-season showdowns between the Pacers and Heat but keep in mind that Miami is a perfect 4-0 ATS (against the spread) on the road in this year's playoffs with a pair of covers each at Milwaukee and Chicago while Indiana enters this playoff round at just 2-4 versus the vig away in this post-season (that's 1-2 spreadwise at both Atlanta and New York).

NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS HISTORY (1998-2012)

Okay, so in one of last week's Jim Sez columns we posted the NBA's Western Conference Finals history while tracing back the past 15 years - a/k/a the Tim Duncan Era, if you will - and while nobody on either the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat go back quite that far, we've decided to go back the past 15 years and show you all the Eastern Conference Finals winners and losers. Meanwhile, notice that the Pacers and the Heat (names in CAPS below) have combined to be a part of eight Eastern Conference Finals since 1998 but this will be the first time they're playing one another in this playoff round:

YEAR

WINNER

SERIES

LOSER

2012

MIAMI

4-3

Boston

2011

MIAMI

4-1

Chicago

2010

Boston

4-2

Orlando

2009

Orlando

4-2

Cleveland

2008

Boston

4-2

Detroit

2007

Cleveland

4-2

Detroit

2006

MIAMI

4-2

Detroit

2005

Detroit

4-3

MIAMI

2004

Detroit

4-2

INDIANA

2003

New Jersey

4-0

Detroit

2002

New Jersey

4-2

Boston

2001

Philadelphia

4-3

Milwaukee

2000

INDIANA

4-2

New York

1999

New York

4-2

INDIANA

1998

Chicago

4-3

INDIANA

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have all the Side/Totals winners in these NBA Conference Finals plus there's lots of Major-League Baseball Winners too when you sign up today - so cash in big with Hoops and Baseball each and every day! Just be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the daily and nightly NBA and MLB winners.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS - Game 2
#2 SAN ANTONIO 93, #5 MEMPHIS 89 (OT)
- Spurs lead series 2-0
(Game 3 is Saturday at 9 p.m. ET)

Maybe it's a good thing for the Memphis Grizzlies that there's three off days before this best-of-seven set resumes at "The Grindhouse" this holiday weekend because climbing back from 18 points down and than blowing it in overtime might take more that 24 hours to flush out of your system. True, the Grizz didn't play great in Game 2 despite the aforementioned comeback but after failing to check San Antonio point guard Tony Parker for the better part of the game's first three quarters - when T.P. wracked up 16 of his game-high 18 assists - they failed to hold down aging Tim Duncan in the extra session as Duncan banged home a lay-up and a running one-hander that put immediate distance between the teams on the OT scoreboard.

Still, if the Spurs really want to know why they're ahead two games-to-none here than a tip of the cap to guys like Tiago Splitter (14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor) and a trio of big trifectas from Danny Green plus let's not forget all those free-throw line woes by Memphis (namely Zach Randolph who missed five of his eight foul shots) as overall the Grizz canned a mere 18-of-26 from the lone (that's 69.2 percent) and all the so-called little things conspired to cost Lionel Hollins' club this game.

Lots more to say but we'll hold most of the comments for Saturday's Game 3 - by than Memphis might have discovered a way to silence Parker who's been great (despite that shabby 6-of-20 FG stat line) - and maybe someone will let Spurs vet Manu Ginobili that committing the flagrant foul late in regulation against Tony Allen might have been one of the real bonehead moves of the playoffs ... hey, it was nice to see ESPN's Magic Johnson rip Ginobili for the move when nobody else would (c'mon, Jeff Van Gundy, take a stand!).

Here's how the Grizzlies-Spurs Western Conference Finals Series has gone so far (note home teams are in CAPS):

DATE

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

5-19

SAN ANTONIO

- 4.5

Memphis

105-83

5-21

SAN ANTONIO

- 5.5

Memphis

93-89 (ot)


NBA DRAFT LOTTERY

Okay, so call us the ultimate cynics but don't you think it's a tad fishy that the Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery's top pick last night?

We know the Orlando Magic had the greatest odds (at 25 percent) to land the top pick but there were the Cavs - now three years removed from losing King James via free agency to the Miami Heat - and so Kentucky's Nerlens Noel is expected to land in Cleveland and help reshape this franchise in a hurry.

Overall, let's examine the top six lottery spots and who figures to go where - all of this is subject to change (of course):

1. CLEVELAND - Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky
2. ORLANDO - Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas
3. WASHINGTON - Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV
4. CHARLOTTE - Trey Burke, G, Michigan
5. PHOENIX - Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana
6. NEW ORLEANS - Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown

As we hinted at a few days ago right here in Jim Sez, don't be surprised if a couple of marquee name teams - including the Los Angeles Lakers and/or the Boston Celtics - do their very best to slide into the first few picks. The Lakers would love to snag Burke and let him be their point guard for the next 10 years while the Celtics could be eyeballing Maryland big man Alex Len but they'll need to get into the top six or seven picks to get him. Stay tuned!

NOTE: Get more NBA Eastern & Western Conference Finals updates in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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