Some people have fans; some people have stalkers. But it’s rare that you see an NBA team so obsessed with another that that’s all they can think about as they bide their time at the top of the hill.
However, that is the case for the Indiana Pacers, whose infatuation with the Miami Heat often has them saying foolish things like when Roy Hibbert sat down with Stephen A. Smith and told him that his team was “built not bought.”
I’m guessing he probably didn’t notice that they both have six players who started their careers in their respective cities, with Miami having five — to their four — who are usually major contributors. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the sentiment in Indiana that they put together their team the right way as if Miami somehow did it wrong by signing the same amount of free agents as they did to capture back-to-back rings.
They wouldn’t trade that type of wrong for the world. And as a result, the Heat have had Pacers’ eyes on them the entire season.
Before Paul George and the boys could even enjoy being 7-0, ESPN reported that the buzz going through their locker room was about the team from South Beach’s loss to the Boston Celtics and how they were 4-3 at the time. As Pacers coach Frank Vogel put it, being on top of the Eastern Conference could be the difference between going to the NBA Finals and peeping it from home. Vogel told ESPN:
“If we’re going to have playoff success, having home-court advantage would give us an edge. We were 8-1 at home in the playoffs last year. To lose a Game 7 on the road, that’s a tough environment. We’re trying for that No. 1 seed. We’re going for it.”
A week and a half later the Heat were apparently on the same watch.
Columnist Michael Wallace painted the picture of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James standing side by side, whispering while watching the Pacers against the New York Knicks — from the back of Orlando’s arena. However, according to Wallace the mood from the team was completely different:
“The Heat didn’t see anything to worry about or lose their appetite over as they showered, dressed and ate before departing Orlando… Judging by the whispers and smirks in pockets of the locker room Wednesday, the Pacers could go 81-1 and it would only annoy the Heat. But not faze them.”
The Heat should be on high alert though. The additions of Luis Scola and C.J. Watson along with the growth of Lance Stephenson (and his triple-doubles) make the Pacers a bigger threat than they were when they took Miami to the brink the last two years. And let’s not forget that Danny Granger will eventually get healthy, Hibbert and David West will still be bruising in the middle and Paul George is a legitimate early-season MVP candidate.
So while Miami might dismiss them as a nuisance, you have to enjoy the throwback hunger of a Pacers team that seems like they wouldn’t appreciate a championship as much if it didn’t go through James and the crew. A thought that the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Ira Winderman pointed out as George’s offseason focus:
“As the teams prepared for Tuesday’s meeting, George reiterated how he dedicated his summer to beating the Heat, and how he never forgot how close Indiana came in last season’s seven-game Eastern Conference finals.”
All of this hype and it’s only Game 21, but tonight is the first of Indiana’s 2014 championship.
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