MIAMI — The Indiana Pacers know what they want to do. The Miami Heat know what the Pacers want to do: Beat opponents with their size and strength.
It’s how the Pacers beat the Heat in two previous games this season. Pound the glass. Score in the paint. Get second-chance points. Outmuscle Miami. Wear down the Heat.
In the previous games — both at Indiana — the Pacers outscored the Heat 189-166, including 102-89 on Feb. 1, outscored them 76-64 in points in the paint and 37-16 on second-chance points and outrebounded them 89-61.
Indiana outmuscled Miami. And since then, the Heat haven’t lost.
When confronted with an opportunity to redeem themselves Sunday, the Heat dismantled the Pacers 105-91, extending their franchise-best winning streak to 18 games and leaving no doubt about their supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
“”Our guys competed and played more consistently to how we want to compete on both ends … I like the response,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was a good win. We’ll move on to the next one.”
Miami also has beaten every team in the league in a season for the first time in franchise history.
“I just thought we didn’t respond to the challenge,” Pacers forward David West said. “We just didn’t have enough pop. That’s probably the worst defensive game we’ve played all year.”
Miami had plenty to do with that.
The Heat are a roll right now — just four consecutive wins from tying Houston’s second-longest NBA winning streak at 22 — and found the redemption they sought against Indiana.
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But the streak is just a sidebar to the ultimate prize.
“Our goal isn’t to win games consecutively,” All-Star forward LeBron James said. “Our goal is to win a championship. But we understand right now our goal is to get better each and every game (and) continue to improve.”
Not only did the Heat win, they knocked off the Pacers without a stellar statistical game from James, who had a season-low 13 points in addition to seven assists and six rebounds.
“He doesn’t have to score 30 every night. Our teammates are very confident and we love it when they come out aggressive,” Wade said.
With James doing things other than scoring, Wade and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh delivered. Wade had 23 points, and Bosh looked for his shot often, scoring 24 points on 11-of-15 shooting.
“I take what the defense gives me,” Bosh said. “If the jumper is open, I’m going to shoot it. It makes it simple for myself.”
Miami guard Mario Chalmers scored a game-high 26 points, making 5-of-6 three-pointers.
“My teammates were just sucking the defense in and I was moving without the ball,” Chalmers said. “It was just finding my spots and being ready to shoot.”
Guard Ray Allen, who went scoreless in the first two games against the Pacers, had 11 points.
Miami, which shot 55.9% from the field, built a 56-46 halftime lead and used dominant stretches in the second half to open 79-56 and 105-84 leads.
Miami did much of its damage in half-court sets. The Heat scored just six fastbreak points and still managed to break 100 points against the Pacers, who lead the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (95.6).
“Everyone was involved offensively and everyone felt in rhythm. It helps out a lot when the scoring is that well balanced. … We executed at a high pace today. The ball was moving, and everyone felt comfortable,” Heat forward LeBron James said.
Indiana made runs late in the third and quarter in the fourth but were never able to cut Miami’s lead to single digits.
“In the second half, they turned it up a notch,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “They were under our chins on every catch, and we didn’t handle that pressure well.”
James and the rest of the Heat had the scouting report on the Pacers mastered. The Heat understand how and why the lost the two earlier games against the Pacers.
“They play inside-out. A lot of NBA teams now these days play outside-in. They’re not one of them,” James said. “The play inside out with (Roy) Hibbert and David West and even Paul George … so if they could, they would like to keep our game n the 80s, which they’ve been able to do.
“We’ve got try and push the tempo a little bit and have them play with us. But they’ve been able to control the tempo the first two games.”
Miami didn’t control Indiana’s inside game, but did enough, especially with Indiana’s perimeter players. Pacers forward David West had 24 points, including 17 in the first half, and center Roy Hibbert scored 16 points.
All-Star Paul George had just 10 points, and Indiana starting guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson struggled, going 3-of-10. James made a tactical decision just before tip-off. He told Wade to guard George, and James said he would take Stephenson.
“It threw us off a bit,” George said of Miami’s defense, which held Indiana to 41.3% shooting.
This time, Indiana didn’t dominate points in the paint. Miami flexed a little muscle in the third and final regular-season matchup between the two teams and outscored Indiana 28-24 in points in the paint.
James wanted to push the tempo, and that’s what Miami did. The Heat forced the Pacers into 18 turnovers and turned them into 27 points.
All year, the Heat have declined publicly to place more importance on one game than another. But just as beating the New York Knicks a week ago for the first time this season was important, defeating Indiana had meaning, too.
Before the game, James took a measured approach.
“We don’t need to make no statement against no team,” he said. “We know where we stand when it counts. But we want to play well. We want to continue to get better against a very good team coming into our building. We always want to hold serve on our home court. So, it’s going to be a good test for us against a very, very good team. We look forward to it.”
That the Heat did.
Heat-Pacers have playoff series written all over it.
The Heat are the champs and are playing like it. They don’t have to prove anything to anybody. It’s 29 other teams who trying to prove they can beat Miami.
The Pacers are on of them.
“Our team has shown great resolved all year,” Vogel said, “and I have every confidence that they are going to respond in the playoffs.”