By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Two decidedly different routes, one familiar destination. The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers collide again for anywhere from four to seven games, each convinced – or at least hoping – that its course was better.
For the Pacers, the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed, the trek through the first two rounds was grueling. Seven games against an Atlanta team that, in matchups, zagged wherever Indiana zigged. Six games against a Washington squad that was feeling feisty and playing with house money. The Pacers survived both but earned few style points, while getting a little embarrassed both times.
“There are lessons there,” coach Frank Vogel said in a pregame session with media. “It doesn’t matter how we got here – we’re here. But I think everything you endure throughout a season impacts who you are as a basketball team. I think those experiences, understanding that being at home doesn’t guarantee you anything, that helps you. Feeling what it’s like to have our backs against the wall in the Atlanta series, that helps us.
“So I think, if anything those two series have helped us and we’re ready to go.”
Miami had it simpler, cutting through Charlotte in a sweep and needing just five to put down Brooklyn. That means maximum rest for a group whose two Larry O’Brien trophies in 2012 and 2013 probably mean more, in terms of who’s favored in this round, than their No. 2 status in the East bracket.
But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has reminded his players all season their resumes won’t win them a game in the 2014 playoffs. And the last thing on Miami’s minds is rushing through this round in anticipation of a fourth consective trip to The Finals.
“That can’t be your mentality when you go into it,” Spoelstra said. “That’s actually the exact opposite of what you want to be concentrating on. If you’re going into a series trying to say we’re going to end this quickly, bad things will happen, and you’re focusing on the wrong thing.
“We have to focus on just the immediate challenge, and for us right now, that’s Game 1 on the road. It’s the first time we’ve had to do this in this playoff run. We understand we’re going into a place that’s tough to win. Our guys embrace that type of challenge, but it’s different.”
Heat star LeBron James, addressing his usual pregame glut of media folks, echoed Spoelstra in focusing on the moment, here and now. “We weren’t entitled to be here in the second week of May,” James said. “We had to play. We had to go through the process to get to this point. So we had no sense of entitlement.”
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann contributed to this report.