Twenty-nine points from LeBron James helps the Miami Heat take a 2-1 NBA Finals series lead over the Oklahoma Thunder.
Three-time league MVP LeBron James finally has an NBA championship to add to his belt, after the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five of the 2012 NBA Finals.
Game 4 of the NBA Finals is set for Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET in Miami, where the Heat are seeking to close within one victory of a title and the Thunder are hoping to pull even at 2-2. How important is this game for Oklahoma City? No one has ever rallied to win the Finals after trailing 3-1 -- teams are 0-30 in that situation all time and 0-13 since the NBA went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985. Join SI.com's Paul Forrester and Brad Weinstein as they live-blog Game 4 beginning at 8:45 p.m.
MIAMI -- LeBron James was accused of taking the easy way to his breakthrough championship, but the last two years have been anything but easy. He was five minutes and 49 seconds away from the brink of his ultimate goal when he found himself sliding and falling to the floor. He lost control of the ball and he had to be worrying if he was going to lose the game and the NBA Finals along with it. Was this how it was going to end again?
Russell Westbrook's impressive 43 points were not enough to end the Oklahoma City Thunder's losing streak in game four of this year's NBA finals.
MIAMI -- Five thoughts from Miami's 104-98 win over Oklahoma City in Game 4 ...
A fierce late-game rally by the Oklahoma City Thunder proved fruitless Thursday night as the Miami Heat held out to win game two of the 2012 NBA Finals 100-96, tying the series, 1-1.
For all we know, Bobcats owner Michael Jordan may have finally gotten it right with the surprising hiring of St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap as coach on Monday.
MIAMI -- If the Thunder are right, and if they're able to make good on their promise to break through in Game 4 Tuesday night, then this NBA Finals will be on its way to fulfilling its promise. It can become one of the most entertaining showdowns in recent memory, but that won't happen unless Oklahoma City responds to the elevated play of the Heat and LeBron James.
Of all the facets of the Oklahoma City blueprint that Bobcats general manager Rich Cho hoped to follow, landing the No. 2 pick in the draft wasn't one of them.
MIAMI -- The closest games were supposed to favor the Thunder. They were supposed to be the better team down the stretch, even though that reputation for performance under pressure had not been earned. Yes, they'd dethroned the Mavericks in the opening round, survived the Lakers and overwhelmed the Spurs, but suddenly none of that mattered.
MIAMI -- The Oklahoma City Thunder may yet play in 10 NBA Finals and win six championships and lure NFL, NHL and MLB teams to Oklahoma City, but in the meantime, these guys are so young that when they cross the street somebody ought to hold their hand. Otherwise, Russell Westbrook will sprint into a parked car, and Kevin Durant will knock over a crossing guard, and Kendrick Perkins will just stand there and shake his head in disgust.
A missed three-pointer by Russell Westbrook in the final minute of Sunday's game signaled the end of a fierce back-and-forth between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder in game three of the 2012 NBA Finals.
MIAMI -- Five thoughts from the Heat's 91-85 win over Oklahoma City ...
Game 3 of the NBA Finals is set for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET in Miami. Will the Thunder rebound from Thursday's loss, or will the Heat protect their home court and take a 2-1 series lead? Join SI.com's Ben Glicksman and Paul Forrester as they live blog Game 3 beginning at 7:45 p.m.
MIAMI -- It is possible that, as LeBron James warms up for the Heat on Sunday, fans at American Airlines Arena will be looking down at their phones to follow Tiger Woods' surge at the U.S. Open. Of course, the way Tiger played Saturday, it is also possible that Tiger will pull his phone out on the 18th fairway to get a Heat-Thunder score. Tiger is five strokes off the lead on a course that just put him in a headlock. The odds are not good.
Agent David Falk wishes it had all happened differently for Jeff Green, that his phones were ringing off the hook for a very different reason these last few days.
The NBA Finals are tied 1-1 after the Thunder and Heat split two games in Oklahoma City. With Game 3 set for Sunday night in Miami, five SI.com writers analyze the biggest storylines and surprises so far, examine which team is in a better position and take issue with the criticism of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The idea, of course, is for NBA teams to get a look at the draft prospect.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Was this the kind of star he'd always hoped to become? Not exactly. The minutes were clearing away from the game clock as slow as evaporation, and never fast enough for LeBron James.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Four thoughts after the Heat's 100-96 victory over the Thunder in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday ...
