TrueHoop: Indiana Pacers

East-leading Indy stays home for Christmas

December, 23, 2013
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
NEW YORK -- When the NBA schedule came out last summer, the Indiana Pacers players first looked for their opener, then they looked at Christmas Day.

Surely they would've graduated to Christmas Day status -- a trademark sign of national respect in the league -- after going to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat last season.

But Dec. 25 was blank.

"No comment," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "I’m going to leave that one alone."

"We expect stuff like that," David West said. "It was the same reason that at the start of the season I saw us getting picked like fourth in the East."

"I wasn’t expecting to play that day, to be honest," Paul George said. "It’s just the way it’s been for us being here."

Ten teams were picked to play on Wednesday, generally the 10 teams the league expected to generate the most excitement on one of the season’s marquee days. The small-market Pacers didn't make the cut.

They will play in the featured game on Thursday night only once this season, in mid-January. They are not currently scheduled to play in a Sunday afternoon national-television game. Of the four games they play against the Heat this season, two were not initially scheduled to be on one of the league’s national broadcast partners.

Monday night they took apart the injury-ravaged Brooklyn Nets 103-86. The Nets are the inverse of the Pacers. After their offseason of flashy moves, they received a huge amount of attention and were given a full slot on the national platform, kicking off Christmas Day against the equally disappointing Chicago Bulls.

The Pacers’ payroll this season is a little less than $70 million. The Nets are paying $80 million … in luxury tax. After blowing a late lead in Miami last week put them on their first losing streak of the season, the Pacers have now come back to win three in a row to improve to 23-5.

"We let our play do the talking," West said. "We understand who we are. We’re still growing our names. Even Paul, he’s getting some attention, but people are just starting to get to know him."

The Pacers, who are about five years into a plan that has seen them build primarily through the draft, may get a taste of revenge when the All-Star Game arrives, though. They might as well book a block of rooms in New Orleans for President's Day weekend now.

With the win over the Nets, coach Frank Vogel suddenly has a magic number of 10 to clinch being the All-Star coach for the East. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is ineligible because he was the coach last season and the Pacers have an eight-game lead on the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Vogel could clinch the honor by the middle of January if the team keeps on this pace.

George appears headed to be voted in as a starter; he would be the first Pacer to get that honor since Jermaine O'Neal in 2003. Hibbert probably won’t get voted in -- the ballot no longer has a center designation -- but is nearly a lock to get there.

"LeBron can start at center," Hibbert said. "He can play all five positions."

West, a two-time All-Star, will get strong consideration, and even Lance Stephenson -- a player who would've drawn laughs when mentioned in All-Star talk a few months ago -- is gaining traction. Or at least the Pacers are trying to give it to him.

Indiana might not lead the league in attention, but it is among the leaders in confidence. Hibbert has been on his own campaign to win NBA defensive player of the year. Teammates have mentioned George as an MVP candidate. And now the vogue idea is to pitch Stephenson as an All-Star.

"He should be in the conversation," Vogel said. "He’s got to be in the conversation."

Stephenson had his third triple-double of the season Sunday against the Boston Celtics, then Monday he put on a show in his hometown in front of about 30 friends and family. He had a career-high 26 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

With each basket, his buddies sitting above the Pacers bench would jump up and pump their fists. As the game got out of hand and Nets fans started leaving, the Stephenson section became more and more audible.

"I was pretty emotionally hyped for this game," Stephenson said. "I couldn't really sleep last night."

In the end, perhaps the Pacers ended up with the best deal in it all. The schedule has them off until Saturday, a break that allowed the team to give the players two days off over the holiday. Stephenson stayed in Brooklyn with family. The rest of the Pacers, at least according to Hibbert’s Twitter feed, spent their bus ride toward their Christmas vacation arguing over who has the better career: Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus.

Meanwhile, the Heat complained in a recent meeting with incoming commissioner Adam Silver that they had to travel to L.A. for Christmas when they’re the defending champs. Flying under the radar can, it seems, have its perks.

"Everything has played perfect for us. We didn’t get distracted with too much attention," said George, who had 26 points of his own in the win. "I feel like that’ll change in the future."

George, defense key Indy's unbeaten start

November, 5, 2013
By Alvin Anol, ESPN Stats & Info

ESPN Stats & InformationPaul George has connected on 14 of his 31 3-point attempts this season.
Led by Paul George and their trademark stingy defense, the Indiana Pacers held off a late Detroit Pistons rally to remain the NBA's lone unbeaten team.

George scored a game-high 31 points with 10 rebounds, becoming the first Pacers player with a 30-point, 10-rebound game since David West did it at the beginning of last season.

