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March 26, 2014

After three months apart, Heat, Pacers to meet again

MIAMI — Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh has a confession: NBA games at this time of year simply mean more to him than games in December.

Not exactly shocking, of course.

But when so much hubbub surrounded the last game between Miami and Indiana way back on Dec. 18, Bosh wasn’t necessarily buying into the supposed significance. After all, he figured, the season was basically only one-third over at that point.

The Heat and Pacers finally play again tonight. And this time, Bosh knows the buzz is real.

“I know everybody’s trying to make the games important back in December,” Bosh said. “Well, now they’re important.”

The Eastern Conference race won’t be decided tonight, but the pendulum is either going to swing toward Indiana moving considerably closer to the No. 1 seed or back toward the Heat and a chaotic, potentially down-to-the-wire finish. If the Pacers — who have been alone atop the East standings since Nov. 4 — win, they would move three games clear of Miami in the East race. If the Heat prevail, the teams will be tied in the loss column.

And given that these teams don’t like each other, plus have faced each other in extremely hard-fought series in each of the past two postseasons, this probably won’t seem like just another regular-season game.

“Everybody’s getting what they want,” Bosh said.

Neither team is exactly rolling into this matchup. Both teams have lost seven of their last 12 games, meaning the Heat have missed plenty of chances to grab the No. 1 spot, and the Pacers have missed plenty of chances to wrap up home-court throughout the East playoffs.

“We’re just not clicking,” Pacers center Roy Hibbert said after his team lost at Chicago on Monday night. “And we should be clicking.”

The Heat beat Portland on Monday — squandering a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter before doing so — but that snapped a highly befuddling streak of missed Miami opportunities.

Before Monday, the Pacers had lost six games in March. And every time, the Heat either lost on the same night or in their next game, meaning a half-dozen chances to tighten up the East race were squandered.

“As many chances as we had, we kept playing with it, we were struggling, they were struggling, we had our chances,” Bosh said. “We still have our chance with two showdowns with them.”

True, tonight’s isn’t even the last Heat-Pacers meeting of this regular season. The teams will square off in Miami on April 11.

This, though, might be the one that ultimately decides the East. If Miami falls three games out now — the Pacers will have only 10 games left after tonight — that could get the Heat to start thinking about how to rest certain players before the postseason begins. With Dwyane Wade in and out of the lineup often this season, Miami has used 18 starting lineups; the Pacers have used only three.

Wade hopes to play tonight. The Heat said he sat out Monday with an ankle issue; Wade clarified Tuesday that it’s actually a sore Achilles’ tendon, but he was able to practice before the team flew to Indianapolis. And if the Heat can close the gap in the standings, that could be a springboard for the two-time defending champions, who face a slew of sub-.500 teams in the next couple weeks.

“It’s coming down to a photo finish,” Bosh said. “We have a unique opportunity. No matter what’s happened this whole season, we’re within striking distance. It’s here and it’ll be a great playoff atmosphere. I can’t wait.”

Former Terre Haute resident Greg Oden, a 7-foot center, is a member of the Heat. On Monday, he posted four points and three rebounds in about 15 minutes of action in Miami’s 93-91 home victory over Portland.

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