The suddenly vulnerable Heat had lost three of their previous five games prior to Sunday night's victory over the lowly Washington Wizards. Their two wins during that stretch both required an overtime period for the Heat to eke out victories against the Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks.
But that hasn't brought upon too much concern from Miami's side. At least, it hasn't concerned many parties other than the bandwagoners:
When did being 1st in the East at the beginning of January become not good enough for some @miamiheat fans?— Micky Arison (@MickyArison) January 6, 2013
It's hard to argue the sentiment of Heat owner Micky Arison. Their rough patches are unlike those of any other team for a couple of reasons.
For starters, they are still the defending champions. Until proven otherwise, the path to the NBA championship leads through the heart of South Beach.
Additionally, Miami still employs the greatest basketball player on the planet: LeBron James. As long as King James can hold on to that title, the Heat will be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
If there is a team out East that can give this club problems, though, it is coach Frank Vogel's team. And Vogel has his team playing its best basketball of the season, winning 10 of its past 13 games.
Indiana has all of the requisite elements to challenge Miami: a strong, physical interior and the offensive wherewithal to attack Miami's unrelenting defense.
Tuesday night will be the first time these two teams have squared off in the 2012-13 season. Indiana pushed Miami to six games in the 2011-12 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Time: Tuesday, January 7, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBA League Pass
Records: Miami Heat (23-9), Indiana Pacers (20-14)
Betting Line: Heat -2.5 (according to Vegas Insider Consensus)
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
LeBron James (ankle), questionable
Danny Granger (knee), out
Sam Young (ankle), out
Chris Bosh, C, Heat vs. Roy Hibbert, C, Pacers
Bosh has cemented his standing as a member of Miami's Big Three, not as merely the third option in coach Erik Spoelstra's system.
The nine-year veteran has flourished in his third season with the franchise. His scoring has dipped slightly (17.8 points per game), but his field-goal percentage (54.9) and blocks (1.4 per game) set or match career-highs.
His mid-range shot helps create optimum spacing in Spoelstra's offense, opening penetration lanes for James and Dwyane Wade.
With Bosh's ability to find buckets away from the basket and Miami's depth on the perimeter, it's of little surprise that the Heat boast the NBA's fourth-most potent offense (103 points per game).
His reliable offensive touch will be badly needed facing off against the league's stingiest defense (41.4 opponent's field-goal percentage). If James' ankle keeps him out the proceedings, Bosh's offensive importance cannot be overstated.
But Miami will need a stellar performance on the other end of the floor from Bosh as well. He's giving up three inches (6'11" to 7'2") and 45 pounds (235 to 280) in his matchup with the Georgetown product, Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert entered the 2012-13 season on the apparent brink of a breakout campaign.
He followed up a career-best regular season in 2011-12 (12.8 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting to go along with 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game) with a strong postseason performance (11.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game).
When reports surfaced that All-Star forward Danny Granger would begin the season sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury (an ailment that he has not yet returned from), Hibbert looked all the ready to absorb the additional offensive responsibilities.
If that was Indiana's thinking, though, then the 2012-13 season has not gone to plan.
Hibbert's 40.6 field-goal percentage is greater than a six-point drop from his career average (47.2 percent). And his 9.8 points per game is his lowest total since his rookie season of 2008-09 (7.1).
This could be the ideal matchup for the bruising big man, though. With his back-to-the-basket prowess and overwhelming size advantage over the perimeter-oriented Bosh, Hibbert could be on the verge of topping his season-highs to date (20 points and 15 rebounds).
It's hard to see Indiana standing a chance without a performance from Hibbert like the ones he managed during the Pacers' second-round series with the Heat last season. The big man abused Miami's frontcourt then to the tune of 12.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game, including the brilliant 19-point, 18-rebound and five-block performance captured above.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Heat
A clear hierarchy exists in Spoelstra's game plan.
It starts with his big three at the top, trickles down to veteran gunner Ray Allen, then drifts into a vast collection of shooters and hustlers.
But there's one player that doesn't quite fit either of the above molds: fifth-year point guard Mario Chalmers.
He's a capable perimeter threat (35.3 three-point percentage in 2012-13), but he has a more diverse offensive attack than a prototypical marksman. And he's a pest defensively, harassing opponents with his 1.5 steals per game.
Versatility is the key to everything that Miami accomplishes, and Chalmers embodies that unique skill.
He'll be the first guy called upon to challenge Indiana's starting point guard George Hill, who ranks third on Indiana with 15.2 points per game. But given the Pacers' ability to thwart opposing offenses, the Heat will need Chalmers to be a threat on both ends of the floor.
David West, PF, Pacers
If there's one player on Vogel's roster who has harnessed the opportunity presented by Granger's absence, it's the unrestricted free-agent-to-be West.
He's displayed a growing comfort during his second season with the franchise. His 16.8 points per game may not enter the realm of the All-Star numbers he flashed as Chris Paul's running mate with the New Orleans Hornets, but they do mark a six-point jump from his 2011-12 statistics.
Furthermore, his 7.9 rebounds per game are as his best total since 2008-09, putting him on pace for his fourth-best rebounding season in his nine-plus-year career.
Depending on Spoelstra's rotation, West will likely face a gamut of matchups. Bosh, James, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier are just some of the players who could wind up on West's plate before the end of Tuesday's festivities.
Miami Heat 94, Indiana Pacers 87
How many NBA games anymore are a race to 90 points?
With the growing restrictions on what defenders are allowed to do, the answer is not many.
But that's exactly where this game is headed.
Spoelstra's club is not the defensive juggernaut that it has been, but any club with James, Wade, Chalmers, Battier and Joel Anthony can frustrate an offense on any given night.
Indiana's defensive tenacity is well documented, and even an offensive powerhouse like the Heat will struggle to find quality looks.
But with no Granger, Indiana will ultimately fall short on the offensive end. Miami has too much firepower from all angles of the court for Indiana to keep pace.