MIAMI — Friday was improv night for the Miami Heat.
Guard Ray Allen threw a pass directly to his head coach and went in for a rare dunk, which led to cracks from teammates. Forward Shane Battier, known for being allergic to the paint, actually attempted and made a hook shot in the lane, and everybody laughed.
Sunday, though, will be all business.
The Heat got their joking out of the way in a 102-93 home win over lowly Philadelphia to extend their winning streak to 17 games. That ties the Los Angeles Clippers for the NBA’s longest this season.
But when the Heat go for No. 18, it will be against the last team that beat them and an outfit that has kicked sand in their faces this season. That would be the Indiana Pacers, who last defeated Miami 102-89 on Feb. 1 and who have won both meetings this season, with the average margin being 11.5 points.
“We’re well aware they’ve absolutely pounded us,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “They’ve beaten us up. What else do you want to say?”
Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena will be a night for drama. Maybe there also will be some crime-show elements considering the last time the teams played in Miami it was a playoff slugfest featuring flagrant fouls and two players being suspended soon after.
At least the Heat (46-14) on Friday could warm up with a comedy night. Miami, which got 25 points from LeBron James and 22 from Dwyane Wade, fell behind by as many as nine points early in the third quarter, but nobody on the home team was ever worried against a 76ers team (23-38) that now has lost 11 of its last 12.
The funny business started late in the first quarter when Allen whipped a pass that a wide-open Spoelstra caught in front of his bench. Then Allen, 37, threw down a rare dunk late in the second quarter.
“He’s getting younger,” Spoelstra said. “He went back 10 years in time.”
By the fourth quarter, another sharpshooter strayed from his usual spot. Battier, who had a streak in which 44 straight field goals he had attempted were 3-pointers and another in which his last 39 field goals made had been 3-pointers, actually hit a hook shot in the lane.
“Well, sometimes you got to be a contrarian,” Battier said. “Sometimes, you got to break the mold. (Battier’s teammates) were shocked. They were absolutely shocked when I went into the paint. It was like a no-fly zone.”
But when questions about the Pacers (39-23) came up, the laughter died down. The Heat are stone-faced serious about their next game.
“Forget about the winning streak,” said Bosh, whose Heat on Friday became the first NBA team to clinch a playoff berth and moved ahead of San Antonio (48-15) for the league’s best record. “If we had lost a few in a row, we would still be ready for Sunday.”
Bosh said two games in March the Heat had “circled for some time” on their calendars were last Sunday’s at New York and the one against Indiana, teams that started out 2-0 against Miami. The first order of business was taken care of with a 99-93 win over the Knicks.
Next on the Heat hit list is the Pacers.
“It’s our turn being at home to come out and take care of business,” Wade said. “We want to beat a team that’s beaten us handily the first two times.”
It’s the last meeting between the teams this regular season and Indiana’s only Miami visit. If the Heat can win Sunday, it would mark the first time in their 25-year history they’ve beaten every other NBA team in the regular season.
“That’s another piece of motivation,” Spoelstra said.
The teams have a growing rivalry, one that got quite physical in the Heat’s 4-2 win over the Pacers in an Eastern Conference semifinal last May. Game 5, Indiana’s last visit to Miami, featured Udonis Haslem and since-departed Dexter Pittman of Miami and Tyler Hansbrough of the Pacers all getting flagrant fouls. Haslem received a one-game suspension and Pittman a three-game penalty for both having decked Indiana players.
While the Pacers ended up wilting in that series and losing the final three games, they have been the more physical team in this season’s meetings. They beat the Heat 87-77 on Jan. 8 and had the win to start off last month. In the two games, the bigger Pacers have won the battle of the boards by a whopping average of 14.0 per game.
“They’ve got us really good twice,” James told Sun Sports in an on-the-court interview following Friday’s game. “So we look forward to the challenge… It’s going to be an Eastern Conference showdown. You guys know I’ll be in uniform, so I’ll be ready.”
James said Indiana plays “smashmouth” basketball. Now, the Heat would love to smash the Pacers.