The Heat have eliminated the Pacers from the playoffs in each of the past two postseasons, and the two teams went seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
The Pacers already have one victory against the Heat this year, and that was with a healthy LeBron James, who is questionable for Wednesday night's matchup between the two teams, according to CBS Sports.
It was just last Tuesday that the Pacers held James to 17 points and 6-16 shooting and beat the Heat, 90-84. If he's out, the other members of the Big 3 in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, along with other Heat players, will need to play significantly better than they have through the first 24 games.
That's asking a lot considering James is a four-time MVP and is regarded as the NBA's best player.
That being said, here are four Heat players who will need to step up their game against the Pacers.
Wade has battled his fair share of injuries this year as well, and he's already missed three games in the month of December, but when he has played, he's looked like the Wade once regarded as a top-5 player in the NBA.
His 53.8 effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career, according to Basketball Reference. His 3.0 steal percentage is also tied for the highest in his career.
That's key, as the Pacers are very sloppy with the ball and are turning it over 15.4 times per game. Shooting guard Lance Stephenson is committing 2.5 turnovers per game, and that's who Wade will likely be matched up with.
With age, Wade is learning to be a more efficient player, but that's been with LeBron taking on the alpha male role for this team. Against the Pacers, Wade will need to assume that role if Miami is to defend its home court.
The less-regarded of Miami's Big Three, Bosh will need to have a big game to account for the loss of production from LeBron. That's asking a lot, considering he'll be matched up against Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert.
If Bosh can be aggressive in the paint and get Hibbert into foul trouble, that will open up the lane more for Miami's guards and allow them to score at will against the defensively-sound Pacers.
Bosh will also need to hit the boards with authority. He's only gotten double-digit rebounds twice this year in 23 games.
“I’ve been talking about it,” Bosh said via ESPN. “Against bigger teams, it’s so easy to float around on the outside and get the outside shot. That’s what I can do. But keeping them honest, mixing it up and keeping them guessing, that’s something I’m working on right now. With this homestand, I’m just trying to make sure I come out with good energy every game and put in the necessary time in the weight room, on the court and in the film room—just doing what I need to do to stay sharp.”
That's unacceptable for an NBA center, and he has to become more of presence in the paint if Miami hopes to overcome Indiana.
Even though LeBron is a forward, he handles the ball as much as any player on the Heat roster. If he's out, the team's starting point guard, Mario Chalmers, will be relied on to handle the ball more than he's used to.
So far this year, Chalmers is averaging 4.7 assists to 2.1 turnovers per game. That's okay for a guy like Chalmers who doesn't handle the ball as much as most starting point guards would, but against a Pacers team that thrives off turnovers, he'll need to take care of the ball better than he has thus far while also providing more offense.
His 9.0 points per game won't cut it against the Pacers. He has to score more to make up for the loss of LeBron and help Miami defend its turf.
Honorable Mention: Michael Beasley
If James does indeed miss this game, Beasley will likely be the man to start in his place. Once drafted with the No. 2 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Beasley was viewed as the future of the small forward position for the Heat.
But after drug-use and underperforming play got him shipped out of Miami when LeBron signed with the Heat, they brought him back this offseason in hopes he'd finally matured and was ready to play with a sense of purpose.
He's played well off the bench this year, but unfortunately, he's dealing with a hamstring injury that may hold him out of this contest.
If he were to play, he'd likely get 20-plus minutes and would be counted on to make up for the absence of LeBron.
All of this being said, if these three players do step up their games, Miami can handle Indiana at home and escape with a narrow win.
But if they fail to do so, the Heat will fall to 0-2 against the Pacers this year and put themselves in a bigger hole as far as being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.