They were the top two teams in the Eastern Conference last year. But not too many people are adding the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat to their NBA picks in 2015. Who will prevail this Friday night?
Jason’s record as of Jan. 21: 25-24-2 ATS, 2-4 Totals
It’s just not the same. The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers had a pretty good rivalry going the past three years, fighting for top spot in the Eastern Conference. But both teams have fallen on hard times. The Heat (18-24 SU, 19-21-2 ATS) don’t have LeBron James anymore, and the Pacers (15-29 SU, 21-20-3 ATS) are missing their best player, Paul George. Sad, really.
When these two teams meet Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET) at the Triple A, it’ll be more like 2007 – the last time the Heat and Pacers both finished below .500. Actually, it could be worse than that if Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Luol Deng (illness) don’t play for Miami. We won’t have any NBA odds for this matchup until the lineups are resolved, but as usual, we’re forging ahead regardless.
Blame It on Rio 2
Miami might not have King James and his talents anymore, but it’s still disappointing to see how far the Heat have tumbled despite retaining the services of Wade (23.4 PER) and Chris Bosh (21.2 PER). If you need two All-Stars to win a title, Miami should still be in contention. But things started coming apart early when free agent acquisition Josh McRoberts (42.1 percent from downtown) tore up his knee and was lost for the season.
The bigger problem, though, is at point guard. This wasn’t a serious issue when James was essentially playing point forward, but Mario Chalmers (12.0 PER) and Norris Cole (9.9 PER) haven’t been able to run the offense. Neither has rookie Shabazz Napier (9.5 PER), although he’s shown some promise. Wade has become Miami’s leading distributor at 6.1 assists per 36 minutes.
Bench strength has also been an issue since the departure of James (along with several of his running buddies) and the McRoberts injury. Hassan Whiteside (26.0 PER) came out of nowhere to give the Heat a lift down low, but Whiteside suffered a mildly sprained ankle and missed Wednesday’s 78-76 loss to the Charlotte Hornets (–6 at home). That was Miami’s ninth straight UNDER result, by the way. Whiteside is expected to be another game-time decision for the Heat on Friday.
Running Up That Hill
Sadly for the Pacers, George (20.1 PER last year) wasn’t their only major injury. They’ve gone through long stretches without the services of David West (16.5 PER), as well as C.J. Watson (13.3 PER) and new arrival Rodney Stuckey (13.8 PER). Those players are back, but George Hill (13.4 PER last year) is out indefinitely with a strained groin after appearing in just five games this season.
You might recall how awesome the Pacers were at the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign (25-5 SU, 22-8 ATS). That was partly because of some historically awesome defense, which regressed to the mean during the second half of the season, but also because Indiana had a consistent starting five of George, West, Hill, Roy Hibbert (13.5 PER last year) and Lance Stephenson (14.7 PER), who’s now struggling to get his mojo back with the Hornets.
Nothing has been consistent for the Pacers this season – except for Hibbert (plus-2.4 DBPM) and his outstanding defense. We saw last year how fragile Indiana was after the starting five began to wear down from overuse. Despite the offseason signings of Stuckey and C.J. Miles (12.0 PER), the Pacers bench remains exceedingly thin. There was no first-round pick for them at the 2014 NBA Draft, either. Now Indiana is 1-7 SU and 0-8 ATS in its past eight games with little relief in sight. We’ll have to add Miami to our NBA picks this time.
Free NBA Pick: Take the Heat