“Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”
– Dr. Ian Malcolm, on the Eastern Conference.
Well, we’ve finally arrived at the Eastern Conference Finals. But the only joy is that the other 13 teams in the conference have been done away with, as the journey to this destination wasn’t without pain, suffering, tanking and the Knicks.
Injuries (Chicago, Atlanta, Brooklyn), questionable roster moves (Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee), being the Knicks (Knicks) and teams focused on being awful for lottery purposes (Philly, Orlando, Boston) are all things that derailed a majority of teams in the East.
Toronto, Washington and Charlotte took advantage of this and made the playoffs, so it wasn’t a complete train wreck. But these were teams that had their own flaws masked by the cesspool around them.
Which leaves us with the sociological experiment that is the Indiana Pacers. They’re here, sort of as expected. As I stated last night on Twitter (*insert Mick Foley thumbs up*), the Pacers could win by 20; lose by 20; or just defecate themselves at center court. That still remains true. If the Pacers were escaping from Shawshank prison, they would have found a way to tunnel themselves into another prison.
Then the Pacers, led by Bass Master Roy Hibbert, went on a fishing trip and things seem to have righted themselves, to a degree. They’re still prone to turning the ball over and their offense stagnates for stretches, but otherwise they look something like the Pacers of earlier this year. It also helps that Andrew Bynum may have met a “Fredo Corleone”-like demise. Someone should dredge that lake.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat have taken the path of least resistance. With the dumpster fire the East turned into, the Heat were in cruise-control for the bulk of the season. I have to double-check, but I’m pretty sure Miami clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals back in December.
But was that a good thing? Popular opinion is that the Heat can turn “it” on or off when necessary, however this season has been such a sleepwalk that could it be possible that they’ve taken it for granted?
Sure, they’re 8-1 this postseason, but their defensive rating is 104.2, per 100 possessions (according to NBA.com), so even their defense hasn’t rounded into shape. By comparison, they’re facing a Pacers team with 96.8 rating, so it’s not like Indy has fallen completely apart.
However, the Heat are armed with the best player on the planet, at the peak of his otherworldly powers. LeBron James had to carry a majority of the workload against the Nets, but now he’s going to need the help of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and the rest of the Super Best Friends to advance to the Finals. Bosh, in particular, has to have his jumper going, to eliminate the presence of Hibbert in the paint.
No matter the roads traveled, the Heat knew that the Pacers would be waiting for them. Now that they’re here, it’s time to see if there’s still another gear.