Miami • The two early-season blowout losses to the New York Knicks were one thing. That was being beaten over the top with 3-pointers. Gimmick basketball. A style that rarely has succeeded in the playoffs.
But the two lopsided losses to the Indiana Pacers? That was different. That was, as LeBron James called it, "smash mouth," being outrebounded by more than 17 a game. And that very much is playoff basketball.
That’s what makes Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena arguably the most important game left on the Miami Heat’s schedule. It is the latest chance during the regular season to somewhat even that score, with this the Heat’s lone home game against the Pacers in the three-game season series.
"We’re well aware," coach Erik Spoelstra said, "that they’ve absolutely pounded us and beaten us up."
More like kicked sand in the Heat’s faces.
"Now it’s our turn, being at home, to come out and take care of business," guard Dwyane Wade said.
A week ago, the Heat took care of business with a statement victory at Madison Square Garden over the Knicks. Now the Pacers arrive.
"Whatever team has beaten us, especially since the [All-Star] break, we’ve tried to redeem ourselves," Wade said.
The last time the Pacers were in South Florida was a wild Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, a game that featured a vicious flagrant foul from Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough on Wade, with power forward Udonis Haslem and since-dealt center Dexter Pittman earning suspensions for retaliatory fouls.
"It was a physical game. We won," said James, declining to revisit such moments, with the Heat eliminating the Pacers the following game.
For the Pacers, the motivation comes on several levels.
"Being able to prove we can beat them is something we came into the year with the mind frame with, because of how that playoff series ended," Pacers power forward David West said. "I think they’ve got some incentives for this one, so we don’t sweep the series."
So there could be blood?
"I’m sure they’re going to be playing with a little chip on their shoulder from the first two times we played them," Pacers point guard George Hill said. "We’re expecting to take their best shot."
And possibly provide a few, as well.
"Just knowing with that team you can’t be the one that lets them hit you first," Hill said. "You have to play with an edge and chippiness."
Nothing less is expected.
"They’re as chippy as any team in the NBA," Heat forward Shane Battier said after Saturday’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "There always are a couple of extracurriculars in there. We don’t back down from anybody.
"Toughness is not just getting in skirmishes, it’s making basketball plays under pressure."Next Page >
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