Game 6 preview: Heat vs. Pacers
Can the Heat close out the Pacers, or will Frank Vogel's crew force a Game 7? Our experts examine Saturday night's Game 6 in Indianapolis (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio).
1.What do you read into LeBron's "Cleveland days" quote?
Tim Donahue, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Well, it seems like a reasonable reaction to the fact that -- in their two most dominant performances of the series -- the Heat's second-most effective player was Udonis Haslem. With sporadic play from Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Miami has looked very much like a one-man team for most of the series. Of course, one LeBron is worth three of most others these days.
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: It was a statement of fact. For the third quarter, he had to dip into his Cleveland well and put on his scoring hat. Is that mentality here to stay? I'd assume so. Chris Andersen's out while Wade and Bosh had flat tires. Expect Cleveland LeBron for now.
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Not much. I think the comment reflects how deeply he was "in the zone." LeBron could have said his play was like the "Game 6 Boston days," noting his dominance against the Celtics in last year's conference finals. Given Miami's balanced, better offense, he hasn't had to "Go Takeover" on purpose much since leaving Cleveland, but he's so good that it still just happens organically, like Thursday night.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Honesty and a bit of harsh reality. Game 5 played out as if LeBron waited in the first half to see what he would get in support from Bosh and Wade, realized it wasn't going to be quite enough and then proceeded to dominate the rest of the way. Considering Bosh's and Wade's struggles, expect Cleveland LeBron to be paged again.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: I was surprised he made that reference because it's so loaded. But I think he was referring to strategy more than anything, which was to put him at the top of the floor and let him run high pick-and-rolls and then come off and exploit the help defense. That was common in his Cleveland days, letting Anderson Varejao set a screen with the likes of Daniel Gibson, Mo Williams and Delonte West deployed. But on a night where Wade and Bosh combined for 17 points, those words were intriguing.
2. What's your take on Dwyane Wade's performance so far?
Donahue: Wade looks like a guy whose body is betraying him, and he's having trouble accepting it. He has looked slow and erratic, and often visibly frustrated when he is unable to complete a play. The question of "Whose team is it?" is long past, as LeBron is clearly on a higher plane. That may be playing into the frustration.
Haberstroh: He's hurting. Wade is not what he once was and this isn't a redux of last playoffs. He dropped 20-plus in 17 playoff games last season. This time around? Just once. He has lost his explosiveness, but the Heat need him even if he's at 60 percent.
Wade: He is not healthy. Wade's knee bone bruises are clearly limiting his explosion and lift. He just isn't capable of playing the way he plays. Still, Wade has contributed some timely plays, like a transition layup and a drive-and-kick to Haslem in Game 5. He can't play like himself but he still is himself, if that makes sense.
Wallace: It's the least productive postseason of Wade's career. His knee issue has been well documented, but Wade acknowledged he wasn't anywhere near 100 percent at the start of the playoffs. Miami needs more from him. The question is how much more is he capable of giving?
Windhorst: He's hurt, and there's no denying it's severely limiting his movement. He doesn't have a great jumper to fall back on, so he needs his athleticism. He just doesn't have it right now. At least the Heat are no longer trying to sell the myth that he's just being "unselfish." He's giving what he has.
3. How high do you expect the Pacers to rise in this era?
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Donahue: This Pacers team is probably close to the peak of its accomplishments, but the question is sustainability. The practical goal is repeated trips to the conference finals, with hopes of breaking through once or twice. With a foundation of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, they could be here two or three times over the next four years.
Haberstroh: Eastern Conference finals contenders for years to come. This is a young roster with its anchor in Hibbert and perimeter star-in-the-making in George locked in. They aren't going anywhere as long as Frank Vogel is coaching this blossoming core.
Wade: Only a handful of teams have a more promising foreseeable future. The next steps for Indiana are re-signing David West, extending George and deciding on Lance Stephenson's long-term status. The Pacers should resolve the first two this summer, and the stability and continued improvement of the core should lead to at least one Finals berth, at worst, in this era.
Wallace: Retaining the services of West in free agency this summer would be a huge boost. With him back alongside Hibbert, George and a developing Stephenson, the Pacers would cement themselves as the biggest threat to the Heat over the next few years. But that's also assuming Miami keeps LeBron, Wade and Bosh together.
Windhorst: They have youth on their side and I don't think either Hibbert or George has hit his ceiling yet. What happens with West and how the Pacers handle Danny Granger will be crucial. They don't have room salary-wise for all four, but they don't have to pay George big money until next year, when Granger's contract expires. Either West or Granger is going -- most likely Granger -- and if the Pacers can execute a good and money-smart roster move there they could be a title contender for the next few years.
4. Who should the Spurs be rooting for to win the series?
Donahue: Pacers. Matchups mean a great deal in the NBA, and the Pacers match up very poorly with San Antonio. The Spurs have the right balance of shooting and size, and start with a very effective Tony Parker. It's the type of team that gives Indiana fits. Just ask Memphis.
Haberstroh: Pacers. The Heat have a superior offense and the defense can suffocate opponents even with Bosh and Wade limping. They bottled up the Pacers in Game 5 and held them to 79 points. But the Spurs don't want to play the Heat because they have LeBron James and the Pacers don't.
Wade: Pacers. Because they don't have LeBron James. And because San Antonio smoked Indiana twice during the regular season.
Wallace: Pacers. The Spurs are simply too confident, experienced and established to have to root for any opponent over another in a Finals matchup. That said, the Pacers, of course, might be the easier prey because of their lack of exposure on that stage. Then again, if you can beat the defending champion Heat in the conference finals, you're qualified to be there.
Windhorst: Pacers. It's the team that doesn't have LeBron James.
5. Who wins Game 6?
Donahue: Heat. As much as I'd like it be otherwise, I expect LeBron to close out the Pacers on Saturday night. If he can get the Heat out front, that will take a lot of pressure off his supporting cast, and the Heat will probably be able to keep Indy at bay. Disappointing for Pacers fans, but still a great season.
Haberstroh: Pacers. I said the Heat in six before the series, but I'm taking a mulligan. Andersen's out and Bosh has a bum ankle -- two things I didn't see coming. This one's going seven with the Heat moving on to the Finals.
Wade: Pacers, mainly because this has been a really entertaining series and I want to see one more game of it. Plus, the Pacers have been very good at home throughout the postseason.
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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra joined Hubie Brown before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Wallace: Pacers. I said last time I wouldn't fall for this okey-doke question again. But it just keeps popping up. So what I'll do is go with the trend that's been established in this series already. The Heat will win the odd-numbered games and the Pacers will take the even-numbered ones. So after alternating wins through five games, it's Indiana's turn.
Windhorst: Pacers. I was not impressed with the Heat's overall performance in Game 5; it was not a sustainable strategy to win. Now Andersen, a vital player in this series, is suspended. Pacers role players George Hill and Lance Stephenson play better at home. Advantage, Indiana.
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