It was George's second 30-point effort of the season, after scoring 32 in the Pacers second game against the New Orleans Pelicans. He's already one 30-point game away from matching his number of such games last season just four games into the 2013-14 campaign.

One reason for his scoring boost has been greater efficiency from 3-point range.

So far, he's connected on 14 of his 31 attempts -- a 45 percent clip. He's attempting almost eight 3-pointers per game so far, almost two full attempts more than he averaged a season ago.

While George has the led the way for Indiana offensively, the team's defense has picked up right where it left off a season ago.

Indiana led the NBA last season by holding opponents to 38 percent shooting from the field. The Pacers have held three of its four opponents this season to worse than 40 percent shooting, with the Pelicans shooting exactly 40 percent.

Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert, who had seven blocks Tuesday, has been a major part of the defense's success.

Hibbert has averaged five blocks this season, and there’s been a marked difference in Indiana’s defense when he’s been on the floor versus off it.

According to, the Pacers have a 75.3 defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) when Hibbert is on the floor. But when he’s been off the floor, Indiana’s defensive efficiency spikes to 101.3.

Teams have shot just 48 percent inside the restricted area against Indiana so far, second-best in the league. The Pacers led the league in that category last season, holding teams to 54 percent in the restricted area.

Hibbert’s presence has essentially made a good defense an elite one.

The Pistons found rare success in the paint against Indiana (scoring 46 points), but Indiana had held its opponents to a league-best 30 points in the paint per game entering Tuesday.

Through four games, Indiana has a defensive efficiency of 86.1, best in the NBA.

This is the third 4-0 start in Pacers franchise history, with the team also starting the 1989-90 and 2004-05 seasons in such fashion. If the Pacers can get a win Wednesday, when they play the Chicago Bulls on ESPN (7 p.m. ET), it'd be their first 5-0 start as an NBA franchise.

Wade, Heat get inside in win vs Pacers

June, 4, 2013
By ESPN Stats & Information

AP Photo/Lynne SladkyDwyane Wade and the Heat have a lot to celebrate after beating the Pacers in Game 7.
For the second year in a row, the Miami Heat survive a Game 7 to reach the NBA Finals, this time beating the Indiana Pacers 99-76 on Monday night.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Heat are the third team in NBA history to win Game 7 in the Conference Finals in consecutive seasons. The others were the St. Louis Hawks in 1960-61 and the Boston Celtics in 1962-63. The Celtics won the NBA title in all four of those seasons, too.

What the win means for Miami
This is the third straight NBA Finals appearance for the Heat and their fourth in the last eight seasons. Miami is the first Eastern Conference team to make three straight NBA Finals since the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls from 1996-98.

The Heat are the 13th team in NBA history to win at least 66 games in the regular season. Of the previous nine teams with that many wins to reach the NBA Finals, all nine went on to win the title.

The Heat have been very resilient in these playoffs. Not only have they avoided back-to-back losses, but their margin of victory following a loss is 22.3 points per game.

How the Heat won
LeBron finally got some help from his sidekick as Dwyane Wade broke out with 21 points, matching his best scoring effort this postseason (Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks). He had scored just 20 points on 6-for-19 shooting in Games 5 and 6 combined.

Wade did much of his work around the basket, scoring 12 of his 21 points in the paint. For the series, Wade averaged 11.5 paint points in wins, compared to 3.3 in losses.

LeBron scored 32 points to lead all scorers, but on just 56 touches, his fewest in a game in the Conference Finals. Wade and Bosh were much more involved in Game 7, combining for 79 touches in this game, after totaling just 44 in the Game 6 loss.

Another key for Miami was its work down low. The Heat had a 15-8 advantage on the offensive boards and outscored the Pacers 22-12 in second-chance points.

It was the first time this series Miami had more offensive rebounds than Indiana.

Looking ahead to the NBA Finals
The NBA Finals begin June 6, giving the Heat just two days rest to prepare for the San Antonio Spurs.

Under the current playoff system (since 1984), 15 teams have entered the NBA Finals with two or fewer off days. Those teams are 6-9 in the Finals, but one of those wins was by the Heat last season.

The Spurs will have nine days rest before the Finals. Teams are just 2-2 with at least nine days off between the Conference Finals and the NBA Finals. However, the Spurs won their first NBA title in 1999 after having nine days off.

Paul George key for Pacers on the road

May, 30, 2013
By ESPN Statistics & Information

Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
While the Indiana Pacers have underperformed on the road this postseason, Paul George has played well away from home.

Heading into Game 5 in Miami on Thursday, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat find themselves tied 2-2 in a playoff series for the second consecutive season. Last season, the Pacers and Heat were tied at two games each in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before the Heat won games 5 and 6 to advance to the Conference Finals.

