Heat-Pacers Preview

Two consecutive postseason matchups – one of them a

back-and-forth, seven-game series – are enough to establish a solid

NBA rivalry.

After they pushed last season’s conference finals to a decisive

Game 7, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have again risen above

the pack in the East.

The two teams meet for the first time since that series Tuesday

night in Indianapolis in a possible preview of what’s to come

during the playoffs.

“They’re a great team right now, the way they’re playing,” Heat

forward LeBron James said of the Pacers. “We’re trying to get

healthy, we’re trying to get to our full potential. We’ll see what

we can do.”

Miami and Indiana alternated victories throughout the East

finals in the spring, with the Heat prevailing 99-76 at home in the

finale to reach their third straight NBA finals. Miami beat Indiana

4-2 in the conference semifinals the year before.

The Pacers (18-3) have raced to the league’s best record this

season and should be even more motivated for this matchup coming

off their worst performance of 2013-14 in a 118-94 loss at Oklahoma

City on Sunday.

Indiana, closing out a tough five-game road trip, allowed the

Thunder to shoot 61.0 percent from the field. It was by far the

highest this season given up by the Pacers, who came in having

allowed only two opponents to crack 50 percent.

It was also the most points they’d allowed since giving up the

same number in a loss to the Heat on Jan. 4, 2012.

Indiana still finished its trip at 3-2, including victories over

West powers San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We did well this trip,” forward Paul George said. “A lot of

stuff to take away and things we can nit-pick and take from the

teams that we lost to and the teams we played this trip. I think we

played well this trip.”

The Pacers should be glad to be returning home, where they are

9-0 and surrendering just 81.8 points per game – even better than

their league-leading 89.5 allowed overall.

All of those victories, however, have come against teams with

.500 records or worse, so Miami (16-5) undoubtedly poses the

biggest challenge for the Pacers at home thus far.

The Heat lead the conference with 103.5 points per game, while

James is shooting a career-best 59.4 percent from the field.

Miami’s offense could get a boost with the return of Dwyane

Wade, who has sat out three of the last four games to protect his

ailing knees.

Wade shot 3 of 11 and scored only 10 points the last time Miami

played in Indiana – a 91-77 loss in Game 6 of the conference finals

– but has averaged 24.6 points in his career at Bankers Life

Fieldhouse.

With Wade hampered of late, Ray Allen has seen his role

increase. Allen has averaged 12.5 points in the last four games,

shooting 53.1 percent from the field.

When asked about the rivalry and a potential race for the top

spot in the East, James refused to raise the stakes for this game

after Miami’s 110-95 win over Detroit on Sunday.

“I don’t get too much involved in regular-season matchups,

especially early and in December. We’re looking forward to the

opportunity to play them on Tuesday, but it’s not like it’s a

statement game for us.”

The Heat and Pacers meet again on Dec. 18 in Miami, but do not

play each other again until March 26.