It takes a lot to top Dolphins-Patriots on the local sporting calendar because it’s such an interesting matchup. I don’t mean division rival vs. division rival with playoff stakes. I don’t mean Tom Brady vs. Ryan Tannehill, either. I mean their player indicted for murder vs. our two involved in Bullygate in a battle of NFL off-field distraction leaders.
We can top that, though.
It’s called Heat-Pacers II, and it is this Wednesday night in Miami, just one week after the teams’ first of four regular-season meetings was won 90-84 by host Indiana.
The quick rematch finds Miami desperate to win and stem the tide of consensus belief that Indy has overtaken the two-time champions as the East’s best team. “Desperate” is my word, not theirs. No self-respecting champ admits to desperation, but that is part of the dynamic that makes this rivalry fascinating.
Oops. I said rivalry.
“What is a rivalry these days?” LeBron James pondered this week, denying that Heat-Pacers was one.
It is one. It is the best the Heat has these days, because Indiana is the one team that thinks it is better than Miami, and the one team able to put those thoughts in the Heat’s minds.
The reason is Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who is approximately the size of one of Micky Arison’s cruise ships if you set it on end.
Miami has nobody to match up against Hibbert well, nobody currently playing.
The secret weapon, of course, is the rehabilitating project named Greg Oden, in clandestine development behind curtains like a sneakered Frankenstein.
Would Odenstein make a difference against the Pacers and Hibbert?
“We hope so,” LeBron said, and then he repeated the phrase.
And so here you have a Heat fan’s greatest hope and greatest fear as Heat-Pacers II approaches, and they are one in the same. They both involve the player who has had far more knee surgeries than healthy seasons. The player who has not yet played this season and has no timetable for his debut.
The great hope is being able to count on Greg Oden.
The great fear is having to.