The Heat are the Superman of the NBA world right now. Heading into tonight’s matchup versus the Philadelphia 76ers, the Heat have won a franchise-record 16 straight games. Their 45-14 record is the second-best record in the NBA and the best record in the Eastern Conference.
However, on Sunday night, the Heat will face the team that has proven to be their Kryptonite this season.
The Indiana Pacers have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference at 38-23. Two of those 38 wins have come versus the Miami Heat. In their only two games against the Heat this season, the Pacers have proven to be the Heat’s toughest competition. The Pacers are hoping to continue that trend on Sunday.
On Jan. 8th, led by young All-Star Paul George and his 29 points, the Pacers defeated the Heat, 87-77. Weeks later on Feb. 1st, the Pacers again defeated the Heat, 102-89, this time led by David West, who put up 30 points. For all of those scoring at home, Feb. 1st was the last time that the Heat lost a game, making the Pacers the last team to beat the Heat.
The Pacers seem to have the formula to win versus the Heat. They have a strong front line that gives the Heat tremendous problems, and they've been the superior team on the glass in both matchups with the Heat this season, out-rebounding Miami 55-36 in the Jan. 8th matchup and 34-25 in the Feb. 1st matchup.
Indiana has also limited its turnovers in the two games versus the Heat, which has allowed the Pacers to control the tempo and limit the Heat’s fast-break opportunities. The Heat are sixth in the NBA in opponents' turnovers per game, forcing 15.6 per game, and fifth in the NBA in scoring, averaging 103.5 point per game. However, in their two losses to the Pacers this season, the Heat have forced only 10.5 turnovers per game and have scored a total of only 166 points (83.0 points per game).
The Pacers’ confidence versus the Heat extends all the way back to last season’s second-round playoff series involving the two teams. After losing the first game of the series, the Pacers won the next two games to take a 2-1 series lead. Despite eventually losing the series 4-2, the Pacers felt that they were the better team.
Should the Heat win tonight over the Philadelphia 76ers, they will enter Sunday’s game versus the Pacers on a 17-game win streak. The 17 games would tie the Heat for the longest win streak in the NBA this season. The Pacers would have the opportunity to potentially end the Heat’s win streak and win the season series over the Heat.
More importantly, the game will serve as a potential Eastern Conference finals preview for many NBA fans. With the Knicks' recent struggles, the Pacers are seen as the Heat’s most difficult competition in the Eastern Conference. The game will likely have a playoff atmosphere and will provide basketball analysts with many hours of interesting basketball conversation.
However, regardless of the outcome, it will be just one game out of 82 regular-season games, and I’m sure the losing team will remind everyone of that.