Linda Robertson

Linda Robertson: Underdog Pacers giving the Heat a true test

The Heat ought to be peaking as it weaves its way through the playoffs toward a third consecutive appointment in the climactic NBA Finals.

Instead, Miami is regressing.

The Heat looked like a team adrift for large portions of a 91-77 Game 6 loss Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Now the Heat faces the migraine of Game 7 in Miami on Monday as the San Antonio Spurs drum their fingers impatiently. Or, maybe they are licking their lips.

LeBron James was whistled for charging into Roy Hibbert in the closing minutes. He sprinted away from the official, spitting mad, looking like he would rip off his headband and tear it apart. Then he and assistant coach David Fizdale were assessed technical fouls for protesting too much. The sequence captured the harried state of a team under unaccustomed duress.

Miami will be favored to close it out back home by the bay. Still, the buts continue to outnumber the baskets.

Worrisome signs are not going away.

Foremost among them, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have turned into the Other Two in this series. They shot a combined 1 for 10 in the first half, were not factors when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter and finished with a total of 15 points, six rebounds, five turnovers and one assist.

Wade, limited by his bruised right knee, made just 3 of 11 shots as his once stellar 22-point scoring average as a playoff go-to guy shrunk closer to half that. He’s hurting, but he also seems detached.

Bosh appeared befuddled, made a mere one of eight shots and lost his touch as he fumbled the ball away on a few occasions. Bosh could not dent the Pacers in the paint, where they outscored Miami 44-22 and outrebounded Miami 53-33.

Those are embarrassing, unacceptable numbers for the Heat.

The series is tied 3-3, and Miami is getting by because of the Atlas-sized shoulders of James. And we all know how that worked out in Cleveland.

James took his talents to South Beach so he could play on a legitimate team. But for the second game in a row, he had to take over for his faltering teammates. Despite 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists, he could not rescue this one.

Give the ball to LeBron and get out of his way: That’s not much of a plan.

Counting on the Pacers’ bad turnover habit isn’t working either.

“They just flat-out beat us in every facet,” Spoelstra said. “Everything we have to do to win this series we gave up. We struggled with open shots, open layups and opportunities in the open court.”

Spoelstra has to find a way to immerse Wade and Bosh in the action. They need to get the ball in their sweet spots. And their batteries must be jumped.

Miami is getting blistered in the paint and pounded on the boards while Pacers coach Frank Vogel continues to counter Miami’s adjustments on his big men. Bosh, formerly an excellent rebounder, is now reduced to a spot-up shooter — and his helpmates at center have been manhandled by Roy Hibbert, who took 20 shots, scored 24 points and hauled in 11 rebounds. His scoring average in this series is double that of the regular season. Not only is he looking like Bill Russell but the Heat also parted the lane for Lance Stephenson (12 rebounds) and David West (14 rebounds).

West, playing sick, out-gutted the Heat for a loose ball and field goal.

“We like to muck it up,” Hibbert said.

Time for the Heat to get hands and feet dirty, too.

Different Heat players have risen to the challenge in each game. The problem is, then they seem to sink without a trace. Udonis Haslem, instrumental to the Game 5 victory with his jumpers and fronting defense on Hibbert, missed two shots, had two rebounds and accumulated four fouls in 16 minutes.

Chris “Birdman” Andersen is still perfect from the floor but did not play because of his suspension for a flagrant foul in Game 5. Mario Chalmers wound up with zero assists.

Anytime Joel Anthony gets significant minutes it means Spoelstra is searching. Spoelstra also inserted Mike Miller when the Heat trailed by 13 entering the fourth quarter, and Miller swished two three-pointers. Perhaps it’s time to try Rashard Lewis, James Jones and Juwan Howard to find a rotation that clicks.

As for Miami’s reliable second unit, Shane Battier and Ray Allen are ghosts of their former selves, in need of a slump-busting seance. Allen’s once silky shots went bonk 75 percent of the time. Battier’s cameo lasted 4:26.

The third quarter, which the Heat dominated 30-13 Thursday, was a reversal of fortune. Miami fell behind by 16 not only because of inaccuracy but also slow-motion reaction when the Pacers pushed the tempo.

“FLOP-per!” Indiana fans cried when James acted as if he had been socked by Roberto Duran rather than nudged by Paul George.

Wade missed a reverse layup that’s usually his bread-and-butter shot. Hibbert drove by Anthony for a dunk and elevated over him for an easy-as-pie layin.

“This is when you rebuild yourself and your brotherhood gets strengthened through adversity,” Spoelstra said. “Game 7s are a treasure in pro sports. Game 7s are what you remember 20 years from now.”

This Game 7 would be the perfect time for a reunion of the Big 3.

“They’re struggling,” James said of Wade and Bosh. “We’ll figure it out. And me as the leader, I’ll have to help them figure it out.”

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