MIAMI — A year ago when Miami and Indiana faced off in the postseason, there were blood-drawing hits, flagrant fouls, technical fouls, choke signs being directed toward LeBron James and more than a few sharp-tongued comments.
Here they possibly go again, at least on the comment front.
The Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Pacers won’t begin until Wednesday night, but there’s already signs that the animosity present throughout last season’s Miami-Indiana second-round series will likely return this time around. The first flare-up appeared to arrive Saturday night, when Pacers coach Frank Vogel called the reigning champion Heat “just the next team that’s in our way.”
Predictably, the Heat didn’t seem to take that as flattery.
“We’re a great team,” said James, the Heat forward who won the NBA’s MVP award for the fourth time this season. “We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them. If we’re just another team, you don’t prepare, you really don’t prepare for just another team. We’re not just another team. You have to prepare for us.”
And away they go.
Pushing, shoving, a few extra words, that’s all typical extra-curricular activity in playoff basketball. With Heat-Pacers last season, there seemed to be more. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem were bloodied at times. Haslem targeted Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough in what was perceived as retaliation for a foul against Wade. And Lance Stephenson – who made the “choke” sign after James missed a free throw in a Game 3 loss – getting leveled by now-former Miami reserve Dexter Pittman in a particularly memorable end to a blowout Heat win in Game 5.
“We don’t need bulletin-board material,” James said.
When Indiana beat the Knicks and finished off that series on Saturday night, Vogel was asked about playing the Heat again.
“This is not about getting back at Miami,” Vogel said. “You’re competing for a championship. And they’re just the next team that’s in our way.”
His last line was duly noticed by the Heat.
“It’s always good to get some motivation from the other side,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said.