OKLAHOMA CITY -- "Resilient" is not a word most people use to describe the Miami Heat, but since I'm not allowed to repeat the words they do use, let's start with that one. In one of the toughest road venues in the NBA -- season on the line, world ready to pounce -- the Heat were tougher, stronger and just grittier than the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Game 2 of the NBA Finals is set for Thursday at 9 p.m. ET in Oklahoma City. Will the Thunder remain unbeaten at home in the postseason, or will the Heat bounce back to even the series? Join SI.com's Ben Glicksman and Paul Forrester as they live blog Game 2 beginning at 8:45 p.m.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A throng of reporters packed around Chris Bosh's podium on Wednesday, jostling for position as they waited for the All-Star power forward to arrive. For all of the attention paid to LeBron James (When you going to guard Kevin Durant, 'Bron?) and Dwyane Wade (How's your health, Dwyane?) the player Miami needs to bounce back in Game 2 the most is Bosh, who simply can't afford another subpar (10 points on 4-of-11 shooting) night.
The preseason favorites to reach the NBA Finals have arrived with their credentials newly polished and their resolve tested. Oklahoma City and Miami both feature one of the two best basketball players on the planet in three-time MVP LeBron James and three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, each one enjoying the best season of his career and seeking his first championship. Less than seven months after the end of a nasty lockout, the league has delivered a Finals matchup with enough superstars and plot lines to lure in the casual fans, and enough depth, balance, grit and legitimacy among these two teams to further stoke the passion of the cognoscenti.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Years from now, when the Thunder are accustomed to making the NBA Finals, perhaps the franchise will wise up and put its superstars on opposite ends of the locker room, to spread out the media horde. In the meantime, Kevin Durant dresses next to James Harden, who dresses next to Russell Westbrook. Tuesday night, they really could have used a police escort to lead them from the shower to their underwear.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were instrumental as Oklahoma City Thunder won the first game of the 2012 NBA Finals.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three thoughts after Oklahoma City's 105-94 victory over Miami in Game 1 of the NBA Finals ...
Miami and Oklahoma City are playing for the championship in a series that features the MVP, LeBron James, the MVP runner-up and scoring champion, Kevin Durant, and a host of other stars. The Heat are back in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row as the 27-year-old James seeks his first title to cap his ninth season. Durant, 23, is also looking for his first ring, the five-year veteran having led the franchise to its first Finals appearance since 1996, when the Thunder played in Seattle. Game 1 is set for Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET in Oklahoma City. Which team will get off to a good start? Join SI.com's Ben Glicksman and Paul Forrester as they live blog the series opener beginning at 8:45 p.m.
Hate sells on television, and last year's NBA Finals between Dallas and Miami averaged 17.3 million viewers over six games, making it the league's second-most-viewed championship series since the Pistons-Lakers in 2004 (17.9 million viewers) and only slightly behind the seven-game series in 2010 between the big-market Celtics and Lakers (18.1 million viewers).
SEATTLE -- The marquee at KeyArena, the former home of the NBA team that now charms Oklahoma City, advertises hot upcoming acts such as Neil Diamond, Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions and -- everyone's favorite -- How To Train Your Dragon Live.
As a child, I sometimes dreamed of going to the NBA Finals, but I never imagined they would take place in Oklahoma City and all the players would dress like nerds. Life is full of surprises. Let's keep that in mind as we get ready for the epic battle between the man who broke Cleveland's heart and the city that stole Seattle's team. These Finals may not be what we expect.
Miami and Oklahoma City will play for the championship in a series that features the MVP, LeBron James, the MVP runner-up and scoring champion, Kevin Durant, and a host of other stars in the Heat's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the Thunder's Russell Westbrook and Sixth Man Award winner James Harden. The Heat are back in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row as the 27-year-old James seeks his first title to cap his ninth season. Durant, 23, is also looking for his first ring, the five-year veteran having led the franchise to its first Finals appearance since 1996, when the Thunder played in Seattle. What can we expect once Game 1 tips off on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City? Five SI.com NBA writers analyze how each team got this far and what lies ahead in the Finals.
