The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers — who had a lot of playoff history against each other from 2004 to 2014 — will meet in Indianapolis on Wednesday night.
Miami has usually been the alpha dog in this relationship, winning three of the four playoff series between the teams. All four of those series went at least six games, and — in 2013 and ’14 — the Pacers were Miami’s last stop before advancing to the NBA Finals.
Those Heat teams featured superstar LeBron James, whose departure as a free agent in the summer of 2014 signaled the end of a Miami era that included four straight Eastern Conference championships and two NBA titles.
This season, the Heat — who are 26-10 overall and have the NBA’s best home record at 17-1 — appear to have their best team since at least 2015-16, when they made it to the second round of the playoffs.
The Pacers are also off to a good start — 23-14 overall and 15-4 at home — and the connective tissue that bonds Indiana’s team with its counterpart from Miami is unselfish play.
Both teams rank among the NBA’s top 10 teams in assists — Indiana is tied for seventh place (25.8) and Miami is ninth (25.1).
The Pacers upped the ante with 31 assists in Monday’s 115-104 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
“When you move the ball like that, you make the defense (work),” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “You’re not just jacking up shots.”
The Pacers, who were without point guard Malcolm Brogdon (back), were led on Monday by 6-foot-5 wing T.J. Warren, who scored 30 of his season-high 36 points in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Heat have been idle since beating the Portland Trail Blazers 122-111 on Sunday night.
Due to back pain, the Heat played that Blazers game without 6-7 shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who leads Miami in scoring (20.4), assists (6.6) and steals (2.0).
Even without Butler, however, the Heat shot 52.2 percent, including 18 of 44 on 3-pointers (40.9 percent). In addition, the Heat were plus-7 on rebounds and got 29 points and a game-high 13 assists from backup point guard Goran Dragic.
“It doesn’t matter to us who’s playing or not,” Dragic said. “We don’t make excuses.”
Indeed, the Heat have played the past 15 games without point forward Justise Winslow, who has a back injury. Winslow is averaging 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.3 rebounds.
It’s possible both Butler and Winslow will return to the lineup on Wednesday. But if both are again absent, Miami would likely start rookie guard Kendrick Nunn, center Bam Adebayo and forwards Duncan Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Derrick Jones.
Leading Miami’s bench is rookie shooting guard Tyler Herro along with Dragic, an 11th-year veteran who made the 2018 NBA All-Star Game.
In their most recent game, Monday against the Hornets, the Pacers started point guard Aaron Holiday, wings Jeremy Lamb and Warren, power forward Domantas Sabonis and center Myles Turner. Indiana’s top reserves include 6-8 forward Doug McDermott, 6-6 wing Justin Holiday and 6-2 point guard T.J. McConnell.
–Field Level Media