Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Indiana Pacers come to the AmericanAirlines Arena Monday night looking to close out the Miami Heat in the playoffs and help Miami do something it hasn’t done since January 10.
The last time Miami lost two games in a row was in early January to the Portland Trail Blazers and, coincidentally enough, the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers success against the Heat isn’t a surprise based on the teams’ matchups during the 2013 calendar year.
Since January 8th, and including the playoffs, the Pacers have a 5-4 advantage over the Heat in the nine games the teams have played. So, if the Heat manages to win Monday night in Game 7, it evens the series this calendar year to 5-5.
Heading into Game 7, Indiana has all the momentum after thumping the Heat in Game 6, 91-77 in front of a raucous crowd in Indianapolis. But, the last time Indiana played in the AAA in Game 5, the Pacers scored just 79 points in a loss to the Heat.
“It is a closeout game and an elimination game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our approach right now is not if we lose we’re out — our approach is if we win, we get to the finals. And that’s what we’re going for. We’re going to give our best shot and try to win the Eastern Conference championship.”
History suggests that the odds are long for the Pacers. Since the NBA went to its current playoff format in 1984, home teams are 16-2 in Game 7′s played in the conference finals or NBA Finals. Then again, the Pacers were colossal underdogs heading into this series, and if it wasn’t for a last-second collapse at the end of Game 1, they probably would already be East champs.
“It’s going to be tough in their arena,” Pacers guard Lance Stephenson said. “We’ve just got to bring it. If we play aggressive like we do at home, we can get the ‘W.’”
Indiana comes to Miami with enough luggage for an eight-day trip. The extra luggage will be if the team beats the Heat, the Pacers will immediately head out on the road to San Antonio for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
“We believe we can win the series. We always have,” Vogel said. “We haven’t been perfect this series, but we’re going to need to be near perfect to win a Game 7 there.”
The Pacers’ best player this series, center Roy Hibbert, will be dealing with a personal distraction after controversial comments the player made after Game 6. Hibbert was fined $75,000 by the NBA for using an anti-gay slur and cursing at the media.
For comparison purposes, a flop in a game, which could change the course of the series, draws just a $5,000 fine.
Hibbert apologized for the comments and Coach Vogel said he spoke to the center about what happened and that the player made a “great mistake.”
The Pacers are looking for the team’s first NBA Finals appearance since the 1998-1999 season when the L.A. Lakers ousted Indiana in six games. Reaching the NBA Finals will also mark just how far the franchise has come after hitting rock bottom on November 19, 2004.
That date will be forever remembered in Pacers history. On that day, Indiana players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O’Neal all charged into the stands to fight with fans in one of the ugliest scenes in NBA history.
The Pacers have overcome a lot to get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year and now stand 48 minutes from history. The only thing left standing in their way are LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen, Ray Allen, and the rest of the Miami Heat.
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