MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – Wednesday night’s game between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will have a different feel then games between the two teams have had in recent years.
A rivalry between Miami and Indiana formed over the course of the past three seasons, even with the Heat disposing of the Pacers in the playoffs each year on their way to the NBA finals.
Times have changed, though. LeBron James has headed back home to Cleveland, and Paul George just hopes to play at some point this season for a Pacers team trying to fight through a plethora of key injuries.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have been reduced to a “Big 2,” but the Heat’s supporting cast is beginning to come around as Miami seeks a third straight victory when it hosts Indiana on Wednesday night.
This matchup will be a bit different than the playoff battles of previous seasons – not only due to the absences of James and George, but also because the injury-riddled Pacers (2-6) no longer appear to be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Starters David West (sprained ankle) and George Hill (knee contusion) have yet to play, joining George on the sidelines after he broke his leg playing with Team USA this summer. The controversial Lance Stephenson also is gone after bolting for Charlotte in free agency.
“I look at us as a young team just because everybody is new to their role, and any kind of success can be a confidence builder,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Build on the things we are doing well. Just understand that we can be better and correct the things we are not doing well enough.”
The Heat (5-2) moved on from James by signing Luol Deng and former Pacer Shawne Williams, both of whom have started all seven games. Norris Cole has taken over the starting point guard duties from veteran Mario Chalmers, who started every game he played over the previous three seasons.
Bosh had 20 points and 10 boards while Wade had 20 points and 10 assists in Sunday’s 105-96 win over Dallas, but they had plenty of help as Deng poured in a season-high 30 points.
“We still have a lot to figure out,” Deng said. “They doubled Bosh and D-Wade, and we did a good job of moving the ball and had a lot of open jumpers.”
Chalmers is adjusting nicely to his new role and scored 18 points against the Mavericks.
“We’re trying to develop habits right now, and at the end of the day it always looks better when the ball goes in,” said coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team shot a season-best 55.3 percent. “Over the course of a long season, if you’re building those habits, you hope that there’s a karma to that. Guys are starting to see the benefits of playing together.”
Wade has played in all three of Miami’s back-to-back sets, matching the amount he played last season while battling a series of injuries. He’s averaging 23.3 points while shooting 55.8 percent over his last three games.
“I really respect how much time he puts in behind the scenes,” Spoelstra said. “His body is responding.”
Bosh had 25 points as the Heat routed Indiana 117-92 in Game 6 of last season’s East finals in the most recent matchup. It was the Pacers’ seventh straight loss in Miami.
This Indiana team had lost six straight before Tuesday’s 97-86 win over Utah.
Roy Hibbert scored 29 points, A.J. Price added 22, Solomon Hill had 13 and Lavoy Allen finished with 12 and 15 rebounds.
Price’s performance was especially surprising after he netted 14 points combined in his first two games after signing a 10-day contract with the Pacers.
“I’m playing for my life,” Price said. “I am staying until they tell me to go. I’m going to keep playing as hard as I can.”
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