MIAMI — You could say the Miami Heat are looking for bulletin-board material. But if what Frank Vogel really said was tacked up, it wouldn’t be very exciting.
Still, two Miami stars believe Vogel, the Indiana Pacers coach, has dissed the Heat heading into the Eastern Conference finals, which begin Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
There is precedent for Vogel taking a shot at the Heat. Before the teams met in what turned out to be very chippy East semifinal last year, he called them floppers.
“It’s better for us,’’ Miami center Chris Bosh said Sunday about his interpretation of what Vogel said, claiming the comments will fire the Heat up more than last year’s remarks by Vogel. “It’s always good when you get some kind of motivation from the other side.’’
So what in the heck did Vogel say?
“It’s not about getting back at Miami,’’ Vogel said Saturday after the Pacers eliminated New York about getting another shot at the Heat following last year’s 4-2 loss. “When 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.’’
That doesn’t sound too bad. But Vogel’s comments took on a life of their own after Miami’s practice Sunday.
It started when a reporter said to Heat forward LeBron James that “Vogel was saying last night that you guys are just another 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.’’
James said his ears “absolutely’’ perked up when he heard about Vogel’s comments, which came at a podium with the coach flanked by his two young daughters.
“He said we’re just another team in their way,’’ James said. “We’re not just another team. We’re a great team. We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them. If we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. We’re not just another team. You got to be prepared for us.’’
How James interpreted Vogel’s comments was similar to how Bosh did. He also said his ears perked up when he heard what Vogel said.
“Of course,’’ Bosh said. “There’s going to be motivation. Just another team? We’re a championship-caliber team. We’re trying to go for another (title). We’re looking for anything.. We’re looking for any kind of gas to give ourselves some energy. … If they say some things that are going to get you juiced up, then that’s good to go.’’
As if the bad blood that has existed between the teams isn’t already enough.
Last year’s series featured Vogel being fined $15,000 for his flopping remark. Game 3 saw Pacers guard Lance Stephenson give James a choke sign when he missed a free throw. Heat forward Juwan Howard then angrily approached Stephenson before Game 4.
Game 5 is when matters really got out of control. There were three flagrant fouls. One led to Heat forward Udonis Haslem being suspended a game for taking out Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough. Another resulted in then-Miami center Dexter Pittman getting a three-game ban for a vicious hit on Stephenson.
“They pride themselves on being a physical team and sometimes teams try to use that so they can get in your head as well,’’ said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who was the victim of a flagrant foul by Hansbrough in last year’s Game 5 that led to retaliation by Haslem. “I thought we did a good job (last year) of continuing to play. We had a goal in mind and it was for no one to get in our way, and if we react to something that they did, then they win. … Obviously, we lost (Haslem) for a game for a hit on Hansbrough. But I thought there were a lot of tough, hard hits in that series.’’
So will that continue? Wade wouldn’t be surprised, saying, “It’s going to be a physical series.’’
After all, the Pacers feature rugged center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West. They outrebounded the Heat by an average of 11.0 per game while winning two of three regular-season meetings.
“We’re ready for whatever,’’ James said when asked if he anticipates anything similar to last year’s contentious series against the Pacers. “I don’t know how they’re going to play, what their tactics are. I believe it’s going to be kind of like the last series, try to put me on the floor, maybe be physical with me. Maybe. I don’t know. Every team kind of does the same thing. They kind of read what everyone else talks about, that you have to beat up the Heat to beat them and every team has tried to do that.’’
As far as reading Vogel’s comments about the Heat, they seem pretty innocuous. Then again, why spoil some early trash talking in the series?