We’re not even wrapped up with first round action in the NBA playoffs this year, but for Sunday the best competition of the day heads to the Conference semifinals already, as the Miami Heat get set to host the Indiana Pacers for Game 1 of a seven-game series starting today at 3:30 PM ET. With the first two games of the series set for action within the confines of the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida, rest assured there will be plenty of the glitz and glam associated with South Florida to make this a marquee event to watch and wager on at one of the top online sportsbooks reviewed here on our website.
The Miami Heat will start the day off by giving the NBA MVP award to LeBron James in an opening ceremony, his third time receiving the coveted award. While the MVP is most certainly a major indicator of James’ leadership over the Eastern Conference’s top team this season, it’s simply a stepping stone en route to the ultimate title for the man dubbed King James: winning his first NBA championship. Though Miami is a huge favorite to win this series coming in, one has to be well aware of how good Indiana is playing coming in, averaging over 100 points/game in the last 20 contests, getting huge production from Danny Granger, David West, and Roy Hibbert. Miami was also unceremoniously dropped by the Pacers in the last meeting of the season between the two teams, losing by 15 points while getting simply dominated on the boards and around the perimeter (49-33 on the glass, %55.6 to %40 from 3-point range). The Heat, despite having the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, will have to make sure that defense is a priority first and foremost, especially considering the height advantage and uptick in form the Pacers have coming in. LeBron James has certainly been just as valuable to the Heat on defense as he has on offense, and keeping Danny Granger in check tonight will be a huge key for Miami. Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem will also have their hands full with the inside game, as the Pacers run deep and big down in the paint with Roy Hibbert, David West giving big efforts night in and night out. Another player the Heat have to focus on is the fast and scrappy Paul George, a 6’8″ shooting guard who averaged nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds a game against Orlando in the first round. Miami can’t let Indiana’s big lineup get in towards the lanes for easy buckets tonight, and will have to put defense first and foremost in their minds in order to control the flow of the game at home.
For Indiana, physical play is a crucial point of their game to watch out for. With a size advantage against the Heat, setting the tone early in this game with hard inside play around the hoop and smothering defense against Miami’s top outside shooters like Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Mario Chalmers will be hugely important. Miami will look to push the ball quickly in transition against the bigger, but likely slower Pacers, which makes the presence on the offensive glass just that much more important for Indiana. As the series will undoubtedly be grinding and wear on each teams’ depth, Indiana simply must keep their big men fresh, and continue to rotate players in the front court like they have. One player we’re focusing on for this series is Tyler Hansbrough, who did not have a great showing against Orlando averaging just 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds/game in 17.8 minutes per game. While Roy Hibbert and David West will be the focal point for Miami on defense, Hansbrough could create huge problems for the Heat if he can produce like he did during the regular season (9.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg). He’s a scrappy kid that rallies his team off the bench, and getting off to a good start in this series against a smaller Heat front court would certainly give the Pacers a huge boost of energy and confidence that they’ll need against a Miami team that has dominated all season long at home.
Betting Lines for the Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers at TopBet Sportsbook.
Miami starts off the series at home with a huge favorite on the betting lines, getting -450 odds to win straight up. Winning the season series 3-1 against the Pacers, who are +350 underdogs coming in, the Heat simply have to get out in front early and protect a lead in order to avoid giving up the home court advantage to a very good, and very confident Indiana Pacers team that has little problem with being an underdog in this series.
Against the Spread, there’s a big opportunity for underdog pickers to take Indiana today, as the Pacers get a great +8.5 point cushion to play with. While Miami has certainly dominated at home so far in the NBA playoffs, winning by an average of 18.3 points/game against New York in the first round, Indiana comes in rested, healthy and big across their line-up, which should have underdog pickers seriously considering the Pacers as a viable option to cover the spread.
For the over/under on total points, the bookmakers at TopBet Sportsbook have a relatively low-scoring game lined up, with 186 points as the line drawn in the sand. It’s notable that Miami did not allow more than 94 points at home against New York in round one, but it’s also notable that against a good defensive team at home in the Orlando Magic (though without Dwight Howard), Indiana averaged north of 98 points in two games. If they can find similar success in South Florida once again tonight via their bigger line-up, there is a great chance that Game 1 will be pushed over the total points mark That said, both these teams have played very good defense down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs, so total points pickers may want to hold out 1 game to see how these two teams play one another in a playoff environment.