The Miami Heat moved a step closer to their goal of an NBA championship on Thursday night. With a 106-94 victory over the New York Knicks, the Heat won the series 4-1 and will move on to face the Indiana Pacers in the second round.
While the Heat's opening-round matchup against the Knicks provided plenty of material for punchy (pun not intended) headlines and star-studded storylines, things will be different against the Pacers.
Dwyane Wade acknowledged as much during his postgame press conference, saying that the series won't be as exciting on the outside, but that the Pacers will be a tougher test for them because "We know this is a better team."
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra knows this as well. ESPN's Rachel Nichols tweeted:
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra on physical games vs Pacers: "This next series will seem like it's being played in a cage, not a basketball court"
This will be an interesting test for a Heat team that has been determined to show its toughness during the regular season. While LeBron James has endured criticism since last season's finals exit against the Dallas Mavericks, he's been fantastic for the Heat this season.
In the series clinching game, James finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. For the series, he shot better than 48 percent from the floor. Still, he knows what it's like to be on the other side, and he had kind words for fellow class of 2003 draftee Carmelo Anthony.
Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, James found Anthony and embraced him. When he was asked what the two discussed on the floor he smiled and simply said, "Brotherly love." With a happy smile, James elaborated on Anthony and his first opportunity to face him in the postseason. "He's one of the best friends I have. I won't take this series for granted."
After experiencing the bitter taste of defeat last June, James hasn't seemed to take anything for granted on the basketball court this year. Putting in another stellar regular-season effort, he's looking to lead the Heat back into the finals so they can pick up where they left off a year ago.
With a renewed focus, James and the Heat are playing for a championship. The road will get tougher as it winds through Indiana but expect them to weather the bumps and bruises with ease.