Preview: It’s a Pacers-Heat rematch, perhaps without LeBron
Just over a week after their first meeting of the season, the top teams in the Eastern Conference battle again.
There’s a chance the game’s best player will be sitting it out.
LeBron James is questionable for Wednesday night’s matchup between the Miami Heat and the visiting Indiana Pacers with a sprained left ankle. The four-time MVP has not missed a game this season.
“I’ve had my fair share of ankle twists, so I already knew how it was going to be today,” James said Tuesday. “Very stiff, very sore, it’ll be around the clock treatment with Mike (Mancias, his trainer) and we’ll go from there.”
James suffered the injury Monday during the third quarter of a 117-94 win over Utah. Though he was removed from the game after rolling his ankle, James did return in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.
“I’m day to day, and we’ll see what happens,” said James, who admitted he has previously healed quickly from sprained ankles. “I didn’t step on nobody’s foot, my ankle just turned. So it’s frustrating.”
The Heat will likely need James — and in top form — if they are going to extract revenge on Indiana. Last Tuesday, the Pacers protected their home floor and knocked off the Heat 90-84 as they held James to 17 points and a season-worst 6 of 16 from the field.
The teams have met in the playoffs each of the past two seasons, with their latest series in the Eastern Conference finals reaching seven games. Miami won the deciding contest at home, but a potential Game 7 would come in Indiana this season if the current standings don’t change.
The Pacers (20-4) have run out to the best record in the conference, with the Heat (18-6) directly on their heels. No other team in the East is more than a game above .500.
Indiana may have been peeking ahead to the rematch in Miami in its latest game, falling 101-96 to Detroit on Monday for its first home loss of the season.
“A loss like this brings us back to reality,” said Paul George, who was 4 of 14 from the field and has shot 27.0 percent in the last three games. “We can’t turn it on, we can’t have a switch when we want to. Teams are getting up and getting ready to play us, so we have to match that energy and prepare like they’re the team to beat.”
Indiana (20-4) will be facing what could be a pumped-up, angry Heat team. Not only did the Pacers beat them last week, but guard Lance Stephenson put an exclamation point on the victory with a breakaway dunk in the final seconds — something James did not appreciate.
“(The Heat) were really mad at the end of the game because I got a cheap dunk,” Stephenson told the team’s website. “I know they’re going to bring it to us.”
The Heat (18-6) were a season-worst 4 of 21 from 3-point range in the last matchup but are among the best in the NBA at 38.6 percent. Mario Chalmers is 6 for 8 from behind the 3-point line in two wins since the loss at Indiana.
Miami also must do a better job in the second half, having been outscored 50-37 by the Pacers in the second half.
“The guys have owned that, addressed it,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Heat’s poor play after halftime.
Though the matchups with the Pacers are getting plenty of national attention, Miami knows there is still a lot of basketball left to play.
“It’s a basketball game versus two good teams,” said Dwyane Wade, who had 27 points Monday but was held to 17 in Indiana. “A lot of that goes on in the NBA. It’s not our championship.”