Game 5 will be pivotal for both teams. When a best-of-7 series is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to wins the series 83.4 percent of the time.

Despite winning Game 2 in Miami, the Pacers have underperformed on the road this postseason. They are 3-5 on the road and 7-1 at home.

Paul George will be one of the key players to watch. While the Pacers have underperformed away from home as a team this postseason, George has been hot on the road. In this series, George is averaging 24.5 points per game on the road, compared to 12.5 PPG at home.

George was the one who forced overtime in Game 1 in Miami with 0.7 seconds remaining. Entering that game, George had been 0-of-9 on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime this season.

George has also performed well against LeBron James. He was 6-of-7 with 16 points when guarded by James in Game 2, and is shooting 62 percent against him in the series.

One aspect of the Pacers’ home form that they will need to bring back to South Beach is their play on the boards. The Pacers grabbed 49 rebounds in Game 4, 19 more than the Heat. According to Elias, that ties Miami’s second-worst rebounding margin in any postseason game in team history. They were outrebounded by 23 against the Bulls in Game 2 of a 1992 playoff series (the second postseason game in Miami’s NBA history) and by 19 by the Bulls in Game 1 in 1997.

Roy Hibbert has been a major factor in the Pacers’ success on the boards. He has had three consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, a career-high for both regular season and playoffs. In this series Hibbert is averaging 12.0 RPG, compared to 8.0 RPG in three regular-season games against the Heat.

The Heat will need to shake off Game 4 and turn things back around in order to regain the upper-hand. Miami has not lost consecutive games since January 8-10. They are 1-1 at home this series and have not lost two home games in a single playoff series since the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Pacers will need to continue to focus on shutting down LeBron when he is close to the basket. James was 1-of-6 on post-ups in Game 4 after shooting 5-of-9 with 14 points on such plays in Game 3. He was double-teamed on three of his field goal attempts in the post last game, compared to only one attempt in Game 3.

Pacers get it done on the road

May, 4, 2013
Wilborn By Nubyjas Wilborn

ATLANTA -- Before Friday’s Game 6, most had heard about the Indiana Pacers’ 13-game streak of futility in Philips Arena. But the Pacers finally exorcised their demons in Atlanta by eliminating the Hawks with an 81-73 win. Now the Pacers move on to New York to face the Knicks on Sunday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

As much as they wouldn’t acknowledge the streak before Game 6, the sense of relief was noticeable in the locker room after the game.

George Hill, the Indiana native who scored 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, was exuberant.

“We finally got the monkey off our back in this building," Hill said. "It felt good tonight. We were more physical tonight and made them take shots around us. We capitalized on the offensive end and made some shots, trying to get to paint and playing inside out.”

The closeout win did not come easy for Indy. In spite of a first half where the Hawks shot a pedestrian 24 percent, including a 1-for-15 second quarter, Indiana ended the half with just an eight-point lead.

Josh Smith, playing perhaps his final game in an Atlanta uniform, credited the Hawks' defense for keeping them within striking distance.

“Whenever you’re unable to make baskets, you still have the ability to play on the defensive end,” Smith said. “We did a good job of that. We just couldn’t get it going offensively.”

In the third quarter, something clicked. The Pacers made shots to take their biggest lead of 19 points, and it appeared they would coast to a victory. But the Hawks put up a fight that got them within three with 2:55 left, which sent the home crowd into a frenzy. But the Pacers steadied themselves and held on.

“We just had to maintain and keep our composure," said Indiana's Paul George, who struggled to only four points. "They’re a good team, and we knew they were going to make a run; we just didn’t know how long that run would be. We made a couple of good stops in a row and made a couple of shots, and that helped stop it.”

Friday’s win was huge for a team that struggled this season on the road against playoff teams. But the Hawks didn’t present the challenge that the Knicks will. “We have to get over that mental hump in New York because we haven’t played the best ball there,” George said.

“It’ll be fun with two great teams battling for something as far as our goals,” said Hill. “It’s going to physical, and we have to put our hard hats on because we know they will. It won’t be easy, but we’re going to give it everything we have.”

George on James is matchup to watch

February, 1, 2013
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Information

Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsPaul George guarding LeBron James is a matchup to watch on Friday night.

The Indiana Pacers host the Miami Heat tonight at 7 ET on ESPN. Indiana has won 12 consecutive games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, their longest home win streak since winning 14 straight during the 2002-03 season.

