As we arrive at the All-Star Break of the 2012-13 NBA season, the Miami Heat have stormed into the break with seven straight wins, on the strength of LeBron James' otherworldly play. As has documented throughout the NBA blogosphere and over the many ESPN outlets, LeBron has been crushing opponents at an unprecedented level over the last seven games.
If my calculations are correct, he has averaged 63 points per game, 29 rebounds per game and 24 assists per game over that stretch. He has also had a massive impact on public policy, single-handedly raising the federal minimum wage, putting together a cap-and-trade program which would limit our carbon emissions and saved the nation's public schools by increasing teacher salaries, lowering class sizes, and guaranteeing two fully functioning computer labs in every public high school in the country. It's safe to say LeBron has been getting things done.
It's also safe to say ESPN wants LeBron to make the Finals again more than it wants to tell the truth about each team's chances. ESPN makes money when it's highest-profile athletes (remember "The Decision?") do well. If a Rondo-less Celtics team were to emerge from the pack in the Eastern Conference, the NBA Finals would get a whole lot uglier. Imagine more 71-68 grind-it-out games. A Celtics-Bulls playoff series would be hard for most hardcore NBA fans to watch, never-mind the casual playoff-only crowd.
While Miami is the clear favorite to get back to the NBA's big June dance, there are a few other teams that stand in the way of the flaming inferno that is the Heat.
Here's a breakdown of each of those teams, with mostly arbitrary percentages next to them:
Indiana Pacers, 18%
Indiana's defensive dominance makes them an ideal playoff team. The two questions this Pacers team must answer: Can Paul George keep LeBron from lifting the Heat to an untouchable level of confidence; Can Paul George's belief in his own shot sustain itself on the road, and in crunch time?
Last May, Paul George and George Hill made life difficult for LeBron James. Paul George's defensive instincts and his length will give LeBron fits again this spring. (AP Photo)
The Pacers held a 2-1 series lead against Miami last year (pre-Bosh-return), and match-up nicely with the Heat. Indiana patrols the 3-point line better than anyone in the NBA (32.5%), better than Chicago and Boston (both near 34%). Without the benefit of the Ray Allen/Shane Battier/Mario Chalmers open corner-3, the Heat are beatable. Against the best rebounding teams (Indiana is tied for first in rebounding rate), the Heat struggle.
On the other side of the ball, the Pacers need the versatile Paul George to stabilize their offense. George's shooting has been erratic this year (45% in Pacer wins, 37.5% in losses). George's 3-point stroke has been sweet at home (46.5%) and abysmal on the road (29.5%). On the road, from distance, two of their guards have been equally odor-producing: D.J. Augustin (37% home, 29% road) and second-year wing Lance Stephenson (41% at home, 28% on road). For Indiana to survive in April and May, they will need consistent 3-point shooting when they leave the comfy confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
To read the rest of the article, click here: http://darkoindex.com/2013/02/16/eastern-conference-playoff-race/
Thanks for reading and may the Pacers dethrone the Heat this spring,