The 'Beasts of the East' go into battle on Wednesday night as the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals tip off. And it would be a massive upset if the Indiana Pacers were able to derail the Miami Heat’s bid for a second successive title.
The champions, who have lost just once in the NBA Playoffs so far, are 1.12 favourites to win the best of seven series, with their rivals at 5.85 to pull off the shock. It’s a long shot for Indiana. But not an impossibility.
For one, the Pacers took the regular season series 2-1. And the Heat have yet to face a front line which is physically as dominant as their pending foes.
There’s also the emergence of Lance Stephenson who is giving Indiana the offensive weapon it sorely needs. Plus you’d expect his team to have learnt a little from last year when they led Miami 2-1 in the Eastern semi-finals, only to lose three straight games.
However, there’s a good reason that LeBron James & co are favoured by -7.5 on the handicap in Game One at 1.91. Miami has the best offensive and defensive rating of any team in these play-offs, out-scoring their opponents by over 15 points in every 100 possessions.
That single blip to Chicago apart, they’ve looked every inch the most formidable team in the league, despite the minor injury to Dwyane Wade which has left him a little off his best.
Indiana’s greatest hope is if they can halt Miami’s penetration and force the Heat to rely on their perimeter game, while also winning the rebounding battle. Even that puts them at risk of being overwhelmed but they’ll hope to emulate the Bulls and catch the Heat cold following their six days of rest since despatching Chicago 4-1.
In seeing off New York and Atlanta, the Pacers have proven they have reserves of resilience.
Rest assured, this is going to be a tough physical battle which could keep the opener below the total points line of 182 at 1.91. There’s good value on the Pacers at +4 on the half-time handicap at 1.91. And while, on their home court, Miami should prevail at 1.23 tonight, expect the East Finals to be a little closer than you maybe expected.
Prediction: Miami to win series 4-2
Best bet: Take Indiana on the half-time handicap of +4 at 1.91