MIAMI — At this point, it would surprise virtually no one if Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson wears a blonde wig Friday night in another effort to distract Heat star LeBron James.
Look at Stephenson’s borderline bipolar behavior this week:
— Before Monday’s Game 4, he said James was showing a "sign of weakness" by responding to his taunts.
— After losing the game, Stephenson said he had no regrets for his comments.
— On Tuesday, he said he did have regrets.
— In Wednesday’s Game 5, he again reverted back to his nutty behavior, at one point blowing in James’ ear.
— He also tried listening in on a Heat huddle, in what Miami players have clearly said was a no-class move.
Say this about Stephenson: By being so unlikable nationally, he has made the Heat — which were once despised outside of South Florida because of the mercenary way they were constructed — easier to root for in the rest of America.
"Our guys wouldn’t do that," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said when asked how he would react if a teammate tried Stephenson’s antics. "But whatever you get away with is fair game. We can’t worry about getting into it with a guy for walking into our huddle.
"Everyone talks (trash) — that’s the game of basketball. But if we see a teammate not involved in what we are trying to do, we pull him away. That goes for talking to the refs too much or feeling sorry for yourself or whatever the case may be. That’s the Miami Heat, and that’s how we’ve been successful."
The Heat, which lead the Pacers 3-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals, are one home win away from adding to that success. A win would make the Heat 8-0 at home in this year’s playoffs and send Miami to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year.
Only the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have made four straight NBA Finals. The Celtics in the mid-1980s were the last team to accomplish the feat.
The Heat are also trying to end the Pacers’ season for the third straight year. Ending this series Friday instead of Sunday back in Indianapolis is important to the Heat because of the extra rest it would give the team before the NBA Finals begin on Thursday.
But rest is not the focus of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
"I’m not even thinking about that," he said. "I know the players are, but the most important thing is that when we get to (Friday), it’s not about the rest, it’s not about what the game means … it’s not about any of that. It’s about what we need to do to win the game."
In the silver-linings department, a victory on Friday may actually work out better than had the Heat won Wednesday.
Seven days in between games, which is the amount of rest they would have had if Wednesday had turned out differently, might have actually been too much. Some of the team’s sharpness might have been at risk early in the NBA Finals.
But were the Heat to lose at home on Friday, there is no way to spin that in a positive way. They absolutely don’t want to go back to Indiana for a Game 7 with no margin of error.
That’s not to say the Heat couldn’t win a Game 7 at Indiana, but it would be a dangerous situation.
So, Spoelstra, realizing what’s at stake, called for a rare practice on a travel day. There was a specific reason for the light practice, too.
"I wanted that anger and frustration and emotion to come out today (in practice)," Spoelstra said. "On Friday, I want clear heads."
As for Stephenson, Spoelstra said he will let the league decide what to do.
So far, the NBA’s only response was to fine Stephenson $10,000 on Thursday for his second flopping violation. Pacers center Roy Hibbert was fined $5,000 on Thursday.
James, the object of Stephenson’s taunts, took the high road as usual.
"I’m not going into the game worrying about Lance or his antics," James said. "We’re focused on (Friday night)."
Spoelstra did not seem overly optimistic about backup center Chris "Birdman" Andersen’s availability for Friday.
"He shot free throws today," Spoelstra said of Andersen, who has missed two straight games due to a bruised thigh. "He’s taking a lot of treatment. That’s about it."
Andersen said there has been improvement in regards to his health, adding: "I have a high tolerance for pain."
Asked if his availability would be his call or the doctors, Andersen joked: "What I say goes."