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Monday, May 14, 2012

Breaking News: Chris Bosh out of playoffs with his abdominal strain...

Heading into the second round of the playoffs, few observers saw a way for the Indiana Pacers to take down a Miami Heat team that was at full strength and hitting its stride. In the second quarter of Miami's 95-86 Game 1 win on Sunday, though, the Heat sustained their first big injury of the playoffs, losing starting center Chris Bosh to a lower abdominal strain after a second-quarter slam over Pacers center Roy Hibbert. After finishing the dunk, Bosh fell to the floor of the AmericanAirlines Arena, reeling in pain as he kneeled and leaned on his elbows. He exited the game and did not return, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds in just under 16 minutes of action. Bosh is scheduled to have an MRI today to determine the severity of the strain, but after the game, the Heat's coach didn't sound particularly optimistic, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Coach Erik Spoelstra did not sound as if Bosh was coming back any time soon. "We have some time now. We don't know what Chris' status is," Spoelstra said. "We won't know until we get an MRI, move on from there." The initial sense was not encouraging. "You saw the look on his face," teammate Dwyane Wade said, "you knew something was wrong there." Abdominal injuries can be tricky beasts — they limit range of motion, sap explosiveness, screw with mechanics and make reaching or contesting on defense an awful chore, and players who try to come back from them too quickly can wind up injuring themselves much more seriously and for a much longer period. Once the MRI results are back and Miami knows the extent of the injury, we'll get a clearer picture of how long Bosh will be out. On the plus side for the Heat, the team appears to be well positioned to handle Bosh's absence in the short term, thanks in large part to how James' ridiculous skill set enables him to shift very quickly from nightmarish small forward to a holy terror at power forward. LeBron played nearly a quarter of the Heat's minutes at the four spot during the regular season and absolutely destroyed his competition, posting a Player Efficiency Rating of 37.1 at the four while holding his opponents to a slightly-below-average 14.8 PER, according to positional matchup data at 82games.com — that +22.3 efficiency differential than the +18.5 mark he rolled up at his customary small forward spot. James is big enough to match up physically with opposing power forwards, even bruisers like Indiana's David West, and quick enough to make covering him almost impossible for typically slower fours. Plus, Spoelstra can turn to Shane Battier to plug the gap James would leave at small forward, and while Battier's certainly no one's idea of a go-to offensive option, he's still a heck of a wing defender, holding opposing small forwards to a below-average 12.9 PER in his time on the court. That could help the Heat keep the clamps on Pacers star Danny Granger (7 points on 1-of-10 shooting in Game 1), which certainly has to be a big part of the Miami game plan moving forward. A starting lineup with James at the four and Battier at the three should keep Miami on track. As Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin wrote, though, a Bosh-less starting lineup is less of a concern than the domino effect that could be caused by his injury — if everyone has to move up a seat, then Miami will need more out of Udonis Haslem (shooting 31.8 percent from the field in the playoffs), Joel Anthony (who can be an adventure if asked to do anything on offense beyond hitting the glass and dunking) and Ronny Turiaf (ditto). But it's not just Miami's big-man rotation that suffers in a world without Bosh; as SB Nation's Mike Prada wrote in a great breakdown on Monday morning, it's the Heat's whole offense: This season, the Heat score over 111 points per 100 possessions when Bosh is on the court and less than 103 when he's not. The team's effective field goal percentage (basically, field goal percentage while adding extra weight to threes) drops from just over 52 percent to about 47.5 percent. Worse, the percentage of the team's field goals that are assisted drops from 55 percent to 51 percent. You could look forever for a number to suggest that no Bosh is better for Miami's offense, but you won't find it. Prada also points out a key matchup advantage (that we also noted in our Heat/Pacers preview) that Miami likely loses without Bosh — the ability to draw Hibbert away from the paint and compromise Indiana's half-court defense: Worse, Miami's game-plan to attack Indiana directly involved Bosh. Indiana's one of the league's strongest defenses, but teams can attack them by taking advantage of Roy Hibbert's lack of mobility defending pick and roll. Using Bosh, a major threat popping out for open jumpers, would have exploited that weakness. Now, Hibbert can contain the ball-handler without having to worry to scurry back to cover Bosh. Ironically, the play Bosh got injured on is the exact kind of play that most exploited Hibbert's lack of mobility and was one you could have expected to see all series. Bosh's injury doesn't change the fact that Miami still has the two best players in this series, two dominant end-to-end forces that combined to outscore the Pacers in the second half on Sunday. But if that MRI says something other than, "Chris will play Tuesday night and be just fine moving forward," it could change quite a few other things, and the sum total of those shifts could even change which team advances. Video via 1jzo.

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