(Sports Network) - The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will meet in the postseason for the second consecutive year, but this time, it's in the Eastern Conference Finals, beginning Wednesday night in Miami.
Last year, the Pacers actually held a 2-1 series lead in their semifinal matchup, but ultimately fell in six games. The Heat, of course, went on to win the NBA Championship.
This time around, it's for a spot in the NBA Finals and the stage has been set for a tense battle.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel downplayed any revenge factor, and in doing so, started a controversy.
"This is not about getting back at Miami," Vogel said Saturday after the Pacers eliminated the New York Knicks. "You're in the final four, you're competing for a championship. And they're just the next team that's in our way. And that's how we're approaching it."
LeBron James, the reigning NBA MVP, took offense to the description of the Heat as "the next team."
"We're not just another team," James said. "I don't understand what he's saying. But we're not just another team. It's not true.
"We're a great team. We're very confident. We'll be ready for them."
The rhetoric is out in full force. (To be fair, Vogel never said the Heat were "just another team.") On the court, this should be a true battle between two of the best defensive units in the NBA. During the regular season, the Pacers finished second to the Memphis Grizzlies in opponents' scoring, while Miami was fifth.
During the postseason, both teams have improved on their regular-season numbers. The Heat are first in opponents' scoring and Indiana is fourth.
The Heat swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, then knocked off the Chicago Bulls in five games in the semifinals. The Bulls took Game 1 and the series turned into a brutally physical quest for survival, but Miami is four wins away from a chance to defend its title.
The Heat have won their playoff games by an average of 13.9 ppg.
Indiana had a much tougher route getting here.
The Pacers needed six games to best the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, then knocked off the Knicks in six to set up this meeting with the Heat.
The Heat have been off for a week since dispatching the Bulls. They needed the time to get Dwyane Wade healthy. The guard has endured knee problems and his scoring is down almost 8.0 ppg from the regular season.
"I'm ready to go Wednesday, ready to play Wednesday," Wade said Monday, somewhat deflecting the question of his health. "As long as it doesn't get worse, I have to learn how to adjust to it."
The Pacers could have some matchup advantages on their huge front line. Roy Hibbert and David West are much bigger and stronger than James, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh.
"We're just going to have to do what we have to do on the floor to make sure the outcome is in our favor," said West.
But Bosh could be huge. He's as good a perimeter shooter at the center spot in the league, so he could draw Hibbert away from the basket. However, Bosh will have an awfully difficult time matching up physically with Hibbert.
"If he were the lone ranger, he could be an MVP candidate," Vogel said of Bosh. "He's one of the best big men in game, one of the best skilled big man in the game."
The Pacers went 2-1 against the Heat during the regular season with both victories in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Miami has taken six of the last seven against Indiana at home.
Miami, FL (Sports Network) - LeBron James one-upped Paul George in the final seconds of overtime, beating the Pacers All-Star for a left-handed layup just before the buzzer to give the Miami Heat a thrilling 103-102 victory over Indiana in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
George sent Game 1 into overtime with a stunning 3-pointer just before the regulation buzzer, then gave the Pacers a 102-101 lead with three free throws after a questionable foul call with 2.2 ticks left in the extra session.
James, who recorded his ninth career playoff triple-double, had given the Heat the lead on the possession before with a drive to the right, and was called on again following a timeout that brought the ball past midcourt.
George overplayed the inbounds pass at the top of the key, and James never hesitated attacking the basket while blowing by his defender for the game- winner to cap his sensational 30-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist performance.