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Heat top Pacers in last meeting until March

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MIAMI (AP)

The best rivalry in the Eastern Conference is now on hiatus until March 26.

And the Miami Heat are a little bummed about that.

Two games in an eight-day span between Miami and the Indiana Pacers are now in the books, both teams winning on their home floor, and yes, all that mutual dislike that's a direct byproduct of rugged battles in the past two postseasons is still very much evident.

The last chapter went to Miami, with Dwyane Wade scoring 32 points, LeBron James adding 24 on a sore left ankle, and the Heat erasing a 15-point deficit to beat the Pacers 97-94 on Wednesday.

The next time the principals involved will see each other is the All-Star Game, where Indiana coach Frank Vogel will almost certainly be coaching an East team that will have many of his guys - as well as James, Wade and Chris Bosh - all sharing a locker room.

''I'm actually kind of sad we don't play them for three months,'' James said. ''This is a really, really good thing, going against these guys. They bring out the best in us. We try to bring out the best in them. It was fun. It was fun these last eight days while it lasted, and now we can get on with the rest of our season.''

Both teams have 57 games left, and are separated by a game in the East. Indiana is now 20-5, the Heat 19-6.

Don't be surprised if the battle for the No. 1 seed goes into April, either. That being said, both teams are leery of saying the East is already just a two-team race, even though there's really no one in their collective rear-view mirror.

''There is a large gap in the standings, but there are some teams that had injuries and some teams that are up-and-coming that will make second-half pushes come playoff time,'' Vogel said.

The second-half push on Wednesday came from the Heat.

Bosh and Ray Allen hit big 3-pointers within a 31-second span down the stretch for Miami, which needed a late 10-0 run to finish off the comeback.

''It shows we're a team that's been there before,'' Wade said. ''No matter what the score is we always feel we have an opportunity to win the game.''

So even when Indiana led 68-53 midway through the third quarter, hope remained.

And even when James and Mario Chalmers were getting in a heated exchange during one particularly bleak stretch - James said afterward that he was wrong, and Chalmers said the matter was forgotten - the Heat didn't fall apart.

''It was a good win,'' James said. ''Good, good, quality win against a very good team on our home floor. We had to overcome a lot.''

Paul George scored 25 points for Indiana but missed a 3-pointer that would have tied it with 4 seconds left, and insisted afterward that he was fouled by James on the play.

''I went into my shot, got pushed in the back, I thought it was a foul, nothing was called, and we lost the game,'' George said. ''Aside of that, we still should have taken care of business.''

David West had 23 points and Lance Stephenson added 13 for the Pacers.

''It's December,'' Vogel said. ''I think you have two great teams going at it. It's going to be a fun series all season, the regular-season matchups, and hopefully we will both be able to reach a point in the playoffs where we can meet again.''

Miami got the 15-point deficit down to five by the end of the third quarter, and was still down 92-85 when West scored with 3:21 remaining.

The Heat scored the next 10 points - Bosh's 3-pointer, his first in 15 attempts, tied it at 92. And after George missed in the lane at the other end, James brought the ball the other way and found Allen for a 3-pointer that put the Heat ahead for the first time since the score was 14-13.

They didn't trail again.

''I was encouraged by our ability to stay focused and show some resolve in the second half,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''It wasn't necessarily pretty, but you have to make enough plays ... and a lot of times against this opponent it has to be like that, where it's not smooth and you have to make enough plays to just give yourself a chance in the end.''

Tagged: Pacers, Heat, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Paul George

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