Exactly a year ago, the Miami Heat entered May 22 deadlocked with the Indiana Pacers, 2-2, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Miami would eventually fend off the upstart Pacers in six games en route to an NBA title, but one year ago was the reason that Indiana finds itself here today.
The Heat host a more mature group of Pacers this year, and the Eastern Conference finals tip Wednesday in Miami at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Danny Granger is sidelined after failing to come back from his knee injury, but his gritty spirit still lives in his teammates. Since last season, Paul George has grown into an All-Star, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson have only gotten better, and the hard-nosed David West and George Hill have brought their usual toughness.
Miami has improved too. Erik Spoelstra's team has only lost four games since the beginning of February, and the pieces placed around LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have melded well together. Ray Allen has been a formidable bench scorer, Norris Cole has come out of his shell during the playoffs and the midseason addition of Chris Andersen has bolstered the Miami frontcourt.
The Heat find themselves vying for their third NBA Finals appearance in a row after cruising past the Bucks in the opening playoff series of 2013. They found some resistance against an overmatched Chicago Bulls team but after a Game 1 loss did enough to down them with four straight wins.
The Pacers could likely find keys to success in the Bulls' defensive strategies, but they will hope that their lack of injuries and a less-lifeless offense can turn into a series win. In this year's playoff run, the Pacers were pushed to six games in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks and again to six in the conference semifinals against the New York Knicks. While winning on the road hasn't been Indiana's strength -- the Pacers are 2-4 on the road during this playoff run -- they appeared plenty capable of beating Miami in Indianapolis during the regular season. They went 2-1 against the Heat.
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Miami opened as an 8.5-point favorite.