It’s the playoff series the Heat has waited nearly seven long months to begin.
And there is no need to fake it or shy away from the obvious. The Heat and Pacers do not like each other. The teams are meeting for the second-straight year in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the two rivals have swapped victories since Game 1 of the 2013 East Finals.
Over the past few years, the Heat and Pacers have developed a healthy dislike, and on Friday the Heat’s players acknowledged the disdain that will be carried into this best-of-7 series. The Eastern Conference Finals begin on Sunday in Indiana. Game 2 is on Tuesday at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“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.”
After sitting out the Heat’s series against the Brooklyn Nets, Haslem will be inserted into the starting lineup against Indiana to matchup with the Pacers frontcourt of power forward David West and center Roy Hibbert. Haslem started the Heat’s first series of the playoffs against Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson before stepping aside for Shane Battier to start against the Nets.
“I got to work him,” Haslem said of Hibbert. “I got to make everything tough. I can’t give him anything easy. I’ve got to be ahead of every play. I got to be mentally and physically on top of it and it’s got to be a grind.”
Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade, healthy for this series after dealing with knee pain last year, said the bad blood between the Heat and Pacers works to the Heat’s advantage.
“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.”