(Sports Network) - The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will meet in the
postseason for the second consecutive year, but this time, it's in the Eastern
Conference Finals, beginning Wednesday night in Miami.
Last year, the Pacers actually held a 2-1 series lead in their semifinal
matchup, but ultimately fell in six games. The Heat, of course, went on to win
the NBA Championship.
This time around, it's for a spot in the NBA Finals and the stage has been set
for a tense battle.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel downplayed any revenge factor, and in doing so,
started a controversy.
"This is not about getting back at Miami," Vogel said Saturday after the
Pacers eliminated the New York Knicks. "You're in the final four, you're
competing for a championship. And they're just the next team that's in our
way. And that's how we're approaching it."
LeBron James, the reigning NBA MVP, took offense to the description of the
Heat as "the next team."
"We're not just another team," James said. "I don't understand what he's
saying. But we're not just another team. It's not true.
"We're a great team. We're very confident. We'll be ready for them."
The rhetoric is out in full force. (To be fair, Vogel never said the Heat were
"just another team.") On the court, this should be a true battle between two
of the best defensive units in the NBA. During the regular season, the Pacers
finished second to the Memphis Grizzlies in opponents' scoring, while Miami
During the postseason, both teams have improved on their regular-season
numbers. The Heat are first in opponents' scoring and Indiana is fourth.
The Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, then
knocked off the Chicago Bulls in five games in the semifinals. The Bulls took
Game 1 and the series turned into a brutally physical quest for survival, but
Miami is four wins away from a chance to defend its title.
The Heat have won their playoff games by an average of 13.9 ppg.
Indiana had a much tougher route getting here.
The Pacers needed six games to best the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, then
knocked off the Knicks in six to set up this meeting with the Heat.
The Heat have been off for a week since dispatching the Bulls. They needed the
time to get Dwyane Wade healthy. The guard has endured knee problems and his
scoring is down almost 8.0 ppg from the regular season.
"I'm ready to go Wednesday, ready to play Wednesday," Wade said Monday,
somewhat deflecting the question of his health. "As long as it doesn't get
worse, I have to learn how to adjust to it."
The Pacers could have some matchup advantages on their huge front line. Roy
Hibbert and David West are much bigger and stronger than James, Udonis Haslem
and Chris Bosh.
"We're just going to have to do what we have to do on the floor to make sure
the outcome is in our favor," said West.
But Bosh could be huge. He's as good a perimeter shooter at the center spot in
the league, so he could draw Hibbert away from the basket. However, Bosh will
have an awfully difficult time matching up physically with Hibbert.
"If he were the lone ranger, he could be an MVP candidate," Vogel said of
Bosh. "He's one of the best big men in game, one of the best skilled big man
in the game."
The Pacers went 2-1 against the Heat during the regular season with both
victories in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Miami has taken six of the last seven
against Indiana at home.
The Sports Network