Dec 18, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) dribbles the ball as Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) defends during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 97-94. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Pacers Look to Cool the Heat

 

Indiana Pacers (54-25) at Miami Heat (53-25)

Location: American Airlines Arena — Miami, FL
Tip: 7:30 p.m. ET 
Television: Fox Sports Indiana
Line: MIA -6.5

Tickets: Pacers vs. Heat tickets

 

Entering November, who would have thought the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed would come down to the final week of the regular season? Such is the case, and it comes down to the Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat. The two teams face off tonight in a pivotal showdown with a handful of games remaining.

Indiana is coming off a win in Milwaukee Wednesday, when all five Pacers starters were given the night off by coach Frank Vogel. The second unit led the attack as Indy escaped with a 104-102 victory on a game-winning floater from reserve forward Chris Copeland.

The starting five believe rest is exactly what they needed after a two-month drag that saw them win only 20 of their previous 38 games.

Miami has not been much better. They have had a roller-coaster ride since the All-Star break as well, recently capped off with two consecutive losses at the hands of Brooklyn and Memphis. The Heat have not experienced the same problems as the Pacers — poor offensive execution, live ball turnovers and lackluster defense — but nonetheless have played inconsistent basketball for a number of weeks.

It isn’t helping that star guard Dwayne Wade has been in and out of the lineup for awhile. Wade has not played in eight straight games for Miami, and will miss his ninth straight game tonight.

The stakes are still high, however. Indiana currently holds a 1/2-game lead over Miami for the top seed in the East (seems like we’ve been talking about this No. 1 seed for a long time). With a win against the Heat, the Pacers would not only clinch the season series (Indy currently leads 2-1), but would also move ahead of Miami by 1.5 games for the No. 1 seed.

The Pacers also possess the first tiebreaker, if the two teams should finish with the same win-loss record (tiebreaker is conference record).

Indiana’s starters still have much to prove. As mentioned, it was the regular second unit and seldom-used third-stringers that got the job done in Milwaukee Wednesday. It has been reported that the Pacers had a lively practice Thursday in Miami, and that the starting five seemed very energetic, according to reserve guard Donald Sloan.

Let the fun begin.

Prediction: Even without Wade, Miami is still tough. LeBron is playing, and quite frankly, that’s all that matters. I expect a better effort from the starting unit tonight after a few days off, but they have to prove themselves. I think they have a chance to do that in Miami at 7:30 p.m. Pacers win 94-91.

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Tags: Indiana Pacers

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