There aren’t many true rivalries in the NBA these days, mainly because in an era where teams can change so dramatically from one season to the next, it’s difficult to maintain any level of disdain for an extended period of time.
But as the Eastern Conference Finals get set to begin between the Heat and the Pacers, there’s no denying that some bad blood between the teams does in fact exist.
Miami has eliminated Indiana from the postseason each of the last two years, most recently requiring seven games to do so on the way to a second straight title. Add in the fact that the teams have battled four times already this year, and that’s enough familiarity to breed some contempt — which is something Dwyane Wade believes will work to his team’s advantage.
“We expect it to be just as competitive,” Heat center Udonis Haslem said. “More competitive than last year, more competitive than anything in the regular season. We’re talking about two teams that have grown to not really like each other over the last couple years.” …
“We’re not a young team where dislike should get in the way of us winning basketball games,” Wade said. “That’s when you’re younger and you’re coming up. That’s how Boston had us, where there was a dislike for them and mentally it got us off our games. We learned from that and we learned from them.
“No matter what goes on in the games, the chippiness, the back and forth, that’s part of the game, but you got to keep your head in it and continue to move forward.”
The Pacers are certainly not as experienced as this Heat team, but they would appear to have gained enough of it to where any in-game highs and lows shouldn’t negatively impact their chances.
Finding some level of consistency will be the biggest challenge for the Pacers more than anything else. We’re talking about a team that was barely .500 over the last two months of the season, and suffered a lapse that saw them trail by as many as 30 at home in Game 5 against the Wizards, on a night when they had a chance to close that series out.
Any moments that raise the intensity between these two teams may actually help Indiana focus on the task at hand. The Pacers are a team that’s shown a significant amount of mental frailty as of late, and may need a spark to help them rise to the occasion. If that is the case, they should have no trouble finding it against the two-time defending champs.