The Pacers won the first meeting this season, holding the Heat to a season low in points in their 87-77 victory on January 8. Indiana has won each of the last two regular season meetings and with a win tonight, will have its first three-game regular-season win streak against the Heat since winning 12 straight from 2002-2005.

On the other end of the scorer's table, the Heat have won three of their last four road games after starting the season 8-9 away from American Airlines Arena. However, Miami is just 9-36 all-time on the road against the Pacers in the regular season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that .200 win percentage is their second-worst mark against a single opponent on the road in team history (2-22 at Spurs).

The key matchup to watch is when LeBron James is being defended by Paul George. James, the reigning league MVP, is posting career highs in both field goal percentage (54.8) and three-point field goal percentage (40.4).

Meanwhile, George has emerged as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. George, who was selected to his first All-Star team this season, is 11th in the NBA with 1.7 steals per game.

George has had a major impact on a Pacers’ defense that ranks first in defensive efficiency, allowing just 96.2 points per 100 possessions. According to Basketball Reference, George ranks second in the NBA with 3.5 defensive win shares, a metric that estimates the number of wins a player contributed to his team due to his defense.
Paul George

However, James had some success against George in their first meeting. With George as the primary defender on non-pick and roll plays, James scored 13 of his 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

On Friday, George should look to keep James around the perimeter and prevent him from attacking the basket. James, who averages an NBA-best 13.1 points in the paint per game, went just 2-for-6 on jump shots from outside the key when George was defending him on non-pick and roll plays in the first meeting. When he was able to get in the paint in those situations, he connected on four of his five attempts.

In terms of slowing James down, the breaking point for the Pacers has been the 27-point mark. James’ teams are 18-5 against Indiana in his career when he scores at least 27 points. They are just 9-9 when he fails to score at least 27 points including his 22-point effort in the Heat’s loss to the Pacers in January.

Heat paint winning picture in 2nd half

May, 24, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

AP Photo/Darron CummingsDwyane Wade scored a game-high 41 points to lead the Heat to a win in Game 6.
For the Miami Heat, it’s not how they start, but how they finish. After the Heat fell behind 2-1 in the series, Miami used dominant third quarters to win Games 4, 5 and 6 against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Despite trailing at the half in two of those three games, the Heat outscored the Pacers by a combined 35 points in the third quarter en route to a combined final margin of victory of 52 points over those three games.

With the win, the Heat advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season and fifth time overall. The only other time they made it this far in the playoffs in consecutive seasons was in the 2005 and 2006 playoffs. The Heat’s only NBA title came in that 2006 postseason.

Miami’s clinching win was hardly surprising as the Heat improve to 5-2 in franchise history when leading a series 3-2 and haven’t lost since the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. The Heat are now 6-0 this postseason and 3-0 in this series when scoring at least 100 points .

The Pacers, on the other hand, have never won a postseason series after trailing 3-2, dropping to 0-9 all-time after tonight’s 105-93 loss. The only other franchise that has lost as many as nine series without winning one in that situation is the Bulls (0-11), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Keys to the Game
The Pacers dominated the interior in the first half outscoring the Heat 34-16 in the paint, with the Pacers starting frontcourt holding a 35-11 advantage over the Heat’s starting frontcourt in the first 24 minutes.

It was a different story in the second half, as the Heat outscored the Pacers 22-12 in the paint after halftime, with their depleted starting frontcourt outscoring their Pacers counterparts 19-16.

The Heat’s pressure defense also was a difference-maker in their second half comeback, as the Heat forced 10 Pacers turnovers and scored 17 points off those turnovers after halftime.

The Big Two
Dwyane Wade was the offensive spark in Game 6, scoring a team-high 41 points for his seventh career 40-point playoff game, which is tied for third-most among active players. The Heat are now 7-0 when Wade scores 40-plus points in the playoffs.

Wade continued his strong play on the interior, going 8-of-11 (73 percent) on shots inside 10 feet. But his biggest improvement in Game 6 came from outside, as he connected on a season-best nine field goals from 10 feet and beyond, and shot 64 percent from that distance.

LeBron James added 28 points in the victory, matching his career average of 28.3 points per game in potential series clinchers. That mark is the fourth-highest all-time, according to Elias, trailing only Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West (min. 15 games).

History says Heat will advance

May, 24, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

Michael Hickey/US Presswire LeBron James has at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists in back-to-back postseason games.
Game 6 between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers (ESPN, 8 ET) will feature several key storylines to watch, including how the Heat replace a suspended Udonis Haslem. Miami will be without one of its best mid-range shooters, as Haslem has made seven mid-range jump shots (outside paint, inside 3-point territory) this series, trailing only LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Haslem has also been a spark off the Heat's bench in the last three games, scoring double figures in each of the last two. In three games Haslem has come off the bench this postseason, Miami averages 25.7 bench points. In seven games Haslem started, the Heat have gotten only 16.1 points from their bench.

