For Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers Not Yet a Primary Concern

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For Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers Not Yet a Primary Concern
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MIAMI — A week passed, and then another, and the Indiana Pacers kept piling up wins, while the Miami Heat dropped three contests, two to rebuilding opponents. 

On Nov. 9, the Pacers beat the Nets to move to 7-0, while the Heat lost to the Celtics to fall to 4-3. Over the next six days, both teams won twice, and the Heat still trailed the East's top-seeded team in the top-heavy Eastern Conference by three full games.

Still, the Heat weren't shaken.

Heck, they were hardly even stirred.

There was never a thought, or a worry, that the Pacers, by stampeding out of the gate, were getting away.

"Nope," Mario Chalmers said. "They still got to see us. At the end of the day, they still got to come play us."

That won't happen for the first time this season until Dec. 10 in Indianapolis. By then, it's hard to say where the squads will sit in the standings. In the past week, Miami has closed the gap some, now 9-3 to the Pacers' 10-1, trailing by 1.5 games. And Indiana's schedule is about to stiffen. Just before the Heat visit, the Pacers have a five-game road trip that includes stops in Los Angeles (against the Clippers), Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

"9-0 (was) a great start for them," Chalmers said Tuesday, prior to the Pacers beating the Knicks in overtime on Wednesday to move to 10-1. "You can't knock what they're doing. Right now, they're in a great rhythm, and they're playing great basketball, but they ain't played the Heat yet. You know?"

And you know what happened the last time they did: Miami stomped Indiana in the seventh game of an otherwise competitive Eastern Conference Finals.

It's no secret that Heat and Pacers players and coaches aren't all on the friendliest terms; the past two playoff series between the teams have been chippy, and LeBron James has taken exception to what he has characterized as the Pacers' excessive chatter.

So you'd think that might add to Miami's desire to deprive the Pacers of an achievement they clearly prize: the top regular-season spot in the East and home-court advantage in a potential playoff rematch.

That's not especially so.

In fact, part of the reason for the Heat's intermittent effort is that there really isn't anything in the regular season that stands out as particularly paramount, other than steady improvement.

Gunning for home court?

"That stuff doesn't work for me," Chris Bosh said. "For me, it's just standards. Like, hey, we need to play better defense tonight. You always want to win when you're out there. For us, it's defense right now—we need to pick up our defense, and that's it."

Regardless of what some rival is doing, on some other court.

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Regardless of what how it might affect the site of a contest in May or June.

"I don't like to talk about that stuff right now," Bosh said. "'Playoffs!' Hey, take it easy. Let's play some good defense tonight, and that's it."

Bosh acknowledges that it's difficult to stay engaged on every detail, on incremental improvement, when the potential payoff is so far off.

"Very tough," Bosh said.

But necessary.

"I mean, it's just like any other job," Bosh said. "A promotion, you think about that stuff. But, shoot, if you think about a promotion, you're not thinking about what you need to be thinking about today. You can always fall back on it, and say, 'Hey, we need to have home court.' But you can't say, 'Home court!' OK, it's November, take it easy, we lost, let's regroup. Things are gonna happen. You're gonna suck some days, and that's it. It's not about what happens, it's about how you regroup. You either regroup fast or you don't."

Regroup and refocus...on one night, on one element.

"Just focus on defense, yeah, and let's win the game," Bosh said. "And then if you focus on the things you need to focus on to win the game, home court won't be the issue, because you'll be in the position you need to be in. And that's all. Can't think about home court right now. It's a marathon."

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That marathon, for the Heat, has a series of markers, set several miles apart.

"Honestly, it's just about building," Shane Battier said. "I know it sounds corny. You don't really improve a lot game by game. All of a sudden, you put two or three weeks together of playing good basketball, and you say, 'OK, we're getting better.' It's palpable. You can feel it. And I think as a veteran team, you understand where you should be at certain points of the season. We should play hard right now, but we shouldn't have our entire package right now, just because you want to build, and you want to grow."

Battier isn't suggesting the Heat should wait until after the All-Star break to get rolling, especially on defense, since he says, "We're behind where we should be defensively."

But, by Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then before the break, "You know where you should be."

And, in that sense, it doesn't matter much what others are doing, or saying.

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"Yeah, no," Battier said. "Especially after having a veteran group that's been through the fires. There are very few artificial things that can inspire a team. Very few things. On a night-to-night basis, when we need it every now and then, and someone says something about the Heat, OK, yeah, 'Grrr,' they're firing us up. You have to have internal motivation first and foremost. Nothing externally can match what internally should drive you."

The Pacers clearly have that drive, too. They made it a point to start faster than in recent seasons: through 11 games in 2012-13, they were 4-7 and scrambling to dig out. The Heat? Even after the early stumbles against the 76ers and Celtics, they have the same 9-3 record that they did through the first dozen last season.

"They had a great start, and that's it," Bosh said of Indiana. "I understand the hunger they have. We understand. And I'm sure they'll be a team that will able to keep it up. Not (10-1). But it's gonna happen. You're gonna have tough times, you're gonna have bad days, you're gonna have great days. You're gonna have terrible weeks, you're gonna have great weeks. They had a great week. They will have a bad week."

If it comes in May or June, that will be the week that matters.

 

Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.

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