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Know the Opponent: Miami Heat

The Pacers continue their tough stretch with a shot at East-contending Heat.

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Opponent: Miami Heat

Record: 22-8

Starting Lineup: Jimmy ButlerKendrick NunnDuncan RobinsonMeyers LeonardBam Adebayo

Second Unit: Goran DragicTyler Herro - Derrick Jones Jr.Kelly OlynykChris Silva

Leading Scorer: Butler (20.4 PPG)

Leading Rebounder: Adebayo (10.6 RPG)

Leading Assists: Butler (6.6 APG)

Biggest Challenge: Butler (if Malcolm Brogdon sits)

If Brogdon plays (he’s a game time decision), he should matchup with Butler pretty well. Butler isn’t that quick, shifty guard that gives Brogdon problems like Kemba Walker and Trae Young. But if he doesn’t play? That could spell trouble for the Indiana Pacers. You’d likely need to put Jeremy Lamb on him in that instance, which leaves Aaron Holiday on Nunn, who has a size advantage. Holiday has earned the benefit of the doubt, but this leaves tough defensive matches across in both backcourt spots.

Biggest Advantage: Individual matchups (if Brogdon plays)

The Heat have been one of the bigger surprises in the league this year, and a lot of that has to do with their depth across the board. Butler is their leading scorer at 20.4 PPG, which is good for 25th in the league for qualified players. When you don’t have an individual guy to rack up buckets, you rely on taking advantage of individual mismatches. Good thing for the Pacers is that they match up well at every position. Brogdon, who struggles guarding small guards, can match up well with Butler (if he plays). They can hide T.J. Warren on Robinson, who doesn’t do much creating himself. And the Heat play a two-big frontcourt, which bodes well for Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.

The X-Factor: Adebayo

Probably the biggest reason for the Heat’s rise this year has been the play of Adebayo, who can make a case for Most Improved Player of the year. He’s a rare defender who can protect the rim and move well on the perimeter if he gets a switch. He runs the floor well. And his playmaking, particularly from the high post, has been phenomenal. He’s averaging career-highs in basically every statistic. However, he draws a big day because he will likely be guarding Sabonis on defense, and have Turner guarding him on offense. There’s not much time to rest when you have those two matchups. How he fares on both ends of the court will be a major factor in this one.

The Skinny

The Heat, like the Pacers, are one of the only teams competing at the top of the league without a top-tier star player. Butler is great, but he’s not a top-10 player in the league by any stretch of the imagination. They win because they have little-to-no holes on their roster. Players like Robinson, Nunn, Herro and Dragic play their roles perfectly. They are high effort players who don’t try to do too much. The good thing for the Pacers is that you can say all those things about them as well. In a lot of ways, the two teams are very similar. Wearing down Adebayo on both ends will be key, because Sabonis might be able to feast on Miami’s other bigs (think: Olynyk, Leonard, etc.). But this one will likely go down to the wire.