With Dexter Pittman also suspended, the best option for the Heat is likely Ronny Turiaf, as his +13 this series is the highest among the Heat's available big men for Game 6. In this series, Turiaf has played only 65 minutes in five games. However, when he's been on the court, the Heat have outscored the Pacers by 13 points. Miami has also limited Indiana to just 33 percent shooting when he's playing. Also available in the frontcourt are Joel Anthony (+7) and Juwan Howard (+5).

Overall, the Heat appear to be in good position to advance. In NBA history, teams that have held a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 85.9 percent of the time, including 4-0 in the First Round this postseason. In addition, the Pacers have never come back to win a best-of-seven series after trailing 3-2 (according to Elias they are 0-8 all-time).

James has been a prime reason why the Heat can close out the series tonight. He has recorded at least 30 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists in back-to-back postseason games, and if he matches those numbers in Game 6, he will become the first player in NBA history to do so in three consecutive postseason games.

History says James will have another strong performance tonight. According to Elias, James has scored at least 20 points in each of the last 11 potential playoff series-clinching games on the road, the second-longest current streak of any player in the league, behind only Kobe Bryant (19).

Meanwhile, Danny Granger (sprained ankle) has said that he will start Game 6. His play will be crucial, as he has been much better at home this series than on the road (averaging over nine points more at home).

What's more, the combination of himself, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West have outscored opponents by 75 points when on the court together, the highest of any five-man lineup on any team this postseason.

A key for Indiana will be on the boards. The Pacers have outrebounded the Heat 102-76 in their wins in Games 2 and 3, but have lost the battle on the boards in their losses in Games 4 and 5 (outrebounded 96-73). When Hibbert is on the court, the Pacers are +15 rebounding, but with him off are -19.

Heat refuse to allow home losing streak

May, 22, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
You might be able to beat the Miami Heat at home once, but forget about doing it twice in a row.

In the regular season, they lost five home games. They not only won each of their next home contests, they did it in blowout fashion. The wins came by an average of 19.4 points. That included a 35-point win over the Indiana Pacers in January, two days after losing at home to the Atlanta Hawks.

That trend continued on Tuesday, albeit in a one-game playoff sample. Their 32-point win against the Pacers made them 6-0 in their next home game after a home loss with an average victory of 21.5 points.

The 32-point loss is also the worst loss in Pacers playoff history.

The path to victory in this game was their blistering shooting -- a playoff franchise-record 61.4 percent from the field. Their 115 points is tied for the second-most in franchise playoff history and the 32-point win is third-largest in franchise playoff history.

But it was the work inside from the Heat's star duo that continued the Heat's tone from last game.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade outscored the Pacers inside five feet for the second straight game. James made all six of his attempts from this range in Game 5 and Wade went 3-for-5. The Pacers scored 16 points inside five feet in Game 5, their fewest this postseason.

Overall, James and Wade (58 points) outscored the entire Pacers starting lineup (45 points).

James' 30-point game was the 45th of his postseason career. That's as many as Dirk Nowitzki has and trails only Kobe Bryant's 85 among active players.

It also helped that Shane Battier scored more points in the first seven minutes of the game than he had over the first four games of this series combined.

The other boost came from transition scoring as the Heat scored a postseason-high 29 transition points. They are 6-0 this postseason when scoring at least 14 transition points. In each of the Heat’s three losses this postseason, they were outscored in transition.

James' box score gem powers Heat

May, 20, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information

AP Photo/AJ MastLeBron James led the Heat with 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists Sunday.
There have been more than 3,000 postseason games in NBA history, but only once has a player scored 40 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, and recorded 9 assists in a game. At least until Sunday.

The Elias Sports Bureau tells us LeBron James joined Elgin Baylor as the only players in postseason history to register 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists in a game as the Miami Heat evened their series with the Indiana Pacers at two games apiece. Baylor posted his 40-18-9 game in a Los Angeles Lakers win over the Detroit Pistons in Game 1 of the 1961 Western Division Semifinals.

Betweens points scored and assists, James had a role in 62 of the Heat’s 101 points Sunday. That’s the highest such percentage (61.4) for James in any game this season.

But Miami’s performance was far from a one-man show, as Dwyane Wade scored 30 points one game after being held to five points on two-for-13 shooting. James and Wade became just the fifth set of teammates to have a 40-point game and 30-point game in a road playoff win in the last 20 years.

