LeBron James led an especially frank pregame huddle prior to the Miami Heat's Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers. With the Eastern Conference Finals rematch qualifying as a rivalry in the eyes of many, James said the Pacers should "be careful what [they] wish for" after battling all season for a No. 1 seed and home-court advantage through the conference finals.
He subsequently announced, "They don't like us, we don't like them."
That hardly comes as news to anyone who's paid any attention to meetings between these two teams, but it's intriguing insight into just how self-aware and honest Miami's leading man is about the whole situation. There's no inclination to treat this like just another series, no hiding any true feelings.
As CBSSports.com's Matt Moore notes, "The Indiana Pacers stated all the way back in preseason their objective was to get home court in the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Heat. They wanted this matchup, on their home floor, in Game 1 and Game 7 if it comes to that."
James isn't the only one who's sharing how he really feels.
According to The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser, Pacers swingman Lance Stephenson explained prior to the series that he intended to test Dwyane Wade's oft-injured knee: "D. Wade—I think his knee is messed up, so I’ve got to be extra aggressive and make him run and have him running around and make his knee flare up or something. I’ll do anything as much as possible."
Per ESPN.com news services, "Wade and Stephenson have engaged in some lively exchanges in recent months. Both players drew technical fouls after a brief scuffle during a March 26 game, and Stephenson subsequently was ejected after receiving another technical for taunting Wade later in the game."
So there's plenty of truth to James' proclamation that neither side likes the other. That dates at least as far back as last season's ECF, a contentious seven-game series with plenty of physicality and confrontation.
It remains to be seen how the Heat and Pacers display their animosity on the court. Much as things can turn personal, these are both professional teams with their eyes on the prize. They'd be ill-advised to get too carried away with extracurricular activities.
Despite starting off on the road, the Heat remain the favorite to win this series. The combination of James, Wade and Chris Bosh remains the league's most dangerous trio. The Pacers will look to Stephenson and All-Star Paul George to stage a somewhat improbable series victory.