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Marty Burns' Breakdown
Indiana    Milwaukee 
At age 33 and with a history of sore feet, Rik Smits no longer dominates like he once did. In fact, his 12.9 scoring average this season was his lowest since '90-91. Still, he' s 7'4" and requires double teams -- a problem for the center-less Bucks.   CENTER

The Edge:
  

Ervin Johnson is only 6'11", but he blocks shots and runs the floor well. He'll try to use his quickness to front Smits in the low post while beating him down the court for easy baskets on the other end. 

Dale Davis and Jalen Rose are a rock-solid combo in the frontcourt. Davis is an All-Star who can score in the low post, rebound and play defense. Rose, a versatile 6'8" lefty, has become the Pacers' go-to guy. However, he must concentrate on rebounding as well as stopping Bucks All-Star Glenn Robinson.  FORWARDS

The Edge:
  

Robinson is a scoring machine at small forward, but his defense remains shaky. He'll need to step up his game at both ends or Indiana will dominate the front court. The 6'7" Ham is undersized at power forward but he's tough and a hustler -- the kind of player foes underestimate until it's too late. 

Mark Jackson and Reggie Miller remain a terrific 1-2 backcourt, with plenty of savvy and guile. Granted, they've lost a step on defense, but they can still hit big shots. Their experience will serve them well against Milwaukee's haphazard D.  GUARDS

The Edge:
  

Sam Cassell can score and create for others, but his defense will be tested by Jackson and the cat-quick Travis Best. Ray Allen is an All-Star and an explosive scorer, but he's nursing a sprained right knee that could limit him. 

Few teams can match Indiana's depth. Best is a terrific change-of-pace at guard, while Derrick McKey is a proven defender at forward. Forward Austin Croshere, 6'9" and quick to the hoop, could pose serious matchup problems.   BENCH

The Edge:
   

Tim Thomas has emerged as a legitimate scorer off the pine, but his inexperience often shows. Scott Williams helps on the boards, while Danny Manning and Vinny Del Negro provide veteran leadership. 

The Pacers are 36-5 at Conseco Fieldhouse, tied with the Lakers for the NBA's best home-court record. They're also playing well, having won five in a row entering the postseason.  INTANGIBLES

The Edge:
   

Swept in three games by the Pacers a year ago, the Bucks have no shortage of motivation. They also are confident, having split the season series with Indiana and having won 11 of 15 to close out the season. 

The past two seasons Larry Bird has taken the Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals and to the semifinals. He knows his veteran team well and will have them ready.   COACH

The Edge:
  None  

George Karl is a proven coach who has his team playing its best ball at the right time. He's not afraid to make adjustments on the fly or juggle combinations to find a mismatch. 

The Pacers set a team record for three-pointers made this season (578) and ranked No. 1 in the league in long-range shooting percentage (39.3). The Bucks ranked dead last in defending the three. If Miller & Co. are on, it's lights out for Milwaukee.  'X' FACTOR

The Edge:
   

Allen's left knee, injured in the team's big win over the Magic, has been bothering him. Although he looked fine in the regular-season finale, the Bucks can't afford to have it flare up. 
Burns' Prediction: Pacers in 4
 

Sports Illustrated staff writer Marty Burns covers pro basketball for CNNSI.com. Look for his columns on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Click here to send Marty a comment.


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