The Indiana Pacers are no longer strangers to big games. They played in Game 7 of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, and they've played a whole host of nationally televised games in 2013-14.
But if the Pacers have grown jaded to the allure of Wednesday's crucial home date with the Miami Heat, they certainly aren't showing it. Per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman, the Pacers have already decked out Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse with enough signage to make this late-March matchup feel like the postseason:
Of course, this is the same Heat team that knocked Indy out of the playoffs in last season's fateful Game 7. Miami then went on to claim the NBA championship in a spectacular seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs.
Still smarting from that loss, the Pacers started out the season like a ball of fire, winning their first nine games of the season and finishing the 2013 calendar year with a conference-best 25-5 record.
But the Pacers have come crashing back to Earth as of late. Not only are they a pedestrian 7-7 in March, they have beaten only one team with a winning record in the past month: the Chicago Bulls.
While the Heat have also struggled, posting the same 7-7 March record as Indiana, their win on Monday brought them to within two games of the Pacers for the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
I miss the Pacers. It's coming down to a photo finish. We have a unique opportunity. No matter what's happened this whole season, we're within striking distance. We've been putting the No. 1 seed off. It's here. And it will be a great playoff atmosphere. And I can't wait to play there Wednesday.
Clearly, the No. 1 seed means far more to Indiana than it does to Miami. And it's hard to blame the Pacers, given the fact that they lost that Game 7 on Miami's home court.
Well, all season, the Pacers have openly lusted over the opportunity for that extra home game in the expected Eastern Conference finals. No team in recent memory has been so transparent about the necessity of one more night in its own building. They made this their mission in the losing locker room in AmericanAirlines Arena last June, enunciated it throughout training camp, reiterated it before the teams' first and second of four regular-season meetings and doubled down on it at All-Star weekend.
The Heat have experience on their side, and with that experience comes the confidence that they can win a big game in anyone's house. As for the young Pacers, they want that Game 7 to be played in Indy, and they're pulling out all the stops to maintain their edge in the race for home-court advantage.