After trailing by eight at halftime, James and Wade combined to outscore the Pacers 43-39 over the final two quarters. And after much was made of the Pacers rebounding edge in Game 3, it’s worth noting that James and Wade also had more rebounds than Indiana in the second half in Game 4 (19-18).

The Heat’s big two were dominant at the rim, outscoring the entire Pacers team on shots inside of five feet (32-26). Wade made six of his seven shots inside five feet after attempting a season-low one shot from that distance in Game 3.

Indiana’s eight-point lead through two quarters was the largest blown halftime lead for the Pacers this season. They fell to 15-1 when leading by eight or more entering the second half in 2011-12.

The two teams will meet in the all-important Game 5 Tuesday night in Miami. In NBA history, teams to win Game 5 of a series tied at two go on to win the series 83 percent of the time.

Star power vs. balance as Heat face Pacers

May, 13, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
The under-the-radar Indiana Pacers head south to take on the larger-than-life Miami Heat as their Eastern Conference semifinal series tips off Sunday at 3:30 ET on ABC.

The Pacers have had a pair of unsuccessful trips to South Florida this season, getting blown out by 35 on Jan. 4 and losing on a Dwyane Wade buzzer-beater on March 10. The 35-point loss was the Pacers' worst in more than two years.

Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger was held to just six points and made 2 of 13 shots from the field in that loss, a major reason he averaged just 13.3 points against the Heat in the regular season, more than five points below his team-best 18.7 scoring average.

While Granger was one of five Pacers to average at least 10 points per game in the regular season, no Miami Heat player topped that level outside of the team’s All-Star trio of Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James, who led Miami with 27.1 points per game.

For the seventh time in seven attempts, James was able to lead his team to a series win in the first round of the postseason this year. But things are about to get tougher for the three-time MVP.

While James is unbeaten in seven first-round series, his team has lost three of his six conference semifinal series, dropping a seven-game series to the Detroit Pistons in 2006 and losing to the Boston Celtics in 2008 and 2010.

It will be strength against strength when James and the Heat attack the Pacers with the pick-and-roll. Miami averaged 0.94 points per play with the pick-and-roll in the regular season, sixth best in the NBA. But Indiana defended the pick-and-roll nearly as well as anyone, allowing just 0.86 points per pick-and-roll play, fourth best in the league.

A better bet for the Heat might be to dump the ball down low to Bosh or have James set up on the block. Indiana allowed 0.91 points per play in post-up situations in the regular season, better than just five teams.

Indiana’s offensive balance is undoubtedly an asset at times, but the lack of a go-to scorer has hurt the Pacers late in close game this season.

Indiana has made just 2 of 12 game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of a game this season, with six different players attempting such a shot. Granger and Paul George lead the Pacers with three shots each in such situations, but neither has made a game-tying or go-ahead bucket in the final 24 seconds this season.

While the Heat’s end-of-game struggles have been more scrutinized, the Pacers have first-hand knowledge that Wade has emerged as the Heat’s most reliable option late in close games. Wade’s game winner against the Pacers on March 10 was one of his three game-tying or go-ahead buckets in the final 24 seconds this season.

Miami’s problem is if it can’t get it to Wade in such situations. While Wade was 3-for-6 on game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the final 24 seconds this season, the rest of the team was a combined 3-for-10.

Outscoring opponents in the clutch

April, 17, 2012
By Henry Abbott, Trevor Ebaugh, Stats & Info
Mike Brown
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
The last four years he has coached, Mike Brown's teams have led the league.

Basketball geekery has delved into crunch time in various ways.
  • First there was individual field goal percentage. That's where we learned that the players we thought owned crunch time (for instance Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups) actually miss a lot.
  • A year ago, we added something new, looking at team offenses. That's a more important measure, assuming you value wins more than highlights. Who cares who gets the bucket, so long as they're on your team? That's where we learned that most teams were about the same, with some exceptions, including Chris Paul's Hornets, which were amazing.

But all that is only part of the picture. Because as much as we love clutch buckets, clutch wins also have a ton to do with defense. If you're going to point to any team as elite in the clutch, that must be included, and now it is.

As John Hollinger has explained, a lot of what teams do in crunch time is likely random. Looking at tiny parts of games creates some wacky results without a lot of predictive value ... anyone who says they know a team will do well in crunch time is likely fibbing. All teams do both well and poorly at different times. But defense may be a bit of an exception. Teams do seem to play defense with a certain consistency late in games.

