By RICK SOLEM
LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh could all be free agents after this season.
Up against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, this could be where the Miami Heat's run ends.
If the Miami loses this series, James could bail. Maybe even Bosh. Wade will take the $20 million and run for one more year in Miami.
But here, now, is the Eastern Conference Finals everyone predicted.
Yet, at the same time, it’s the match-up nobody thought was coming, not after Indiana’s late-season collapse.
They’ve either had inner turmoil – as Roy Hibbert’s "selfish dudes in here" comments hint – or they’ve been on coast mode since securing the top seed in the East. It is the East, after all. The only teams worth showing up to play against are the Heat and Pacers.
It’s hard to get up for any other team – even in the playoffs, apparently.
But the Pacers should probably get up now, since the NBA Finals are on the line.
Perhaps this is what the Pacers have been waiting for to wake up from their months-long slumber, where they have, now, slowly shaken off the cobwebs.
It took seven games to get by lowly Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs, while the Pacers hit snooze on the alarm a couple times. They needed six games to get by Washington, as they showered, had some breakfast and combed their hair for their big date.
And, it looks as though Indiana is all shaved and showered and ready to go after the Game 1 blowout win, 107-96.
This series went seven games last year. If the Pacers can shake whatever it is that’s been problematic to simply dominating, this series should also make it to seven.
The Pacers are a team somewhat built to beat the Heat. They need a big, defensive center to block James’ and Wade’s runs to the rim. And they need athletes at small forward and shooting guard able to defend those two, as well.
The Heat also have problems with a low-post center and quick, scoring point guards – one thing the Pacers thought they had and one thing they sort of have.
Hibbert isn’t your ideal low-post threat. He shoots well under 50 percent from the field and, recently, has been crying about getting the ball down low instead of just playing hard and rebounding.
He’s had solid games this playoff, but it feels a bit like the team resents his past comments and scoffs at the idea that he needs the ball in the post. He doesn’t. He should concentrate on getting rebounds and putbacks.
Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Co. miss enough shots from the perimeter, he should have no problem getting the ball down low – from an offensive rebound.
In the point guard dept., the Pacers’ George Hill isn’t a Heat buster, but Stephenson can be – and it sort of works perfectly. Wade is forced to guard Stephenson, who handles a lot of the point guard duties. That tires Wade out –if Stephenson happens to be making shots, that is. Stephenson also can give Wade fits with his defense.
Hill just needs to not make mistakes offensively and contain whomever the Heat throw at the point guard position – Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Ray Allen (since James pretty much handles the ball).
This series may be all about home – or all about ‘team’ – as the home team has won 12 of the last 14 meetings, including all four regular season games this season.
Prediction: Heat in 7.