With a win at Indiana on Wednesday, the Heat can tie the Pacers in the loss column for the first time since Oct. 29, when both teams won their openers.
Better yet for the Heat, they are expected to get back shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who has missed the past two games because of an injury to his left Achilles tendon.
Wade’s return and opportunity presented by Wednesday’s game has the Heat energized.
“We’re within striking distance,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said of the Pacers. “It’s coming down to a photo finish.”
That’s not the way it looked like it would turn out when the season began.
The Heat lost their second game at Philadelphia and have looked up at the Pacers ever since in the battle for the home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Indiana, which raced to a 16-1 start this season, has made it a priority to capture home court, but that goal has become dubious in the past couple of weeks as the Pacers have slumped.
From March 4-9, the Pacers lost four in a row, including one at home. But the Heat failed to take advantage, dropping four of six — including one at home — from March 4-14.
Indiana (51-20) enters Wednesday’s game on a two-game losing streak, falling at Memphis on Saturday and at Chicago on Monday. The Heat (48-21) had lost seven of 11 games — resulting in controversial quotes from Bosh, who said the team was lacking in passion and communication.
That passion was back Monday night — evidenced by LeBron James’ enthusiastic chest bump with coach Erik Spoelstra — in Miami’s 93-91 home win over Portland.
But the Heat still wasn’t overly sharp, blowing all of a 17-point fourth-quarter lead before recovering in the final 11 seconds on a winning layup by James and a game-saving block by Bosh.
While the win may have lifted the Heat’s spirits, the panic button has been pushed by the Indiana media. The Indianapolis Star ran a headline Tuesday that said the Pacers’ performance against Chicago was “unspeakably bad.”
Even the players are upset.
“We looked like [expletive],” Pacers forward David West said in that story.
The Pacers looked much better in December, splitting two games with Miami. Indiana prevailed at home 90-84 on Dec. 10, and Miami won at home 97-94 on Dec. 18.
Indiana’s rivalry with the Heat began to intensify in 2012, when the Pacers led Miami 2-1 in the playoffs. Indiana lost Game 4 at home and folded from there. Last season, the Pacers took Miami to seven games before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
West’s strength and Hibbert’s length wore on the Heat last season, who responded by signing oft-injured 7-0 center Greg Oden in the offseason.
On Wednesday, Oden is expected to make his sixth start of the season — and his first against Indiana.
Oden’s addition is far from the only thing that has changed since last year’s playoff matchup. The Pacers fortified their bench, acquiring point guard C.J. Watson, three-point-shooting wing Chris Copeland and scoring forward Luis Scola in the offseason. Then, the added wing Evan Turner and center Andrew Bynum, although the latter and Watson are currently injured.
But no matter how they got here, the Heat and Pacers continue, seemingly, on a collision course, and Bosh, for one, senses the urgency.
“I know everybody was trying to make the games [against the Pacers] in December important,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Well, now they’re important.”