Since LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh came together to form the “Big Three,” the Heat have gone 6-4 against the Pacers in the regular season, with, of course, a riveting Eastern Conference finals last year in which the Heat pulled out the series victory in Game 7. However today, despite the recent history between the two teams, the Pacers (-3.5) are favored in Vegas to beat the Heat. This could have something to do with the fact that the Pacers are leading in the standings, but also because of the emergence of Paul George as someone who can finally match LeBron James’s scoring prowess. George is averaging 25.1 ppg, which is very close to LeBron’s 25.5 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game (Lebron has 6.2), 3.4 assists per game (LeBron has 6.3), 2.1 steals per game (LeBron has 1.3), 0.3 blocks per game (LeBron has 0.4), and 2.6 turnovers per game (LeBron has 3.8). As the numbers clearly show, although Paul George only leads LeBron in two of the categories, he is very much capable of keeping up with the 4-time MVP in LeBron James.
The key to this game will be the same as in every other game that these two teams play against each other. If center Roy Hibbert can clog the paint and prevent LeBron and his 7.3 free throw attempts per game (7th best in the league) from driving too often and getting too many easy layups or draw too many fouls, the Heat will be forced to shoot much more often from the outside. Although the Heat have the 5th best 3-point percentage (39.5%), they only attempt an average of 21.3 3-pointers per game (15th in the league). If they are forced to take more than their average, there is a good possibility that their percentage will drop. Therefore, the outcome of this game depends on the ability of Roy Hibbert and the Pacers to control the paint, which will then put the game in the hands of the Heat’s 3-point shooters in LeBron, Ray Allen, and Shane Battier. If their shots fall, the Heat could end up routing the favored Pacers, but if not, Paul George and co. should be able to provide the Pacers with enough offense to get past the reigning champions.
Prediction: The Heat will be extremely motivated to show the NBA world that they are the best in the East, while the Pacers are looking to avenge their loss in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. My guess is that the Heat will be over-hyped, and coming into the Pacers arena, will fail to hit the necessary outside shots. I am predicting that Roy Hibbert will finish with 15-20 rebounds, Paul George with 20-25 points, and LeBron with 30-35 points in the Pacers 93-88 victory.