The Indiana Pacers open their NBA Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat at 8:30 tonight in Miami.
Miami is heavily favored, but the Pacers believe they can pull the upset. Here's a quick glance at some pivotal factors:
How the Pacers can win
1. Set the tone. The Pacers need to come out with a physical defense and a not-backing-down mentality in Miami. That probably means ruffling the feathers of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. That can backfire, of course, if it provides motivation for the superstars who went off against the Pacers last season. It can also establish that this is a true seven-game series in the making.
2. Contain the “other guys.” Everyone will be focused on what James, Wade and Chris Bosh do, but it's as imperative for the Pacers that they keep the likes of Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole from having highlight-reel nights.
3. Protect the three-point line. All season, the Pacers have been one of the NBA's best perimeter defensive teams. If they can take away the big threes, they can concentrate more on the Big Three. The more they funnel the Heat's offense toward Roy Hibbert, the better.
How the Pacers can lose
1. Run into foul trouble. If Hibbert and David West end up on the bench for extended periods, it means trouble. There is simply no way that Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi are going to be able to shut down the Heat inside. Miami, with a bench that includes Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen, is much better suited to weathering foul issues.
2. Miss free throws. There won't be any room for error if the Pacers hope to upset the Heat. They must shoot near 80 percent from the free-throw line. If they get into one of those nights where they hover around 55 to 65 percent, it'll cost them.
3. James raises his game again. Let's face it, there is no player on the Pacers (or any team, for that matter) who can handle James when he's playing at his best. He's too strong, too quick and too crafty to be slowed by anything less than dynamic defensive play. Chances are the Pacers will throw a few different defensive looks at James. Some days, however, the man simply cannot be stopped.