7:30 PM ET, April 11, 2014
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, FL
MIAMI (AP) -- For the last six weeks, Indiana and Miami haven't exactly looked like NBA title contenders.
The Heat have lost 11 of their last 21 games.
The Pacers, they've dropped 12 of their last 20.
And both teams are still way ahead of everyone else in the Eastern Conference standings. They'll meet Friday to decide who moves a giant step closer to having the No. 1 seed on their half of the NBA playoff bracket, Indiana (54-25) entering with a half-game lead over Miami (53-25).
"It's going to be intense," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "It's going to be a hard-fought game. There's something at stake. It'll pretty much be the playoffs and I think it'll be a great atmosphere. ... We expect them at their best. Everybody we play, we expect them at their best because that's what we get."
Neither team will clinch the top seed Friday but the winner gets full control. Indiana would beat Miami in tiebreakers if necessary, so the Pacers would lower their magic number for the East top seed to one with a victory. The Heat would move a half-game ahead if they win, plus could deal Indiana another blow in a wild week.
The Pacers got embarrassed at home by Atlanta on Sunday, which prompted coach Frank Vogel to sit his starting five out of the entirety of Indiana's game Wednesday at Milwaukee. The Pacers' reserves beat the NBA's worst team 104-102, and that combined with Miami's loss at Memphis sent Indiana back atop the East.
"It's huge for us," said Pacers guard Chris Copeland, who hit the game-winner against Milwaukee. "Obviously it gives some of our banged-up starters an opportunity to rest and heal up. It's big for our confidence, for the second unit. This is going to take 15 guys to make a run at this thing."
It's not like either team needs a reason to get up for an Indiana-Miami meeting.
Emotions run high whenever these teams play and the Heat needed seven games to beat Indiana in last year's Eastern Conference finals. Hosting potential Game 7's is a perk that comes with holding the No. 1 seed, though not everyone in this series finds that essential.
"It's a great luxury," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "That's all it is -- a luxury. It's not a necessity. You want to be playing well, and you want to be healthy."
And the Heat are not.
Dwyane Wade will miss his ninth straight game with a hamstring injury that started as a cramp late in the last Miami-Indiana matchup March 26. Greg Oden's back spasms have kept him off the floor since that night. Udonis Haslem -- vital to Miami's plans for defending Indiana center Roy Hibbert -- caught a flu bug, and Chris Andersen has a sore knee.
It's unknown if any of them will play Friday.
"It's not controlling our destiny about the No. 1 seed," Miami star LeBron James said. "We want to get healthy. That's all that we care about, going into the postseason healthy. ... Once everyone comes back, then we can get everything rolling."
The only way Indiana and Miami could play this year after Friday would be in an East finals rematch.
"The way it's set up," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "I'm sure that's the way people wanted it to be."
Last 5 Games
Team Stat Leaders
Even if the Pacers get the 1 seed - they won't have an easy road to the Eastern Conference Finals. If the playoffs began today, they'd be matched up with the Hawks in the First Round. Indiana is just 2-2 against Atlanta this season and the Hawks dominated the last meeting with a 107-88 win on April 6th in Indiana.[+]
Pacers vs Potential Playoff Opponents
Over the last 21 games, Miami's defensive efficiency has been nearly identical to its hot start (allowing 102.8 points per 100 possessions through the first 57 games compared to 102.3 over the last 21 games). The problem has been on the offensive end where the Heat are averaging 3.7 points fewer per 100. Miami's been playing at an extremely slow pace as well, averaging 90.6 possessions per 48 minutes over its last 21 games - well below its average of 94.3 through the first 57 games of the season.[+]
Heat This Season
The Pacers lead the Heat by a half game for 1st place in the Eastern Conference (teams are tied in the loss column). The importance of home-court for the Pacers? Indiana is 6-1 in home games against the Heat dating back to the start of last season compared to 1-5 on the road. And should they face a Game 7 - home teams are 91-23 all-time in Game 7s (.798 win pct). If the Heat and Pacers finish the regular season tied, the Pacers have already clinched the tiebreaker.
Roy Hibbert is averaging just 4.7 rebounds in 28.5 minutes of action per game since the All-Star Break. His player efficiency rating of 9.8 during that span is well below the 16.2 he posted before the break.[+]
Roy Hibbert Before and After All-Star Break
In their pursuit of homecourt in the East, the Pacers starters have played the 6th-most minutes in the NBA.. Easily the most by any of top teams in the standings. In all, Pacers starters have played the equivalent of 5 more GAMES this season than those of the Miami Heat.[+]
Minutes Played by Starters This Season - Top 2 Teams in Each Conference
The Pacers' recent struggles can be blamed in large part on the glass. For the season, the Pacers are 3rd in the NBA in rebounding margin (+3.5), but opponents have outrebounded or tied Indiana on the glass in each of the last 6 games, and in 9 of the last 10 games. Prior to that, Indiana had outrebounded its opponents in 45 of its first 69 games, and the Pacers' longest stretch of being matched or beaten on the glass over that stretch was 3 games.[+]
Pacers Rebounding This Season
The Pacers are just 8-12 over their last 20 games after entering that stretch at 46-13. Indiana's once dominant defense hasn't been the same over the last 20 games. The Pacers are allowing 8.5 more points per 100 possessions during that span and the offense has also dropped off quite considerably as well.[+]
Pacers This Season
The Heat are just 10-11 over their last 21 games. Dwyane Wade has missed 11 of those games. So that's the problem, right? Not so fast ... The Heat are just 3-7 in the last 10 games Wade has played.
Paul George scored 7 of his 22 points when guarded by LeBron James Friday. George committed three of his four turnovers when James was his primary defender.[+]
The Miami Heat scored 44 points in the paint Friday, including nine during the team's 20-4 run to start the third quarter. Entering the game the Pacers were allowing 35.6 points in the paint per game, the fewest in the league.
NBA history tells us that the eventual champion did not struggle down the stretch. Just two NBA champs ... the 1957-58 St. Louis Hawks and 1968-69 Boston Celtics ... played sub-.500 ball after the All-Star break. This season, the Pacers are just 14-and-14 since the break, while the Heat are 17-and-11.[+]
WORST WIN PCT AFTER ALL-STAR BREAK
ESPN Stats & Information