Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat return to the court in Indianapolis Thursday night hoping to build off the last six quarters they’ve played in which they’ve completely destroyed the Indiana Pacers.
Game 6 has the Heat looking to eliminate the Pacers without two starting caliber power forwards; against a Pacers team looking to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 Saturday night at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
The series has been extremely physical from both sides. Tyler Hansbrough has been flagged for a flagrant two foul in the series. Heat power forward Udonis Haslem has been suspended for Game 6 after a flagrant foul in retaliation against Hansbrough in Game 5.
But lost in the physicality of the play has been the other-worldly performance of Heat forward LeBron James and the re-emergence of Heat guard Dwyane Wade as his true running mate.
LeBron is averaging just over 30 points and just less than 12 rebounds per game. James is also contributing six assists per game and has shot 50 percent from the field against the Indiana Pacers.
Wade had arguably the worst playoff game of his career in Game 3 when he managed just five points and he was arguing with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. Since then, Wade has regained his footing and electrified the Heat’s offense alongside James.
Wade is averaging 23.2 points, four rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game in the Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
The series started off rough after star power forward Chris Bosh suffered a lower abdominal injury in Game 1 when he was fouled by Pacers center Roy Hibbert. In Bosh’s absence, Shane Battier has covered Pacers power forward David West and essentially shut him down for the most part in the series.
But, with Haslem out, Battier will be called on even more to defend West and help gain an edge on rebounding in Game 6. The Heat could also use another big game out of Mario Chalmers, who contributed 11 rebounds and 8 points in Game 5.
The Pacers came into the series ready to play physical and attack the Heat’s perceived weakness without a true big man on the roster. Things looked bleak after the Heat went down 2-1 after Game 3. But when Wade found his game, everything has started to click.
The Heat may have taken the upstart Pacers too lightly to start the series, but the respect has definitely been earned by the Pacers.
In some way, if the Heat can move on to the Eastern Conference Finals and Bosh can return to the lineup, the Pacers series, even if it goes to Game 7, may have been the best thing that could have happened to Miami.
The Heat look to eliminate the Pacers in Game 6 starting at 8 p.m. Thursday.