Despite the Miami Heat being the lower seed in this series, they were the unanimous pick by our NBA experts to beat the Indiana Pacers in the first round. It's not difficult to see why, when you consider that the Heat ended the season ranked second in 3-point percentage (38 percent) and seventh in offensive rating (111.9), giving them one of the most potent offenses in the league.
This season we saw the rise of Bam Adebayo as a certified All-Star, Jimmy Butler potentially finding his forever home as his hardworking attitude blends perfectly with the "Heat Culture," and a slew of young, talented diamonds in the rough in Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. When this offense is humming, Miami is difficult to slow down, and that's exactly what Indiana will try to do with its seventh-ranked defense in the league.
The Pacers had a bit of an up and down season, starting things off without Victor Oladipo who was still recovering from a torn quad he sustained in 2019. With him sidelined, newcomer Malcolm Brogdon shined as the sole ball-handler in the starting lineup for Indiana, while Domantas Sabonis provided dominant interior scoring. These two teams couldn't be more polar opposites, as the Heat rank in the top 10 of 3-point attempts per game (35), while the Pacers rank dead last (28).
Here are three things to know ahead of the Heat-Pacers playoff series.
(4) Pacers vs. (5) Heat schedule
All times Eastern
Game 1: Tuesday, Aug. 18, 4 p.m. | TNT
Game 2: Thursday, Aug. 20, 1 p.m. | ESPN
Game 3: Saturday, Aug. 22, 3:30 p.m. | TNT
Game 4: Monday, Aug. 24, 6:30 p.m. | TNT
Game 5: Wednesday, Aug. 26, TBD | TBD
Game 6: Friday, Aug. 28, TBD | TBD
Game 7: Sunday, Aug. 30, TBD | TBD
- What Victor Oladipo will we be getting?
In a surprise turn of events entering the bubble, Oladipo decided to play in the league's restart after contemplating sitting out for fear of re-injuring himself after just coming back from a torn quad that sidelined him for a whole season. Oladipo did play before the season was postponed in March, however, he struggled to get his footing and didn't look like the All-Star he became before his injury. In Orlando, he's largely been underwhelming, averaging just 16 points to go along with six rebounds and three assists per game. That would be a great stat line for a secondary or third option on a team, but considering the last time we saw Oladipo in the playoffs he was putting up 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in a seven-game series against LeBron James' Cavaliers, those numbers are incredibly pedestrian.
Oladipo is Indiana's best player, and in order to win this series, it would need the 2017-18 playoff Oladipo, not the one we've seen in the bubble thus far. That is especially true considering the Pacers are still without Sabonis, who left the bubble before seeding games even started due to plantar fasciitis, and there's no timetable on when -- or if -- he'll be back.
Since returning to the court, Oladipo has struggled to coexist with new backcourt mate Malcolm Brogdon. Per NBA Advanced Stats, the Pacers are actually better when the two guards aren't on the floor together. When Oladipo is running the show and Brogdon is sitting, Indiana outscores opponents by six points. Similarly, when Brogdon us on the floor and Oladipo sits, the Pacers outscored opponents by four points. However, when the two share the floor, they're outscored by five points. Pacers coach Nate McMillan will have to find ways to get both of these guards time on the floor by themselves so they have room to operate because it's clear the chemistry between the two players isn't quite where it needs to be for this team to be successful just yet. It may also help to split up the time these two are sharing the floor in order to get the most out of Oladipo, who works best when the ball is in his hands.
2. Jimmy Butler vs. TJ Warren
Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren made gave an otherwise mundane January matchup earlier in the season a playoff feel when the two players were jawing back and forth throughout the game. In the third quarter of that matchup, Warren fouled Butler hard which resulted in the two being separated quickly before things escalated. Both were assessed double technicals and fined $35,000 after the game. Fast forward seven months later and the two will now face off in the first round of the playoffs. The only thing that could dampen this matchup is the fact that Warren was recently diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, per Indianapolis Star's J. Michael.
The Pacers forward is optimistic that it shouldn't hinder his ability to play in this series, and if that's the case then this rivalry should be enticing. Especially considering Warren has been on an absolute tear since arriving in Orlando. Despite cooling off toward the end of the seeding schedule, Warren averaged 31 points, including a 53-point outburst against the Sixers, and three other 30-point plus performances. Butler, though, will surely zone in on Warren and try to keep him from going off in this series. When the Pacers and Heat played in their final seeding game against each other, Butler and the Heat held Warren to just 12 points in 29 minutes of action.
Butler thrives on shutting opponents down, and if he's able to get under Warren's skin he has the ability to completely take him out of the game. However, if Warren is able to get shots off as he did in the earlier games of the seeding schedule, then it will only heighten the level of intensity brewing between these two players. Either way, it will be entertaining to watch Butler and Warren yap at each other over the course of this series.
3. Can Miami's youth deliver in the postseason?
Out of the Heat's six most important players on their roster, only Jimmy Butler has five or more years of playoff experience. Adebayo was on the Heat during the 2016-17 playoffs, but only played 13 minutes a game, and Goran Dragic has three years of playoff experience, both with the Heat and his times with the Suns. Other than that, the three other players the Heat rely on offensively -- Robinson, Herro and Nunn -- have zero postseason experience.
During the regular season, that trio of young guys stepped up to meet the occasion several times, with Herro delivering game-winning shots, Robinson drilling high-pressure buckets and Nunn staying composed in a pinch. However, this is the playoffs. Teams know not to leave Robinson or Herro open from deep, and they're going to see more attention from opposing teams in the postseason. Against the Pacers, a team that allows the fourth-lowest 3-point percentage in the league (34.1), these young guys might not have as much breathing room as they're used to when they're lining up shots.
It's going to be a tough first test for the Heat's youth, and if they advance past the first round, the level of difficulty will only increase going forward.