Can the Pacers end the Heat's reign atop the East? Indiana vs. Miami Playoff Preview & Predictions

This is the way it was supposed to be.

As soon as Miami knocked off Indiana in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago, we began looking forward to the rematch in this years' conference finals.

It looked like a foregone conclusion until February, when the wheels began to fall off the Pacers' bandwagon. They had losing records in each of the last three months of the regular season, and continued their struggles in the playoffs after needing all seven games to beat eight-seed Atlanta, who finished the season below .500.

Yet, they still have the top seed in the East over Miami because one, their first half was just that good, and two, Miami struggled down the stretch as well.

Miami did was expected of the two-time defending champs for the first 57 games of the season, but went a lowly 11-14 over the last 25. Some looked at it as a cause for concern, but maybe they just got bored.

There have been no ill-effects from that run in the postseason as the Heat swept Charlotte in the first round before dismantling the Nets in five games. However, many people see that as an indication of how weak the Eastern Conference is, because Miami didn't look as strong as we're used to seeing.

This may be a watered down version from last year's thrilling series, but these two teams hate one another and bring out each other's best. And as is the case in most rivalries, records and past performances don't matter - they're both here, four wins away from the Finals.

Regular Season Series: Split 2-2

Is this a surprise? Miami and Indiana were the two premier teams in the Eastern Conference, and are about equal in overall team talent.

X-Factor: Roy Hibbert

The one thing Miami doesn't have is a big man who is a factor around the rim, and that's where the Pacers shine thanks to Hibbert. However, he has been basically absent in the playoffs.

Indiana is 7-1 when Hibbert grabs three or more rebounds in the postseason, and are just 1-4 when he doesn't. If it tells you anything about how he's been playing, HE'S 7-FOOT-2 AND HAS FIVE GAMES WITHOUT GETTING THREE REBOUNDS.

He seemed to turn the corner late in the series against the Wizards, and Indiana needs him to be a major factor around the rim defensively and on the glass to beat Miami.

Miami wins IF: LeBron limits Paul George and Hibbert continues to struggle.

Indiana wins IF: They snap out of their funk and LeBron doesn't score 40 a game.

Brian Says…

This is the matchup every NBA fan has been looking forward to since the two sides squared off in an epic series last year, but unfortunately this one doesn't have the same promise. Miami is looking a lot more vulnerable then they were last year, while Indiana's struggles have been well documented. But they're both here, and they both bring out the best in each other.

It's a toss up of a series, but only two teams have made four straight finals trips in NBA history since Bill Russell's Boston Celtics - Magic's Lakers and Bird's Celtics. Miami could very well be added to that list, but it's tough to go against history - especially when you don't have home-court advantage.

Pacers in 7.

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