SHOOTING GUARD | EDGE: HEAT
Heat: Since his five-point clunker in Game 3 of last season’s Pacers series, Dwyane Wade has averaged 28.2 points in six games against Indiana and shot 52.1 percent in the three games this season. The unknown, even to Wade, is how much the right knee will limit him. His playoff scoring numbers are the lowest as a pro (13.0, compared with a 24.4 career average), but his late flurry in Game 5 against the Bulls was encouraging.
Pacers: Lance Stephenson has come a long way from the scrub who made his biggest mark in last May’s series with his classless choke sign to James. He has evolved into a formidable defender with a decent offensive game. Stephenson averaged 11.3 points on 44 percent against the Heat this season and helped close out the Knicks with 25 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6.
BENCH | EDGE: HEAT
Heat: A much better group than what Miami had available in last year’s series, when Dexter Pittman started Game 3 in place of the injured Bosh. Ray Allen (12.2 points), Cole (11 for 16 on threes) and Chris Andersen (22 for 28 from field, 11 blocks) have contributed impactful postseasons. Battier is shooting just 26 percent (13 for 50) through two rounds but hit two threes in the fourth quarter of the close-out win against Chicago.
Pacers: Not much offensive punch here; keep in mind that Stephenson would be the sixth man if Granger wasn’t out for the rest of the season. Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi are competent backups in a power rotation, but the Pacers still can’t afford for West or Hibbert to get in serious foul trouble. Augustin (a 35 percent shooter this season) and Sam Young (39 percent) are, at best, serviceable reserves.
COACHING | EDGE: HEAT
Heat: Erik Spoelstra made the signature move of last year’s playoff series, inserting Battier at power forward when Bosh was injured — a move that forced West to defend Battier on the perimeter and generally reduced his overall effectiveness.
Pacers: Like Spoelstra, Frank Vogel has extracted the most from his team. Without Granger, Indiana is somewhat limited offensively, but the Pacers defend with verve (like the Heat) and led the league in rebounding. (Miami was last, partly a function of shooting such a high percentage.)
INTANGIBLES | EDGE: HEAT
Heat: Winners of 45 of its past 48, the Heat — now with Allen, Andersen and a healthy Bosh — will roll out a much better team than the one that ousted Indiana in six games in last year’s playoffs. Indiana’s size and rebounding pose challenges, but remember the Heat has outrebounded the Bucks and Bulls by nearly three per game in postseason. The Heat was 29-12 on the road; Indiana was 19-21.
Pacers: Hibbert, Stephenson and George have elevated their games — and West can be a load — but it’s difficult to envision Indiana being able to generate enough offense to win more than two games. The Pacers were fifth-worst in the league in turnovers, and the Heat is lethal in transition. And Indiana cannot come close to matching Miami’s depth.