Maturing Heat more focused on another title than exchanging trash talk

MIAMI — The Miami Heat were once the immature team.

In the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were caught on camera mocking Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who was battling a cold.

The Mavs rallied to win that championship, and the Heat — after learning a valuable and painful lesson — haven’t lost a playoff series since.

They are now the wise team that refuses to get caught up in trash-talking.

The Indiana Pacers, on the other hand, are acting like a less-successful version of that 2010-2011 Heat team, with guard Lance Stephenson talking about how James had shown "a sign of weakness."

That was before Monday night, when the Heat pounded the Pacers 102-90 at AmericanAirlines Arena, giving Miami a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.

"You can never get too high or too low in the postseason," said James, who had 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. "I don’t need any (extra) motivation (from Stephenson). I have motivation enough trying to get back to the NBA Finals."

Asked if he found Stephenson "comical," James said he got a smirk out of it.

As for those supposed "signs" of weakness, they were as invisible as Stephenson was for most of the game.

Stephenson had just one point through three quarters and finished with nine points, four assists and two turnovers.

"I have no regrets," Stephenson said when asked about his James comments. "I was trying to play ball. I was trying to get into his head. I guess he stepped up and got the win. I can take the heat. I can take the fire."

Although Stephenson took the heat from the media, it doesn’t look like he or his team will be able to take the Heat, who now have a commanding lead.

Aside from James, the Heat got 25 points from Chris Bosh, who broke out of a slump; he came into the game averaging just nine points in this series.

The series shifts Wednesday to Indianapolis, where the Heat will try to clinch the series and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year.

Miami, which never trailed in Monday’s game, is 7-0 at home in this year’s playoffs, 11-2 overall.

This post-Dallas, mature Heat team continues to silence every critic, just as it had the past two years.

In this year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the Brooklyn Nets were supposed to pose a threat to the Heat, based on their 4-0 regular-season record against Miami. But that turned out to be a myth.

In this series, 7-foot-2 Pacers center was supposed to be too big and powerful for the small-ball, positionless Heat. But Hibbert was held scoreless in 22 minutes Monday.

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Stephenson was only the latest rival to rattle the Heat’s cage, and even his teammates felt it was foolhardy to do so.

"Lance is young, and that’s a teaching point," Pacers forward Paul George said. "That’s a learning lesson for him.

"Sometimes you just have to watch what you say. You are on a big stage. Everything we say could be bulletin-board material. We have to be smarter."

One of the wisest of the Heat veterans, guard Ray Allen, echoed those thoughts.

"The game is not won through the airwaves," Allen said. "The game is won on the floor. But Lance is a young kid. He has many more years in this league."

That’s probably true. But this season appears nearly over for Stephenson and the Pacers.