MIAMI -- A three-year experiment that was extended out to a fifth postseason potentially ended when Boston coach Doc Rivers pulled his four stars off the floor in the last minute of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday. LeBron James and the Heat were looking ahead to launching a new rivalry with Kevin Durant and the Thunder after their Game 7 victory, while Rajon Rondo and the Celtics' Big Three were left to think back on what they had shared, and to wonder what comes next.
For the second time in as many years, LeBron James and his Miami Heat teammates will get a shot at the NBA championship after beating the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.
MIAMI -- A few thousand Celtics fans sat through the humiliation of LeBron James' virtuoso performance in Game 6 at Boston for two reasons. One, they wanted to send the Celtics back to Miami with the understanding that some of them still believed they could upset the Heat. And they also wanted to say a proper goodbye, in case James should prove them wrong.
BOSTON -- This was LeBron James's rendition of what Michael Jordan did next door 26 years ago, in a building that no longer exists. On his Sunday afternoon, Michael had 63 points against Larry Bird's Celtics and was glorified for losing in two overtimes. There are many differences between them and on Thursday this was the most important one: Jordan was on his way up when he revealed his true self in the old Garden, but when LeBron broke through in the newer building it was to prevent himself from tumbling off the cliff.
In the fast-moving media world of 2012, the obituary comes before the death certificate. You call it tasteless; we call it efficient. So it is with the Miami Heat, who are only down 3 games to 2 but already have been cut into bite-sized pieces and served to stray dogs.
The Los Angeles Kings will have to wait until at least Saturday to see whether the Cinderella skates fit.
After two nail-biting periods, the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings remained tied 0-0 in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday.
The pitch for Phil Jackson to run the Orlando Magic isn't dead just yet.
MIAMI -- The videos were spliced together to give the false impression of never-ending effort and resilience. "It is our destiny," growled the narrator amid highlights of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh dunking and celebrating one after the next.
The Eastern Conference finals resume Tuesday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) with the Celtics and Heat tied at 2-2. Miami returns home for Game 5 after losing twice in Boston, where Dwyane Wade missed a potential game-winning three-pointer in Game 4, the second game in this series to go to overtime. What have we learned so far and what's in store for the rest of the series? Four SI.com NBA writers make their predictions and analyze Chris Bosh's potential return, Rajon Rondo's brilliance and the highly scrutinized officiating.
SAN ANTONIO -- When historians document the eureka moment in the ascension of the Oklahoma City Thunder, they will not focus on the good fortune that turned out to be Kevin Durant. Nor will they cite the brilliant drafting of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, or even the shrewd trades that brought in Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha.
The Spurs play host to the Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Monday (9 p.m. ET, TNT). The series is tied at 2-2 after both teams won twice on their home floor. How did we get here and what's in store for the rest of the series? Five SI.com NBA writers take stock of a matchup that is living up to its billing.
BOSTON -- To watch Miami in a game like this is to wonder about destiny. You think about all of the great players that preceded LeBron James, and of how you somehow knew that Larry Bird or Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan or Tim Duncan were going to have their way in the end. As the tension grows you find yourself expecting James to force his way into their world, and to have his way as the great ones inevitably do.
BOSTON -- The Celtics and Heat have spent the first three games of their Eastern finals exploring unpredictable ways that ended in the predictable results.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant stood on the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena and let the noise wash over him, noise like you don't hear anywhere else in pro sports, unique because of the volume but also because of the tone. It is less of a full-throated bellow than a high-pitched shriek, the sound of families with children who are hopped up on candy way past their bedtimes, at the state's most delightful circus. Durant built this big top, with his youth and his bounce, his long arms and feathery jumpers. Fans around town wear T-shirts with his name in place of the Thunder logo. That's about right. He and the franchise are interchangeable. They came to Oklahoma City together and they will likely win championships together. The only question is when.
BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett changed the NBA two decades ago as a 6-11 power forward who played with the skills of a shooting guard. He launched a trend that has been emulated by his generation and its followers, but now, surprisingly, it looks like an elaborately extended con game. If the Celtics are to return to the NBA Finals in what may be Garnett's final month of basketball, they are going to need him to become the kind of low-post dinosaur that he and his kind worked so hard to replace.
BOSTON -- Of course the Heat are looking ahead. It is with no disrespect to the Celtics that Miami will aim to tighten its play and win at least one of the long weekend's two games in Boston.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It took 50 days, 20 games and 10 different opponents. It took the highest scorer in the NBA, the loudest crowd and the best sixth man. It took a poised point guard, a proven defensive stopper and an inspired front line. But the Oklahoma City Thunder did what no one has been able to do since Tax Day. They beat the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder didn't just snap the streak, they sawed it in pieces, treating San Antonio the way the Spurs have been treating everybody else for the past two months.
I'm not going to claim that what's going on with the San Antonio Spurs isn't surprising. With 20 straight wins heading into Game 3 of the Western Conference finals in Oklahoma City on Thursday, they are playing, after all, at a level reached by few teams in NBA history. Even with their consistently outstanding season, you didn't see this coming.
As if the NBA playoffs and lead-up to the June 28 draft weren't enough to keep hoops fans satiated this time of year, there's a number of personnel positions in play that are worth monitoring.
MIAMI -- Was this the end, or a beginning? Will the Celtics be too exhausted to go on, or will they be heartened to build on the gains made here? Will the Celtics be discouraged by the discrepancies of officiating, or will their anger inspire them to defend their home court in Games 3 and 4?
When the NBA Draft lottery balls came bouncing down in 2007, then-Seattle assistant general manager Rich Cho was standing next to then-Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard inside the Madison Square Garden room where the fates of two franchises were being determined.
MIAMI -- The Celtics are old, tired and injured. They were run off the floor in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals by the Heat, who are overwhelming favorites to reach a second straight NBA Finals. Yet Boston enters Game 2 on Wednesday with hope for better performances in the short term and a renewal of their dynasty in the long term around coach Doc Rivers.
This is the time of the year when NBA executives may get a little religious, praying that the ping pong balls in Wednesday's NBA draft lottery fall in their favor.
SAN ANTONIO -- To their credit, the Thunder have not yet offered to negotiate terms of surrender. No white flags have been spotted near the bench. No one has screamed "no mas!" Scott Brooks has not ordered his troops to retreat.
Maybe Kenyon Martin's pride was doing the talking, or maybe the Clippers' forward and 12-year veteran was reserving judgment until the end of the playoffs.
MIAMI -- "They don't have to score 70 for us to have a chance to win,'' said coach Erik Spoelstra before his Heat beat the Celtics 93-79 in Game 1 of the Eastern finals. And he was right. In this series it's about quality more than quantity.
SAN ANTONIO -- The future seemed to arrive with all the subtlety of a lightning bolt Sunday evening. Impressive winning streaks and home-court advantage bothered the Oklahoma City Thunder less than a 7-footer standing in front of the basket.
Two star-studded, high-profile teams that, for very different reasons, are especially desperate to win a championship this season square off in an Eastern Conference finals series that features at least a full handful of future Hall of Famers and an unusually high quotient of drama and uncertainty.
At a time when the Eastern Conference finalists, Boston and Miami, are dealing with age or injury issues, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are peaking, collectively winning 16 of 17 games in the opening rounds. The Thunder faced the past two NBA champions -- confident, veteran teams with renowned closers in Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and Kobe Bryant of the Lakers -- and broke their spirit with youthful energy and talent enriched by crunch-time poise and grit. The Spurs are merely the hottest team ever to enter a conference finals, having won 18 straight and 29 of 31, including dismantling four-game sweeps of the Jazz and Clippers in which their average margin of victory was 13.75 points.
LeBron James is cocky. Kobe Bryant is a ball hog. Kevin Garnett is a thug. Dwight Howard got his coach fired. And Metta World Peace? Ugh, Metta World Peace.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe Larry Bird's advice was misunderstood.