Using data from the last five years (current as of today), from games within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Trevor Ebaugh of ESPN Stats & Info. dug in and created this pretty Tableau table:

Some of what we noticed:
  • The Cavaliers of LeBron James and Mike Brown were unreal in crunch time, leading the league by a hefty margin for three straight years, with the best performances of any teams in the record. It's easy to see that LeBron James matters here -- once he left for Miami the Cavaliers’ plus/minus plummeted. The Cavs averaged plus-113 with James during those three seasons, and plus one in the two seasons since. Meanwhile, before James, the Heat weren't good in crunch time, but have since become very solid.
  • Mike Brown emerges as an interesting character in crunch time. With James in Cleveland three straight years, and now in Los Angeles after a year off, his teams led the league by this metric every year he has coached in the last half-decade. In this period, neither team has been as good with other coaches, either.
  • The Lakers have by far the best crunch time plus/minus this season (plus-79, the Pacers are second at plus-65). Pau Gasol (plus-78) has been their biggest individual star, followed closely by Andrew Bynum (plus-74). Kobe Bryant ranks third at plus-58. The Lakers achieved this number with the NBA's second-best clutch offense (behind the Magic) and the eighth-best defense.
  • Three teams have shone for five straight years: The Lakers, Celtics and Magic. The Nuggets are flirting with joining that club, too.
  • Superstars matter. Or, at least some do. LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul almost always end the season positive in this regard -- the only exceptions are Paul and Nowitzki this year, which could still change. Other big names, like Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have had more mixed results.
  • Good teams in general do well in crunch time. The top six teams in crunch time plus/minus this season have already locked up playoff spots, for instance (Lakers, Pacers, Hawks, Magic, Spurs and Bulls). But it's hardly a perfect correlation. In fact, surely a lot of what we're seeing in this chart appears to be simple randomness. The Pacers, terrible for a long time, are suddenly leaders. The Kings are excellent crunch time defenders this season. The Hawks are a solid team that is way better than solid late in games. And plenty of good teams -- the Sixers, the Knicks -- are pretty bad with the game on the line.
  • Over the past half-decade, just two teams, the Knicks and Timberwolves, haven't had a single season in positive territory.
  • The top ten late-game offensive teams this season are the Magic, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Hawks, Pacers, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Knicks.
  • The Pacers are by far this season's best defensive team late in close games. They are followed by the Hawks, Kings (!), Spurs, Heat, Magic, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder and Clippers.
  • The Dallas Mavericks have been very good for the last five years, but also have had the biggest drop-off in crunch time performance, from a league-leading plus-117 last season to an anemic minus-16 this season.
  • The Hawks have been good in crunch time for four straight years.
  • The Spurs and Thunder have been up and down.
  • The Houston Rockets (plus-31) and Memphis Grizzlies (plus-28) are the best crunch time teams this season that have yet to lock up a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Clippers (minus-9) are the only playoff team with a negative clutch plus/minus.

Mostly, this feels like it's the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more to learn about all this, and one of the big questions on the horizon is something Bill James has wrestled with in baseball for quite some time: Is there such a thing as clutch time performers? Are there really players or teams who do better with the game on the line?

That's still not something we know. What we do know is that a lot of what we thought we knew was wrong.

Heat, Hibbert among night's best

February, 22, 2012
By ESPN Stats & Information
The Miami Heat were in a zone against the Sacramento Kings' zone defense in their 120-108 win on Tuesday night.

The Kings spent almost the entire first half trying to contain the Heat’s potent half-court offense by playing a zone . That’s something that had worked for other teams earlier this season, but not for the Kings in this contest.

The Heat entered having scored on 42 percent of their possessions against zone defenses. But the Kings' zone posed no problems. The Heat scored 47 points against Sacramento’s zone defense, shooting 65 percent against it.

Heat guard Mario Chalmers tied a career-high by making six three-pointers. Four of those came on spot-up jumpers. He typically averages a pair of baskets on spot-ups per game.

The Heat have won seven straight games by 10 or more points, the second-longest streak in Heat franchise history. The last time a streak of seven or more such wins occurred in the NBA was when the Heat won a team-record nine in a row last season.

Reversal of Fortune
The Portland Trail Blazers ended the San Antonio Spurs 11-game winning streak on a night in which Tim Duncan and Tony Parker both sat to rest.

This was a game that was over early. One night after scoring a franchise-record low seven points in the first quarter, the Trail Blazers tallied an NBA season-high 41 first-quarter points.

The 137 points that Portland scored in its win was its most since 1997. The 40-point defeat was the Spurs worst defeat, also since 1997.

Feat of the Night
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert scored a career-high 30 points in an overtime win against the New Orleans Hornets.
Roy Hibbert
Hibbert hadn’t even reached the 20-point mark in his last 14 games.

The primary reason for his success on Tuesday? Offensive rebounding.

