INDIANAPOLIS (CBSMiami) – The three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat have looked at times like they are simply managing their time waiting for the playoffs.

But Tuesday night in Indianapolis will have a playoff atmosphere as the Heat tangle with the NBA’s top team right now, the Indiana Pacers.

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The Pacers and the Heat have essentially run away from the rest of the competition in the Eastern Conference a quarter of the way through the regular season. Tuesday’s match-up is the first of four scheduled games between Miami and Indiana in the regular season.

Playing at Indiana this year has been especially difficult for opponents this year. The Pacers have yet to lose at home and are winning by nearly 15 points per game. In seven of the nine home games for Indiana this year, they have trailed by as much as five points.

The Pacers (18-3) have raced to the league’s best record this season and should be even more motivated for this match-up coming off their worst performance of 2013-14 in a 118-94 loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday.

“I don’t really get too much involved in regular-season matchups, especially early in December,” Heat star LeBron James said. “They’re a great team right now. We’re trying to get healthy. We’re trying to get to our full potential.”

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One key for the Heat will be the health of Dwyane Wade. He’s missed six of 21 games this season as he rests his knees during the regular season. With Wade on the court, Miami has been unstoppable. But without Wade, Miami has been vulnerable at times, but still one of the best teams in the NBA.

Indiana is young and hungry and ready to dethrone Miami. The Pacers are 8-9 in their last 17 games against the Heat and the average margin of victory for the Heat in those games has been just 2.5 points.

Miami is finishing off a four-game road trip with the game in Indianapolis, but it’s still an early December regular season game and measuring too much from either team based on their respective performances Tuesday night would be folly.

“Obviously this game will have a spotlight on it from outside,” Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We just want to play well. We want to play to our identity and build on what we’ve done these last two games on the road. That’s what I’m looking forward to seeing, is the resolve, the toughness, the defense.”

Miami and Indiana will play Tuesday night with a tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

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