No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 2 Miami
Why the Heat will win in seven: The Pacers had to grind out two hard-fought series against Atlanta and Washington to put them right where they wanted to be at the start of the season – in the conference finals, against Miami, with home-court advantage. Miami has been untested throughout the playoffs, taking advantage of upstart Charlotte and aging Brooklyn. The Heat needs just four more wins to become the fourth team in NBA history to make four straight trips to the NBA Finals. LeBron James is able to compensate for any Heat deficiencies with his all-around game and Dwyane Wade showed signs of life against the Nets.
Difference maker: Roy Hibbert, Pacers. Easily the most enigmatic figure of the postseason, Hibbert had some confounding disappearing acts before scoring in double figures in four of the last five games against Washington, all wins. Hibbert was a dominant force in the conference finals last year, when he averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds against the doughnut defense of the Heat.
Key matchup: LeBron James vs. Paul George. James gave George the ultimate sign of respect in the conference finals last year with a low-five at mid-court that announced the 23-year-old swingman’s arrival as one of the league’s best two-way players. After chasing around Washington’s Bradley Beal, George will now try to soften the blows of a four-time MVP.