Miami Heat Downplay December Loss, Even as Problems Against Pacers Persist

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Miami Heat Downplay December Loss, Even as Problems Against Pacers Persist
USA Today

INDIANAPOLIS — The Heat, still holding their own shootaround in the arena's practice gym, couldn't hear the Pacers late Tuesday morning, as Frank Vogel's squad finished its session on the main court and met with the media. Still, the visitors would get word soon enough, first from the reporters relaying fresh quotes and then through social media searches.

None of it would surprise them.

Much of it would amuse them; definitely more than the 90-84 loss that would conclude the day. 

You see, even before losing to the Heat in seven games in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, and especially after, the Pacers have openly displayed an obsession toward the Heat that rivals the creepiest work Kathy Bates, Glenn Close and Jennifer Jason Leigh have done on screen. So it continued after their Tuesday shootaround, when Roy Hibbert acknowledged he was "pretty amped up about this game," Paul George admitted that he had Miami on his mind during all his summer training, Lance Stephenson characterized the evening's affair as a "championship game" four times in 47 seconds and Vogel repeated his oft-stated goal of earning the No. 1 seed to avoid another Game 7 in South Florida. 

What did Chris Bosh think of all this emphasis on a single contest in December? 

"It’s not a championship game," Bosh said. "It’s the 21st game for us. We’re trying to wrap up this road trip. Championship game, there is no tomorrow. It’s very tough to play like there’s no tomorrow when there is."

He expressed his certainty that "they circled this date on the calendar a long time ago." 

So when did he? 

"Yesterday." 

Then he left to take what he called "the Super Bowl of naps."

Does this mean the Heat were, or are, sleeping on the Pacers? No, nor should they, especially not now, after their third straight loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse—and fifth in six games dating back to start of the 2012-13 regular season. But their seemingly nonchalant attitude, in advance, and in the aftermath, of Tuesday's defeat shouldn't be taken too seriously either. 

They know they have issues against Indiana. They simply believe they still have the time and talent to address them, with nothing decided until well after Memorial Day, and even if Indianapolis native Greg Oden—watching from the row behind the bench—never takes the floor for a minute that matters. So they will continue to speak about process over results, about patience rather than panic, about getting to their game rather than getting stressed about the standings. And they will do so even after so many of the same old problems persisted Tuesday night, especially after an impressive first quarter.

"It's who can get to who," Erik Spoelstra said of the challenge Indiana poses. "Our speed, quickness, ball movement game, or can they get us to play on one side of the floor? And for the most part in the second half, they got us to play on one side of the floor." 

On a night that the Heat made just 4-of-21 three-pointers, it was inevitable that Indiana would overcome its typical turnover trouble and pull away. It was inevitable because Roy Hibbert had again firmly asserted himself on both ends, in a manner that no other player currently does against Miami.

"He's a unique guy," Chris Bosh said. "A lot of bigs don't get the ball in the post as much." 

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Hibbert scored 24 points Tuesday after averaging 22.1 in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

But most of the impact comes on defense. And because of that, it's clear that, for all the talk about Paul George's emergence, and David West's toughness, Hibbert is the man who stands most in the way of Miami making a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals. That's because he tangibly changes the way the Heat play, so long as he stays on the court, which he did for 37 minutes on Tuesday by picking up only two fouls.

"The biggest key is Roy on Bosh," West said. "As long as Bosh is hitting long, contested two-point jump shots, that's something we're willing to live with. I thought we did a good job of handling some of those quick swings and quick actions that they like to run. And obviously we didn't give them a whole lot of highlight, momentum-swinging, above-the-rim type of plays." 

Hibbert credited others as well.

"We look at film," Hibbert said. "You don't disrespect anyone else, but they just get way too many easy drives to the basket, way too many dunks. Obviously, Birdman kind of dunked on me tonight, which is not something I like, but it happens. But we try to plug the lane as much as possible... Once we got our principles down in the second, we were trying to give them nothing in the paint."

And when the Heat got there, they found the 7-foot-2 center on the back line. On those occasions that LeBron James didn't shy away from Hibbert, some of his shortest shots came up shy, or long, or left, or right. James missed 4-of-8 shots at the rim, while settling for several standstill jumpers, and finishing an uncharacteristic 6-of-16 overall. 

"He takes a lot of teams out of what they are accustomed to doing, because he is so great at the rim, protecting the rim, and they allow him to use his verticality rule more than anyone in our league," James said. 

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

That last part speaks, passive-aggressively, to the Heat's foremost frustration when facing the Pacers, but there seems little chance that it changes. So Miami must keep pushing, and maybe even tweaking, in order to impose its advantages, rather than be immobilized by Indiana's mountain. 

The Heat didn't adjust appropriately Tuesday but, once it was over, they didn't seem too bothered. James surmised that "we brought it tonight, and they just made more shots," and even went so far as to say the Heat "played a great game." 

"We're not the team that we want to be in April right now, and that's OK," James said.

Shortly after, he added that, "It's a long season. You don't hold your head low after one loss."

That season includes three more meetings between the team, the next coming next Wednesday in Miami.

Apparently, many players are aware of that encounter. West revealed as much when asked if the Heat respected Indiana.

"I think so," West said. "We play one another, we know we're going to get their best shot, they know they're going to get our best shot. Guys are already out there talking about next week. So it is what it is."

Who?

"Everybody. Everybody." 

He smiled. 

"We know that's a game on our schedule," West said. "We talk about being better on the road. That's a game that we have circled. Quite sure they have it circled as well." 

Eh, probably not 'til Tuesday. 

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