It’s rare to hear a player speak openly about wanting to exacerbate another player’s health problem.
So it was somewhat surprising when Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said this on Saturday about Heat guard Dwyane Wade:
“I think his knee is kind of messed up, so I got to be extra aggressive and make him run … make his knee flare up.” The quote was circulated on Twitter by a reporter for the team’s website.
Wade, who met with reporters before Stephenson’s comment, has said his knees are not causing him any problems this postseason.
Stephenson said he has no personal issue with Wade: “If I see D-Wade walking down the street, I won’t try to get him.”
Stephenson added that the Pacers are better than they were a year ago, when the Heat beat them in a seven-game Eastern Conference finals.
“We’re smarter,” he said. “We got more talented players. I think we’re ready this time. And we’ve got to show it. Not talk about it. Show it.”
Despite their struggles in the postseason, including a 3-4 record at home, Pacers forward Paul George also said: “We’re a better team” than a year ago.
“This team ended our season early two times in a row so there’s got to be an edge to come out and take this team out,” said George, who attributed Indiana’s uneven play in March and April to being “fatigued mentally, emotionally, physically.”
With Udonis Haslem expected to replace Shane Battier in the starting lineup, the Heat’s top eight players in this series seem set. The question is who will get remaining minutes among Battier, James Jones, Rashard Lewis and perhaps Greg Oden?
Toney Douglas also is available. Michael Beasley could join Justin Hamilton on the inactive list if coach Erik Spoelstra opts to keep Oden available because of Indiana’s size.
“This series is about the top eight,” Jones said. “We need them to perform. Players nine through 15, we complement.”
Odds and ends
• Indiana has one fewer irritant than it did in last year’s series, because Tyler Hansbrough now plays for Toronto. But Stephenson can try to get under opponents’ skin.
“They don’t get under our skin,” Chris Bosh said. “Nobody on that team does. If they’re trying to get under ours, they’ll get under their own skin before it happens with us. There are no mind games to play in this series. We’ve been through that before. I’m sure they’ll try something different.”
• Turnovers have often been the Pacers’ undoing against the Heat. Indiana had 121 turnovers in last year’s seven-game Eastern Conference finals against the Heat, compared with the Heat’s 82. This season, the Pacers had 65 in the four games; Miami had 52. The Pacers committed the 10th-most turnovers in the NBA this season, at 14.5 per game.
• Pacers center Roy Hibbert was fourth in the league in blocked shots per game (2.25), posing challenges for players when they attack the basket.
“You can’t let that really affect you,” Wade said. “You do want to drive. You don’t want [Hibbert’s presence] to deter what you do because if you are driving, knowing he’s going to come and help, someone is going to be open.
“More so than the drive, it’s about the finish. If he’s there, you’ve got to be smart and understand you can’t just jump and catapult your body into him. Maybe LeBron [ James] can and get away with it because athleticism is his strength."
• Mark Jackson, recently fired from his coaching job with the Golden State Warriors, returned to ABC/ESPN with a multiyear contract Saturday and will join Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy on the call of the Heat-Pacers series as well as the NBA Finals.