PHILADELPHIA -- This is the same team that barely made the playoffs, that was bullied by the Celtics six weeks ago as its coach worried whether he was too hard on his young players. This is the neglected contender that lacks a go-to scorer and meaningful playoff experience, and now these 76ers are the No. 8 seed that stands one win in Boston away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals.
First things first, there's the Andrew Bynum pre-qualifier to deal with.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Celtics and the Heat are racing each other to the finish line. Each team now believes it is destined to meet the other in the Eastern Conference final. Each understands that the first team to cross the finish line -- by wrapping up its current round of play -- will hold an advantage.
In January 2006 I was assigned to write a story on the NBA scoring race, which at the time was being contested between Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson, whose teams, the Lakers and the 76ers, were meeting on a Friday night in Los Angeles. Collecting information for that story provided much insight into the killer instinct that has always driven Bryant ... not to mention somewhat of a journalistic comeuppance.
When this table was turned two years ago, the young Thunder falling to the mighty Lakers in six games in the first round of the playoffs, you could feel this coming.
In a game that will be remembered mostly for three flagrant fouls, including one blatant cheap shot by Miami deep reserve Dexter Pittman, the Heat reclaimed control of this chippy conference semifinal behind a swarming defense that produced the sort of chaos fast-break points on which Miami thrives.
BOSTON -- The visitors from Philadelphia had not been set up, and they were not the victims of a confidence game. These truths did not prevent the 76ers from feeling as if they had been hustled by the Celtics and their crowd. The Boston fans could not have been in on the sting, because, in fact, they had come here Monday to possibly say goodbye.
Let the Dwight Howard hirings begin.
Before our recent lunch, the last time I had seen Mike D'Antoni was on the afternoon of March 11, right after an embarrassing 106-94 home defeat to the Philadelphia 76ers. Linsanity had gone quiet, the New York Knicks had lost eight of their last 11 games and their hold on the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot was growing ever more precarious.
So now what do we do? Should we say that this was "just Game 4" and "just the second round," and downplay LeBron James' one-man obliteration of the Pacers? Should we say he is lucky he didn't have to hit a game-winning shot? Should we play the Fun With Stats game and point out the Heat only outscored the Pacers by four points with LeBron on the floor, while they were plus-17 with Mario Chalmers?
INDIANAPOLIS -- The missed shots piled up, and Dwyane Wade was at a loss to explain the problem. For two days Wade had stewed over his abysmal five-point, 2-for-13 performance in Game 3. He sought treatment for his sore legs from the Heat trainers, sought counsel from his former college coach, Tom Crean, in nearby Bloomington. The extended break between games was a nightmare for Miami, said head coach Erik Spoelstra, perhaps for no one more so than Wade, who was on the arena floor two and a half hours early on Sunday, firing up jump shots and running through drills with a Heat assistant coach, desperately trying to work away the problem.
LOS ANGELES -- The fans took their time leaving Lob City on Sunday night, all those raving red shirts standing around to soak in what had been a most memorable Clippers season.
LOS ANGELES -- By the look of the postgame press conference, it was tough to tell that this was all about maturity for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
LOS ANGELES -- Clippers general manager Neil Olshey still had a smile on his face, which tells anyone who was at Staples Center on Saturday afternoon that it was still early.
LOS ANGELES -- The dour mood that had enveloped Lakers Nation was nowhere to be found inside the Lakers locker room early Friday night.
PHILADELPHIA -- If it's true that it's harder to forget the worst losses than it's easier to remember the best victories, then this is one game that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- not to mention Rajon Rondo -- may be forced to remember for years to come.
The usual guidelines no longer appear to be relevant. The NBA postseason has become unusually unpredictable. What comes next may no longer be based on what happened before.
As NBA front-office types and scouts continue their homework leading up to the June 28 draft, one central purpose will drive their study sessions: risk management.
INDIANAPOLIS -- All season long, Frank Vogel has hammered home a message, one simple, easy to understand: We're good.
SAN ANTONIO -- Before he reached the modest age of 20, Tony Parker had played in 87 NBA regular-season and playoff games and considered it nothing more than normal. Everything in his life seemed to happen fast -- from a playing career that began professionally in France when he was 17, to the way he approached the game, which was roughly equivalent to the way Usain Bolt approaches a run in the park.
