The Miami Heat will try to pick up where they left off in Game 5 and close out the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. The Pacers face a do-or-die situation in Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, as they try to force a return trip to Miami for Game 7.
LeBron James has been every bit the league MVP in this series, pushing his team to a 3-2 series advantage with exceptional play on both ends of the court in the second half of Game 5. Now James returns to the Fieldhouse in Indiana, where he was last seen walking off the floor after fouling out in Miami's Game 4 loss.
The Pacers have been a great home team all season and look to exploit their size advantage while feeding off of the friendly gold-and-loud crowd. The Pacers are 7-1 at the Fieldhouse during the playoffs, with their only loss coming in Game 3 to the Heat.
Here are three questions that will help determine what happens in Game 5:
1. Will the Heat miss Birdman in their closing effort?
Chris "Birdman" Andersen won't be available for the Heat while serving a one-game suspension for his Game 5 altercation with Tyler Hansbrough. The Heat will miss Birdman's frontcourt support off the bench, as Joel Anthony will be pressed into action to battle the Pacers' bigs.
Andersen hasn't missed a shot in the series, but he only took two shots for four points and grabbed six rebounds over the past two games. What the Heat will miss most is the energy and effort he brings to the court.
Still, his absence shouldn't have a big impact on Miami's chances to win the game. The situation is familiar for the Heat, who had to play Game 6 against the Pacers in the playoffs last season without power forward Udonis Haslem. Haslem was also suspended for an altercation with Hansbrough, but Dwyane Wade and LeBron did more than enough to make up for his absence in that game.
2. Can the Pacers backcourt bring it at home?
George Hill and Lance Stephenson were near no-shows in Game 5 at Miami, combining for just five points and as many turnovers (six) as assists. Both players had to play through foul trouble and never found their rhythm on the road.
Stephenson also had the full attention of LeBron after the league's MVP took exception to the young guard's chatter in Game 4. The duo combined to score 39 points in that Game 4 win at home, responding favorably to the supportive home crowd. They will need be a positive factor for the Pacers if Indiana hopes to extend the series to Game 7.
3. Which Heat players will help LeBron?
The wear and tear of the playoffs have left Chris Bosh and Wade hobbled during the Conference Finals, forcing James to take matters into his own capable hands. Still, the Heat star needs a little help to combat the Pacers' balanced approach. Twice, Haslem has joined the party to knock down baseline jumpers and help secure wins in Games 3 and 5.
Last year, in a similar Game 6 situation, Wade exploded for 41 points in an otherworldly performance that combined with LeBron's 28 points to bury the Pacers on their home floor. Wade doesn't appear physically capable of lifting his game to that level this year, so it'll take a group approach similar to the exceptional offensive effort in Game 3. That game saw all five Miami starters score in double figures, which may be the winning formula for the Heat on the road.
That team effort goes beyond scoring, though. The Heat need to account for the Pacers' interior advantage and crash the boards to limit the rebounding edge Indiana has enjoyed in the games they won. In the end, the team that can impose their preferred style of play on the other will find a way to win.