Dec 10, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat guard LeBron James (6) is guarded by Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 90-84. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Pacers Aim to Beat the Heat in Huge Showdown

Miami Heat (48-21) at Indiana Pacers (51-20)

Location: Bankers Life Fieldhouse — Indianapolis, IN
Tip: 8:00 p.m. ET 
Television: ESPN
Line: IND -2.0

ESPN’s SportsCenter is airing all day from the Bankers Life Fieldhouse pavilion — the kind of national attention Pacers center Roy Hibbert longed for throughout last season — as the Indiana Pacers gear up for a showdown, or a slugfest, with the Miami Heat tonight. The teams hold the top two spots in the Eastern Conference standings and will finish first and second — in some order.

Indiana boasts a 51-20 record on the season while Miami is 48-21, which has left the Heat trailing the Pacers by two games for the top spot in the East. As good as those records are, tonight, both teams search to climb out of equally-ugly funks.

With 11 games remaining, Indiana is not playing good basketball. They are not trusting each other on the court, they are struggling to score points, and they are collectively playing ugly team ball.

A big reason for their lack of success has been a failure to get open looks at the basket on the offensive end. Guys are not playing with the same intensity and sharpness that they were in November and December. Turnovers are way too plentiful, screens by the big men have been lazy, and the overall spacing has been poor.

Poor passing has also been problematic. It’s clear the Pacers are at their best when good passes result in field goals. It is no coincidence that Indiana is averaging just 16.5 assists per game this year in losses compared to 21.5 per game in wins.

Indiana is walking a fine line right now. Their two-game advantage over the Heat for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is a fragile gift waiting to be stolen. The Pacers must play with a determination and focus if they hope to keep it in their safe.

The Indiana Pacers have already secured home-court advantage for at least the first two rounds of the postseason. Locking up the No. 1 seed in the conference means home-court advantage in any potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup, however — a large prize that likely won’t be finalized until the last few days of the regular season.

Much is to be played out until that time comes, but it all starts tonight.

As Kyle Grand noted, the Heat do have an easier remaining schedule in terms of opponents’ win-loss record. That doesn’t mean much in regards to the way Miami has played recently. The Heat — as well as the Pacers — have won just five of their past 12 games.

No need to dive into a game plan for Miami. The Pacers know darned well that to stop the Heat requires slowing the Big Three: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Miami’s trio combines to average more than 60 points per game.

Now that the national media has arrived, it’s time to get down to business for Hibbert and his fellow teammates. Some energy from youngster Lance Stephenson and stellar bench play might favor the Indiana Pacers tonight.

Tonight is the third matchup between the two Eastern Conference finalists of a year ago. So far, they are 1-1 on the year. A fourth and final matchup between the two foes is set for Friday, April 11.

Prediction: A win for either squad could be pivotal moving forward. Unless Indiana can fix their issues on the court in only 48 minutes, this game likely favors the Miami Heat. I give them a slight edge tonight, defeating the Pacers 101-93.

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