And Pacers Set For East Final Clash Of Familiar Foes
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[May 17, 2014]
By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - LeBron James and the two-time
defending champion Miami Heat have rolled through the first two rounds
of the playoffs and now face the familiar, but unpredictable, Indiana
Pacers as the last hurdle to another NBA Finals.
Miami, who have lost one game this postseason, are looking to
become the first team to win three straight NBA titles since the Los
Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s, but the brawny Pacers could
present a challenge.
Indiana will host Miami in Sunday's opener of the best-of-seven
Eastern Conference Finals by virtue of finishing first overall in
the East with a 56-26 record, two games ahead of the second-place
But which Pacers team shows up at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is the
question after a regular season that saw Indiana soar to lofty
heights only to sputter at the end of the campaign.
Indiana, who last year pushed the Heat to seven games in a grueling
East Final, looked like world beaters for much of the season as
smooth forward Paul George, a dogged defender with a silky jump
shot, raised his game.
They charged out to a 46-13 mark, yet turned lackluster toward the
finish, losing 13 of their last 23 games and then struggled to beat
the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in seven games in their opening
Rumors swirled about Frank Vogel's future as coach as the imposing
Roy Hibbert went into a funk and seemed to disappear, quite a trick
for a 7-foot-2 (2.18 m) center.
Hibbert, who averaged 22 points in last year's bruising playoff
series against Miami and their smaller front line, was held
scoreless in two games and averaged a mere five points a game in the
The big center came back to life with 28 points in a Game Two win in
Indiana's six-game series triumph over the Washington Wizards in the
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The younger, deeper Pacers will need more of that kind of
performance to end the run by the Heat, whose leading man James is
averaging 30 points a game in the playoffs including a 49-point
outburst against the Brooklyn Nets in round two.
"We've been through a lot," veteran Pacers forward David West
said after scoring a game-high 29 points in their series clinching
win over the Wizards on Thursday.
"This group has stayed strong. We trusted in one another even when
we had some internal turmoil.
"It's only going to get tougher. We've been talking about this
series all year," West said about getting another crack at Miami.
"We're going to need everything from everybody."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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