Hibbert had seven offensive rebounds and converted five baskets from them, netting 11 points for himself. He entered averaging only 2.4 points from offensive rebounds (so around one basket) per game.

Plus-Minus Note of the Night
All four Cleveland Cavaliers reserves had a positive plus-minus, and all five of their starters had a negative one in their 101-100 win over the Detroit Pistons.

The most notable of the Cavs subs was Alonzo Gee, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. In his 25 minutes, the Cavaliers outscored the Pistons by 14 points. It was his second-best plus-minus of the season.

Bench lifts Magic to force Game 6

April, 26, 2011
By ESPN Stats & Info
The Orlando Magic avoided elimination Tuesday with their 101-76 win against the Atlanta Hawks. Orlando has forced the series back to Atlanta, where the Magic have yet to win this season (0-4 during regular season and postseason combined).

After shooting playoff record-low 8.7 percent (2-for-23) from three-point range in Game 4, Orlando rebounded to shoot 42.3 percent (11-for-26) from long distance in Game 5.

Orlando won despite a quiet game from Dwight Howard, who tied a playoff career-low by attempting just four shots. He finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds after recording a 20-15 game in each of the first four games of this series. He sat out all but one minute of the fourth quarter.

The Magic overcame the slow night from Howard due in large part to the strong performance from their bench. After totaling 69 points in the first four games of the series, the Magic bench combined for 49 points in Game 5.

Meanwhile, the Hawks did not get a typical performance from their star bench player, Jamal Crawford (8 points). Crawford had scored at least 20 points off the bench in each of the first four games of the series.

Odds against the Magic still remain long, however. In NBA playoff history, just eight teams have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. The Magic franchise has never done it and the Hawks franchise has never allowed it.

In other Eastern Conference action on Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls enjoyed their first playoff series win since 2007 by closing out the Indiana Pacers. It’s just Chicago’s second playoff series win since the 1998 NBA Finals.

Derrick Rose's sprained left ankle didn't seem to hamper him. After shooting 6-for-22 from the field in the Bulls' Game 4 loss, he found his stroke in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting.

In the first four games of the series, Rose shot just 29.7 percent from the field when being guarded by Paul George, but shot 66.7 percent from the field against him in Game 5. During the Bulls' decisive 21-8 run over the last 5:52 of the third quarter Tuesday, nine of Rose's 10 points came against George, all from three-point range.

Rose wasn't the only one feeling it from downtown. The Bulls set a franchise playoff record by making 14 three-pointers (previous high: 13), 11 of which came in the second half. The Bulls led at halftime for the first time in the series and never trailed, though at one point the Pacers closed within four points.

In an odd occurrence, noted three-point specialist Kyle Korver dunked in the game. A pretty rare sight -- he had one dunk the entire regular season.

The Pacers have not won a playoff series since 2005.
Dwyane Wade made nine field goals or fewer in 30 of the 50 games he played before Tuesday.

Dwyane Wade
On Tuesday, against the Indiana Pacers, Wade had made nine field goals … by the end of the first quarter.

He finished with 41 points, his third 40-point game of the season. Wade was 16-of-29 from the floor, and his 29 field goal attempts were the most by a teammate of LeBron James in his career (with both the Cavaliers and Heat). Wade, James and Monta Ellis are tied for the second-most 40-point games this season behind Kevin Durant’s five.

Wade scored 31 points in the first half, tying the franchise record for first-half points set by Sherman Douglas during the 1990-91 season.

One player who was able to slow down Wade was rookie Paul George. Wade scored on six of the Heat’s first 11 possessions, including 4-for-4 when he was guarded by Mike Dunleavy. George checked in for Dunleavy with 6:51 to play in the first quarter and stuck with Wade for much of the rest of the game. Wade shot 37.5 percent from the floor when guarded by George, including 3-for-11 in the final three quarters.

The “Big 3” of Wade, James and Chris Bosh combined for 90 points Tuesday. The only game in which they scored more points this season was on Jan. 9, when they combined for 96 points in a 107-100 overtime win at Portland.

The “Big 3” scored 90 of the team’s 110 points, posting a combined +/- of +20. It was their highest combined +/- since Dec. 17 against the Knicks (+28). Miami is 24-1 this season when Wade, James and Bosh have a combined +/- of +8 or greater.

Despite the loss, the Pacers still managed to score at least 100 points -- something they've done in all nine games interim head coach Frank Vogel has been at the helm. Over that same stretch, the Pacers are 7-0 against teams not named the Miami Heat.

The Pacers trailed by as many as 24 points in the first quarter, but rallied, and held a lead as late as the fourth quarter (three points) before falling behind for good.