MIAMI (AP) – There’s only one opponent the Miami Heat haven’t beaten this season, and it’s also the last one to defeat them – well over a month ago.
As impressive as it may be for the Heat to extend their winning streak to 18 by toppling that team, the Indiana Pacers completing a regular-season sweep of this series Sunday night in South Beach would be quite a major statement as well.
LeBron James, though, doesn’t think his team could make one.
“We don’t need to make no statement, against no team,” said James, who added that Indiana is “not a rival at this point.”
His opinion may start to change if the Heat (46-14) lose Sunday or if they see Indiana (39-23) again in the playoffs. This is the Pacers’ first trip to Miami since a 113-85 defeat – easily the most lopsided of the teams’ past 10 meetings – in Game 5 of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Indiana was ousted in the next game after leading the series 2-1 but has come back this season to win both meetings by double digits, though both were in Indianapolis.
“They are playing so well. And we being the last team that beat them, we know everybody’s going to be up for that game,” Pacers All-Star Paul George said. “It should be a fun game to watch. We know they are going to be ready because we are up 2-0 on them.”
The only other team to knock off the Heat more than once is New York, but Miami beat the Knicks last Sunday as part of a franchise-record win streak that dates to a 102-89 loss at Indiana on Feb. 1.
The Heat now look to tie the sixth-longest streak in league history. They have matched the Clippers’ 17-game run from earlier this season, but no team has had a better one since Boston’s streak of 19 in 2008.
“Every team that has beaten us, especially since the break, we’ve tried to redeem ourselves and play a lot better,” said Dwyane Wade, averaging 27.0 points and 61.3 percent shooting in the last eight games.
Wade has averaged 29.2 points in the last five matchups with Indiana – including the three wins to close the playoff series last year – and James is at 29.6 in that span. However, their teammates have not stepped up offensively in this season’s two meetings while Indiana dominated inside, especially in an 87-77 win Jan. 8.
“Now it’s our turn, being at home, to come out and take care of business,” Wade said.
Indiana has an 89-61 rebounding edge in the season series while limiting Miami to 41.0 percent from the field. The Heat lead the league at 49.5 percent and are 32-2 this season when hitting at least 48.0.
The Pacers are holding teams to an NBA-low 41.1 percent, and none of their last 11 opponents have reached 100 points. Two of the seven times Miami didn’t hit that total this season were against Indiana.
“We got to lock in on defense and really try to play big,” George said.
No Pacer plays bigger than 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, who says the Pacers “relish this type of atmosphere.” Hibbert, who has 21 blocks in his last five games, has keyed Indiana controlling the season series as he’s helped limit Chris Bosh to 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
Hibbert has 20 boards in the two matchups while David West grabbed 18 and George 17. George had 29 points in the first meeting, and West scored 30 in the second.
“They play inside-out with Hibbert and David West. And even Paul George … his attack mentality helps them,” James said. “If they could they would like to keep our game in the 80s, which they’ve been able to. So we gotta try to push the tempo a little bit.”
Ray Allen went scoreless in both meetings, something that’s happened in only one other game during his 17 seasons. Shane Battier has averaged 5.5 points and shot 4 of 12, and Mario Chalmers has scored 5.0 per game on 3-of-11 shooting.
Indiana’s only two losses in its last nine games were to the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers on Feb. 28 and to the Celtics – maybe the league’s hottest team other than Miami – on a last-second basket Wednesday. However, both defeats were at home.
The Pacers are 4-0 on the road since the start of February, winning by an average of 19.5 points.
“I’m excited about going down there,” Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough said. “It’ll be a fun game. They’re rolling.”
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