The Miami Heat have gotten small this year.
Some thought that would be a good thing, that a small lineup would allow the Heat’s athleticism to carry the day.
But what it has also produced are nights like Tuesday, when Miami got outrebounded 55-36 and got hammered on the road by the Indiana Pacers, 87-77. Part of that rebounding advantage included a 22-7 edge for the Pacers on the offensive glass.
Paul George led the way for Indiana with 29 points and 11 rebounds while also having a breakthrough night at the defensive end.
Yes, LeBron James still got his numbers—22 points and 10 boards—but matched a season high with seven turnovers.
More impressively, George was whistled for just two fouls and James only made four trips to the free-throw line.
In his third year out of Fresno State, George is having a breakout year. He’s taken over the leadership of the team and has taken up the scoring slack for Danny Granger, who has been out all season with a knee injury.
Indiana has now won 11 of its last 14 games and exposed two huge weaknesses in the Heat.
The Pacers had three players—George, David West and Roy Hibbert—finish in double figures in rebounding and it was the third time this season Miami has been bested by at least 17 rebounds in a game.
The 22 offensive boards the Heat surrendered were the most they’ve allowed all year.
Not surprisingly, Miami’s minus-2.8 differential on the glass is near the bottom of the league and its 21.1 offensive rebounding percentage leads only the Boston Celtics in the NBA.
In terms of raw numbers, Miami’s eight offensive rebounds a night is the worst total in the league.
The Pacers stopped short of calling Tuesday’s victory a statement win, but West said Indiana is a more resilient team than the one that disappeared in the second round of last year’s playoffs after taking a 2-1 series lead over the Heat.
Miami, meanwhile, remained inconsistent on the road. The loss dropped the defending champs to 7-7 away from home and they are just 4-4 in their last eight games.
Indiana was the first stop on a six-game road trip that includes games in Portland, Sacramento, Utah, Golden State and against the Los Angeles Lakers over the next week.
Miami’s still the champ until someone beats the Heat.
But the wrong matchup in the playoffs could be fatal if they don’t figure out how to get some glass.
For his part, George could be an All-Star this season. He’s averaging 16.7 points and 7.4 boards a game and has helped the Pacers excel without Granger.
Heady stuff for a 22-year-old who averaged less than 30 minutes a game last year.