Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren will go head-to-head in a key matchup when the No. 5 Miami Heat and No. 4 Indiana Pacers open a best-of-seven playoff series Tuesday afternoon near Orlando.
The teams split a pair in the NBA bubble, with Miami recording its third straight win over Indiana this season with a 114-92 romp last Monday, before the Pacers finally topped the Heat with a 109-92 win on Friday that broke a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Warren earned a spot on the All-Bubble first team after averaging 31.0 points in the Pacers’ eight games since the restart.
But Warren had nowhere near that level of success in three games against the Heat this season, harassed into 11-for-31 shooting overall (35.5 percent) and 3-for-11 on 3-pointers (27.3 percent) while held to 10.3 points per game.
Neither Warren nor Butler played in the regular-season finale.
Butler, meanwhile, has taken advantage of 30 free throws, making 27, in his three head-to-heads with Warren while averaging 17.7 points.
The feud got tense when Warren was ejected from a 122-108 home loss to the Heat in January for slashing at Butler’s arm as the Miami star was driving to the hoop.
Butler blew a kiss at Warren as he was being escorted to the locker room.
A war of words ensued following the game, after which the NBA stepped in and fined both players — Warren $25,000 for his Flagrant-1 foul, Butler $35,000 for comments made on social media.
Remarks were more brief and courteous in advance of the playoff series.
“Look, I just play basketball,” Butler insisted Sunday. “I’m going to go out there and be the best player on the floor. That’s what Miami has me here to do.
“I’m not worried about nobody’s matchup, man. We can kill that. That’s dead; that’s something that’ll pass. Everybody wants to make a story out of it, but my job isn’t against T.J. Warren. It’s against the Indiana Pacers, and my job is to help the Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers.”
Countered Warren at his media session, “It’s a part of the game, and when you compete at a high level like that, you’re going to run into other competitors. It’s just the nature of basketball.”
Another key matchup in the series figures to be the Heat’s Bam Adebayo against the Pacers’ Myles Turner, who takes on a greater role in the series in the absence of Domantas Sabonis. Both Adebayo and Sabonis averaged double-doubles in the season series, with Adebayo going for 15.3 points and 11.0 rebounds in three games, while Sabonis paced Indiana with 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two contests. He has not played in the bubble.
Sabonis is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis. Turner, meanwhile, has had neck and wrist issues since the restart but is expected to play in the series opener.
Heat backup Derrick Jones Jr., who was carted off the court with a neck injury after a collision in the finale against Indiana, has made a nice recovery and is questionable for Game 1.
A big disparity in the season series came at the foul line, where the Heat took an average of 4.2 more foul shots per game (22.5-18.3). They took advantage to outscore the Pacers by an average of 4.2 points (17.5-13.3).
–Field Level Media