While none of it rivals Lance Stephenson blowing in LeBron James’ ear, there are still a slew of subplots in the latest series between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, one that comes six years after the last series, in the first round in a 4-5 matchup. There’s Jimmy Butler calling Bubble breakout star TJ Warren “trash,” and then shutting him down as no one else has of late. There’s Bam Adebayo still peeved about Myles Turner getting selected ahead of him on the U.S. National Team last summer. And, of course, there’s Victor Oladipo openly flirting with Heat players in plain sight, the way lurkers flirt in Instagram models’ direct messages.
But what about the basketball?
The Pacers are the higher seed, largely because the Heat shut it down early in the seeding games, but they’re not the betting favourite.
What are the three keys?
Running out on Duncan: The Heat have had some exceptional development projects over the years, but none quite like Duncan Robinson, who started his college career at Division III Williams College, went undrafted and looked lost in his few minutes last season. Now he’s arguably the most lethal shooter in the league (apologies to the absent Golden State Warriors) and learning how to free himself even with outsized attention. Can the Pacers take him out of play the way the Toronto Raptors did during the seeding games? And if they overplay, do Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk, and Miami’s other snipers get going?
Shaking off the trash talk: Butler says he’s done mocking Warren, but the Pacers’ quiet forward has been so essential to the Pacers’ offense, as Oladipo works himself back into physical and emotional health, seeming a little limited and distracted. Can Warren, hardly a willing or elite passer, get his looks with Butler, Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder all over him?
Adebayo’s aggression: Even in an All-Star season, Bam Adebayo frustrated Heat fans because he could be too unselfish. He hasn’t been in this matchup, however. Now, with Domantas Sabonis absent, Turner is the Pacers’ only proven big, and he hasn’t proven capable of handling Adebayo. Even with Goran Dragic likely replacing the struggling Kendrick Nunn as a Heat starter, Adebayo will handle plenty up top, forcing Turner out of the paint. If Adebayo finds some confidence in his 12-to-15 foot jumper as well, Miami will be challenging to guard.
The Better Bet: Heat in 5. Miami has too much depth, and too much edge, for the Pacers, unless 2017 Oladipo returns, which is unlikely.
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