If you really want to know how much the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers hate each other, just take a look at Lance Stephenson’s comments about Dwyane Wade during yesterday’s practice from the Palm Beach post:
“I think his knee is kind of messed up so I got to be extra aggressive and make him run … make his knee flare up.”
To some, targeting the three-time champion’s knees may sound a bit cruel, but to the old-school basketball lovers, there is nothing more that they can ask for than a player who is willing to explore the term “by any means necessary” to get a chance at an NBA Finals appearance. There is no way that you can blame anyone for feeling this way.
The Heat have kept the Pacers from achieving their championship aspirations for the past two years, so of course Stephenson is willing to take any little advantage that he can get — especially when there have been so many altercations between the teams. There is no way to ignore the practice altercation between Stephenson and new Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard a couple of years ago, the in-game retaliation from ex-Miami center Dexter Pittman or the near scraps between Stephenson, Wade and Mario Chalmers.
Don’t take it as a coincidence that each of those incidents have the same man involved, and don’t be surprised if there are a few more, because a trip to the finals will depend largely on the battle of the shooting guards.
For the last two years, Wade has been hobbled in their playoff matchups, yet Miami has pulled out victories. However, this year is a little different, as Stephenson has stepped up and raised almost all of his stats to career-highs while Wade seems to be coming into the series at full health following season-long knee and hamstring maintenance.
But the key will be if the Heat star can avoid being neutralized after chasing the upstart around. I’m not saying that D-Wade needs be at the 32-point pace that he was at during their regular season win, but in order for the Heat to have a chance at making their fourth straight trip to the Finals, he will have to be much closer to his 21.3 point average against the Pacers than the mediocre 16 he put out during Miami’s two losses.