Who is better than Kevin Garnett?
Glenn "Doc" Rivers is living up to his nickname again. The Boston Celtics coach loves to joke that he's Doc, not a doctor, when you ask him about player injuries. But Doc is quite skilled at making ill teams healthy.
The chastising chatter that often surrounds LeBron James grew loud again Tuesday night, the questions about heart and poise and that game of hot potato that he sometimes likes to play late in games.
Everything is hard for the Clippers. They slogged through an injury-filled regular season. They struggled to score in their half-court offense all year. They lost to teams they should have beaten. They endured a grueling seven-game first-round series with the Grizzlies.
BOSTON -- One month ago the inexperienced 76ers were so anemic offensively that they routinely lost close games, couldn't win on the road and were in danger of missing the playoffs. Now all of those trends are uncoiling inexplicably. Here on Monday they outshot the Celtics down the stretch to move within three wins of the Eastern Conference finals.
No team handled the shortened season better than the Spurs. After receiving an infusion of athleticism and outside shooting, coach Gregg Popovich played Scrooge with minutes, not allowing anyone to play more than 32.8 a game and letting the team's Big Three -- Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker -- skip selected games in order to keep rested. But unlike many veteran contenders, the Spurs didn't suffer a decline in playoff seeding for the gains of better health. In the process, Popovich developed a roster that doesn't have merely one Sixth Man Award candidate, but an entire lineup of them. That depth was on display in a first-round sweep of Utah, as San Antonio's bench often extended leads.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Kevin Durant's third quarter three-pointer wasn't even through the net when Russell Westbrook started sprinting toward the Thunder bench, neck arched, a primal scream cutting through the deafening crowd. Timeout, Lakers, and there was no coming back. Two years ago, Westbrook walked off this same floor, against this same team, a loser. He played well in that series, but that Thunder group was too raw, too green to go up against an experienced Lakers team that ultimately went on to win the NBA title. This time around the hunted has become the hunter, and this Oklahoma City team isn't just out to beat the Lakers; they want to destroy them.
The Thunder, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, first announced themselves as future championship contenders by testing the then-top-seeded Lakers in a thrilling six-game series in the first round of the 2010 playoffs. Two years later, the Thunder must get past an enigmatic but experienced and highly talented Lakers team in the throes of transition if Oklahoma City is to live up to its preseason billing as the Western Conference favorite to make the Finals.
It is the growing sports epidemic of the 21st century, where being the best team in the regular season of any of the four major professional leagues has never meant so little for the postseason. In fact, not only are the trophy cases of such teams likely to be empty at playoffs' end, but these regular season champions are lucky if they get past their first playoff opponent.
LeBron James raised the heavy bronze MVP trophy high above his head Sunday afternoon, a validation of a season well done. No one takes more flak than LeBron these days, but no one played better in these last wild, unpredictable four months than him. He was the best, joining the rarified air occupied by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone as three-time MVP winners. He was the best, which he left no room for doubt of in a brilliant 32-point, 15-rebound, five-assist effort in Miami's 95-86 win over Indiana.
The third-seeded Indiana Pacers enter this second-round series as the clear-cut underdog against the No. 2 Heat. Miami has more playoff experience, the two best players in the series and a home-court advantage made more significant by its NBA-best 31-5 home record through the regular season and first round. Although the Pacers won four straight in their first-round matchup with Orlando after dropping the first game, they frequently allowed an overmatched opponent missing star center Dwight Howard to come back from large deficits. Similar lapses in intensity will be fatal against the Heat, who thrive on swift bursts of momentum.
The 76ers looked hopeless throughout the second half of the season while surrendering the division championship to Boston. But Philadelphia was able to hold onto the final playoff spot and then take advantage of injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to upset the top-seeded Bulls in six games. The Celtics should win most of the individual matchups, but those advantages could be offset by the variety injuries that afflicted them during their six-game win in the opening round against Atlanta. In March, Philadelphia exploited its youth, depth and team defense to push the pace while beating Boston twice, and its upset of Chicago has restored the Sixers' confidence. This will be a surprisingly competitive series.
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