Stylistic dominance will be the storyline in the Eastern Conference Finals duel between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers as the teams battle for the right to play in the NBA Finals. The traditionally-built Pacers will put a lot of stake in big man Roy Hibbert, and the Heat will ride a unique small-ball spread offense that revolves around LeBron James' creativity.
Game 1 of their playoff series in Miami on Wednesday will be an awkward meeting between two teams feeling each other out. Erik Spoelstra and Frank Vogel will tinker with their lineups, work against the opponents' preconceived weaknesses and hope that their strengths coming into the game are still strengths.
Here's what could sway the series opener.
Will small ball work?
While it's mightily apparent Hibbert will be the key ingredient for the Pacers, there's a bit of lacking attention aimed at Chris Bosh and the Miami lineups. Hibbert can't get into foul trouble as a rim-protecting monster and because of the obvious advantage that the Pacers have on the rebounding front. Yet, it's Bosh and the rolling of the dice by Spoelstra that could counter the Indiana big man.
The Heat's small lineup could be equally deadly. Bosh has been quiet this postseason, averaging 13.2 points per game, but he could find himself with many opportunities as a stretch center. Bosh is shooting 46.7 percent from three-point range, though he's been selective in his attempts. His influence on the perimeter could pull Hibbert away from his shotblocking duties, all while giving Miami a consistent and efficient scoring option.
And none of that is to mention the ability for Miami to beat the turnover-prone Pacers in transition.
How does Indiana slow the pace?
The Pacers must find a way to keep the Heat out of transition. As the Heat showed all this season, they can turn grind-it-out games into blowouts with the flip of the switch. First and foremost, turnovers have to be avoided at all costs.
Secondly, the Pacers must balance their affinity to crash the offensive glass with getting back off missed shots. Long two-pointers and threes should lead to immediate retreats by Indiana's backcourt players, and even to an extent those in the frontcourt. The bad news is that the Pacers combine the fourth-most turnovers per game (15.9) of all 16 NBA postseasons attendees with the third-worst shooting percentage (42). Thus, taking good shots will be important as well, and that's not easy to do against a very good Miami defense -- not to mention Indiana's sometimes-lacking offense.
Stopping James from pushing the pace and finishing or finding teammates in transition is hard. Avoiding it altogether is ideal.
Who wins the backcourt battle?
Much of the Pacers' offense will run through Hibbert, Paul George and even David West to a degree. But Indiana must get consistent offensive production from its backcourt on both ends of the floor. George, after all, could be tasked with handling LeBron James, and his offensive game could suffer because of it.
George Hill has shown the ability to shift into a playoff gear, as has Lance Stephenson. For them to take turns and continue to do so will be huge, and defensively it's important they keep lightning-rod point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole from getting hot. If the Pacers can outplay the Miami point guards all while keeping an injury-riddled Dwyane Wade from doing too much damage, they will be in good shape.
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Miami opened as an 8.5-point favorite.