The Miami Heat will play the Indiana Pacers twice over the next three nights. Here are three things to monitor that will help decide the outcome of this mini-series.
1. Who controls the pace?
The teams have yet to face each other this season and enter at opposite ends of the pace spectrum. The Pacers play at the league's fastest pace, averaging 104.38 possessions per 48 minutes. The Heat, meanwhile, are the league's sixth-slowest team with a pace of 98.17.
Tyrese Haliburton is the engine of the league's No. 1-rated offense. He leads the league in assists and wants to go fast and utilize the breadth of the court. The Pacers shoot quickly, taking more shots in the first 9 seconds of the shot clock than any other team. Buddy Hield, recently re-inserted into the starting lineup, is quick to fire. Obi Toppin and Bruce Brown add slashing and cutting, while Myles Turner can stretch the floor from the 5 position.
The Heat, on the other hand, want to turn any track meet into a study hall. The Heat work through the shot clock, forcing defenses to defend multiple actions. This is a quality-over-quantity team that takes more than a quarter of their shots within the final seven seconds of the shot clock. The Heat will try to drag Indiana's pace to their level and control the tempo of the game, but it's easier said than done.
2. Passing lanes
The Pacers lead the league in assists and are near the top of the league in passes made per game. The Heat average the fourth-most steals (8.8) per 100 possessions. Do you see what I'm getting at here?
The more the Pacers pass (especially the long-distance passes than they specialize in) the more opportunities there will be for the Heat to jump those passing lanes and score at the other end. Let's call these defensive touchdowns, or pick-sixes. The more of Indiana's possessions that the Heat can turn into points the other way, the better. Haliburton can go long stretches without a turnover, but he has had four, six, three, one and three turnovers in his last five games.
Of course, having either of Jimmy Butler or Haywood Highsmith in this game will help. Both are listed as questionable.
3. Second-chance points
Another opposite-end-of-the-spectrum category here, and this one favors the Heat.
The Pacers give up the third-most second-chance points in the league, while the Heat give up the fourth-fewest. The Heat should be crashing the boards every time a shot goes up to (a.) take advantage of Indiana's poor defensive rebounding and (b.) keep the ball away from Haliburton.
As for the other parts of the court, both teams enter the game shooting about the same percentage from 3-point range. The Pacers get a ton of points in the paint (watch out for Haliburton's pocket passes to rolling big men) and the Heat will score bundles of points from the mid-range.