Pacers, Heat Have Different Perspectives
December 10, 2013
Paul George headed off the Bankers Life Fieldhouse main court following Tuesday's shootaround, into a mass of media members of both the local and national variety.
“Now we get the media,” he said.
It's December. It's freezing outside. The NBA season still has three-quarters of the way to go. In other words, it's far too early for a statement game, if it's even possible for any one game out of 82 during the regular season to qualify as anything more than throat-clearing. Still, the gaze of the national media and a sellout audience at The Fieldhouse will inject some energy into the Pacers' game with Miami tonight, whether the players like it or not.
The Pacers seem a bit conflicted, saying they're excited about it in one breath and then downplaying it in the next. Paul George's statement was typical.
“Of course we're hyped,” Paul George said following the Pacers' shootaround, looking ahead to their first game with Miami since they were eliminated by the Heat in Game 7 of the conference finals last season. “It's a chance to go head-to-head against another elite team.”
On the other hand …
“We feel we're matched up pretty equally,” he went on. “We've done a tremendous job in our season so far, but we're not going to hang (our hat) on what goes down tonight.”
The Heat? They're cooler. As they should be. When you've won consecutive NBA championships, it's humanly impossible to get hyped about any game in December, even one against the only team with a better record than yours in your conference. At 16-5, they're two games behind the Pacers in the Eastern Conference standings, which might seem enough motivation for them to offer some sort of commentary tonight. Maybe a reminder that they still have designs on winning a third straight title.
Nah. Not really.
“It's too early for statement games,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh, speaking in the quiet monotone of a man who's been there before. “Of course this is a measuring stick for both teams, especially for us. Playing one of the teams that's supposedly our Achilles heel on the road. Best team in the league right now. It's a good test for us. Everybody wants to make it the Super Bowl and everything, but it's December. We're trying to win tonight's game, and win or lose, we're going to move on to the next one.”
The difference between the two teams, other than the number of rings they own and the two games that separate them in the standings, is their approach.
The Pacers have a sense of urgency, having lost Game 7 of the conference finals in Miami last season. They're fixated on earning homecourt advantage this time around, which means taking December games seriously. They're also trying to keep the chip from falling off their shoulder, as George revealed with his muttered comment about national media attention following the shootaround.
The Heat are cool, having won the last two titles. They're fixated on a third one, but know it can't be won now. They lost to Dallas in the Finals three seasons ago despite having homecourt advantage, and beat Oklahoma City in the Finals two seasons ago despite not having it.
They're resting Dwyane Wade whenever his knee feels sore – which might keep him out of tonight's game – and gearing everything toward the playoffs. Homecourt advantage would be nice, but is proven not to be a necessity for them. As for media attention, they wear it like a headband everywhere they go.
“We're trying to get the No. 1 seed, too,” Bosh said. “But it doesn't guarantee anything.
“It's a long season. (The Pacers) are very eager, they're champing at the bit, they want the playoffs to start now. We understand it takes a long time to get to the point to where you need to be playing the correct basketball. We want to be a different team three months from now. We're taking it one day at a time.”
The Pacers have drawn inspiration from last season's 99-76 Game 7 loss in Miami throughout the summer and the season to date. From their point of view, they were just a couple of plays away from winning the game and going to the Finals, despite the final score. George, for one, kept it in mind throughout the summer, when he was working by himself in the gym or running through the mountains in California. People are attaching the “superstar” label to his name now, which he invites, and he credits Miami for inspiring him to earn it.
“This whole year, the reason I've been able to play at this level has been because of the last posteason,” he said. “So much stuff that I could have got better at, I needed to improve in. I really looked at myself in the mirror and took myself seriously.”
The Heat don't have the luxury of chasing a dream. They've already attained it. Twice. They have to find motivation from the mere challenge of winning a third championship, just for the sake of winning it. As Bosh has learned, even that doesn't make the world stop and admire you for any longer than the parade lasts.
“Even if you win the ultimate prize, you're yesterday's news,” he said. “If you're looking for respect, you're never going to get it. That's an empty void you can never fill. You can't worry about respect, you just have to try to accomplish your goals as many times as you can and be happy with yourself.”
For the Heat, this is the last game of a four-game road trip. They want to get Wade healthy for the playoffs, build their bench strength and be in sync when the playoffs begin.
None of that can be accomplished tonight.
“It's not a championship game,” Bosh said.
“A championship game, there's no tomorrow. It's very tough to play like there's no tomorrow when there is.”
Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.
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