Wednesday night’s primetime showdown between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers was more than just a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview. The game was one of the few that had postseason ramifications, with seeding on the line, and the Pacers came out on top.
Let’s not fault LeBron James for the loss; he did everything he could to will his team to victory. James scored a game-high 38 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and dished out five assists, but the Heat could not overcome the Pacers, who finally rediscovered their stride to pull out the 84-83 victory and retain the top spot in the East.
The loss marked their second to Indiana this season, and the Heat will have one more opportunity on April 11 to even up the series as the regular season winds down. But falling, again, to the Pacers was much more than just coming up short on a big stage; it’s more indicative of what kind of team Miami is this season as opposed to the previous two seasons which of course resulted in Larry O’Brien trophies.
The Heat have the ability to go on pretty lengthy win streaks. They reeled off a 10-game win streak back in November and a six-game streak in December. Most recently, the won eight in a row in mid-February, which included wins over playoff teams such as the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Chicago Bulls.
Not to discount the NBA’s regular season, but unlike college football, not every regular-season contest carries a lot of weight. It’s games like Wednesday’s night, on primetime TV with conference seeding at stake, that are the exception. And despite a valiant effort by James, the Heat came up short.
The two-time defending champions are dealing with an injured Dwyane Wade, who seemingly had to contend with injuries during each of the Heat’s NBA Finals runs, but is finally losing the battle. Chris Bosh has stepped up admirably in the Robin role, but eight points and four boards last night is more telling of how he fares when he has to line up against more capable power forwards like David West. And then there was the answer to Roy Hibbert, Greg Oden, who showed up all of six minutes to score one basket and grab one rebound. That doesn’t sound like much of a big man to me, and given Hibbert’s 21 points, didn’t seem to be much of a stopper.
Aside from Wade’s 15 points in 32 minutes — which is just around his season average in both categories — James received no support from his surrounding cast. No other contributor scored in double figures. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole combined for four assists, and not one member of the frontcourt tallied more than four rebounds.
Miami has been able to take down Western Conference giants like Oklahoma City and San Antonio, but seemingly cannot contend with the big men of Indiana. It wasn’t as if the Pacers have been red-hot. In fact, they were 5-5 in their past 10 games entering last night’s matchup, and have not played nearly as well as they did in the first half of the season.
Could this summer be the one that King James and the Heat are dethroned? Well, it’s difficult to discount James, who can take over a game at any point and single-handedly lead his team to victory. But this year his supporting cast isn’t showing it’s consistent enough or — at times — even capable of at least lending a hand. This year, there seems to be more contenders willing and able to take down the Heat, and the list begins with those pesky Pacers, who seem to have the Heat’s number.