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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, June 3, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Okay, so this wasn't exactly in the original script.

The Miami Heat -- who won 66 regular-season games (against only 16 losses) including 27 in a row at one stage -- was supposed to steamroll its way to a second consecutive NBA championship and never have to face an elimination game but here we are on the first Monday in the month of June and the Heat are engaged in a full-blown battle with an Indiana Pacers team that knows it can win -- and now feels the Heat are more vulnerable than ever before in this series.

After all, in Indiana's 91-77 rollover win against the Heat in Game 6 this past Saturday night, there were the Pacers turning the proverbial tables on LeBron James and the Heat. Remember that in Game 5 it was Miami that rolled to a 30-13 advantage in the third quarter en route to a 90-79 home triumph but two nights ago the Pacers outscored a tired Heat team 29-15 in a decisive third quarter and several references were made to James "reverting" to his old Cleveland Cavaliers days ... you know, when it was James and a band of has-beens.

Now, here's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and "The King" is starting to have those same feelings:

You know the deal: Both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were ineffective (or invisible, you take your pick here!) in Game 6 as that not-so-dynamic duo teamed up for 15 points on shoddy 4-of-19 field-goal shooting from the floor and gotta say that Miami boss-man Erik Spoelstra did "blow it" by not at least getting Wade (10 points in Game 5 after scoring just a single first-half point) back into the game earlier in the fourth quarter after he showed some life in the third quarter. Note that Wade did not come into the fourth quarter till there was three--plus minutes remaining ... what gives, coach?

In any event, it's Game 7 and that means it's an all-hands-on-deck approach here for both sides and -- yes -- the Heat's helped by the return of reserve forward/center Chris "The Birdman" Andersen who was suspended by the NBA for Game 6. Hey, don't look at his return as some small thing 'cause Andersen started off this season shooting an electric 15-of-15 from the floor in the series' first two games and if he can register twin-digit points here it could make all the difference in the world.

Lots more straight ahead in this Jim Sez preview but first this quickie reminder: Jim Hurley and his Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Playoff Side & Totals Winners when you check in here online or else here at our toll-free telpehone # of 1-800-323-4453. Check in and get all the hoops -- remember the NBA FInals swing into action on Thursday night with the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs awaiting tonight's Pacers-Heat winner -- plus all the Major-League Baseball too. Make sure your month of June is a smash hit ... get with Jim Hurley today.


NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
#3 INDIANA at #1 MIAMI
-- Series tied 3-3; Game 7 is tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET

You want strategy here?

Okay, that's easy as the 7.5-point underdog Pacers want/need to make this a slugfest game (not literally, although you never do know in this series) with lots of in-the-paint and near-the-hoop action while the Heat want/need to spread the floor and hope James can both dart to the rim and find open cutters as he's been prone to do in the three Miami wins here.

Keep in mind that in Game 6 there was James (29 points) attempting a team-high 21 FG tries or 10 more than anyone else took on this Heat roster and more favorable numbers here for Miami would be James taking 20-to-25 shots and having Wade, Bosh and PG Mario Chalmers get off 50-or-so shots among 'em while naturally shooting 50 percent or so.

The key for the Heat is attacking the rim early on even if that should mean a few rejections by 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert or maybe even taking a seat on the floor with hard fouls: The moral of this story is the Heat -- playing at home and likely getting the benefit of the whistle (wink, wink!) -- needs to stop dribbling the ball haphazardly around the perimter and waiting for things to open up. If James and Company has learne4d anything in this set it's that going hard to the
hoop frees up other players -- including the aforementioned Andersen who probably gets 16-to-20 minutes here, especially if Bosh is stumbling about -- and so one major key is free-throw attempts for the Heat. P.S., the 15-of-19 free-throw line in Game 6 just won't cut it here tonight.

On the flip side, the Pacers are in their own little quandary here too: While Wade and Bosh have become mere shells of their former selves, Indiana head coach Frabk Vogel never does know what his team is gonna get offensively from the likes of guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson. It's true that Hill's 16 points on 6-of-12 FG shooting was a Game 6 key but the mercurial Stephenson (4 points) never did get into any sort of rhythm and his "Forrest Gump-like" drives to the hoop with his head down isn't the offense Vogel wishes to see here.

In a short-and-sweet way of speaking, the Pacers need Hibbert to take those little five-footers and bang the boards big time -- if the foul-mouthed Hibbert (24 points and 11 rebs in Game 6) steers clear of foul woes and batters the smaller Heat on the glass here than Indiana could well be heading back to its first NBA Finals since 2000 (see a four games-to-two series loss back than against the Los Angeles Lakers) but if the Heat can steer Hibbert off the low blocks here and keep his offensive board work to a minimum, than Miami figures to make a third straight appearance in the NBA Finals.

Naturally, it's not just all about the big man: The Pacers have gotten major mileage from superstar-to-be Paul George (28 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in a terrific Game 6) who not only has played great defense but he's been a slasher/driver and big-time three-point shooter when need be and something tells us here
tonight that George must deliver some big bombs from beyond the perimeter and that reminds us that Indy must fare better than just six trifectas here -- the expected free-throw discrepency in Miami's favor here will mean Indiana needs more treys.

Here's how the Pacers-Heat series has gone so far and note all home teams are in CAPS:

DATE

WINNER

SPREAD

LOSER

SCORE

5-22

MIAMI

- 8.5

Indiana

103-102 (ot)

5-24

Indiana

+ 7.5

MIAMI

97-93

5-26

Miami

- 2

INDIANA

114-96

5-28

INDIANA

+ 2.5

Miami

99-92

5-30

MIAMI

- 7.5

Indiana

90-79

6-1

INDIANA

+ 3

Miami

91-77

Note: It's a quirky thing but road teams covered the first three games of this Eastern Conference Finals and home teams have covered the last three games. Overall, Miami enters this Game 7 showdown with a dead-even but vig-losing 4-4 ATS (against the spread) mark at home during this year's playoffs and that includes covering three-of-foive post-season games from Milwaukee/Chicago. On the flip side, Indiana enters this Game 7 with 4-5 ATS mark in post-season road games and that includes dropping four-of-six combined spread decisions against Atlanta and New York.

Hey, here's one final NBA note here: Since the league went to its current playoff format back in 1984, Conference Finals and NBA Finals Home Teams are a combined 16-2 SU (straight-up) in Game 7 tilts -- no doubt that's overwhemling stuff and could both boost Miami's pre-game hopes and somewhat deflate Indiana's hopes but keep in mind this is a different kind of best-of-seven series with Miami's reputation as a kingpin taking a hit as thisn series has developed (no more true "Big Three", etc.) and plus Indiana's already won one game in South Beach this series and easily could have copped that Game 1 overtime loss. Just sayin'!

Meanwhile, the aforementioned San Antonio Spurs remain in the NBA background till their Finals series gets started on Thursday night. Keep in mind that San Antonio has played only 14 playoff games this spring -- a four-game sweep against the heartless Los Angeles Lakers, a six-game series win against gritty Golden State and than tha rather improbable four-game series sweep against Memphis. The rest-versus-rust question will rear its ugly head this week but San Antonio likely has not lost its focus despite all this idle time.

In case you were wondering, the Spurs are a scintillating 10-4 versus the vig in this year's post-season while overall Miami is 8-7 against the Las Vegas price tags and Indiana is 12-6 against the numbers.

NOTE: We'll have our NBA Finals Preview in Wednesday's jam-packed edition of Jim Sez plus there's Major-League Baseball all this week too ... so don't dare miss out!

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