After MVP ceremony, it's Game 1 for Pacers-Heat

By Tim Reynolds

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 12 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, left, talks with managing general partner Micky Arison, center, and his son, chief executive officer Nick Arison, as they watch practice Saturday, May 12, 2012, in Miami. The Heat face the Indiana Pacers in the opening game of an NBA basketball Eastern Conference semifinal on Sunday in Miami.

Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

MIAMI — A few minutes before the Miami-Indiana series begins Sunday afternoon, NBA Commissioner David Stern will hit the court to present Heat forward LeBron James with the league's MVP award for a third time.

If the scene goes as Dwyane Wade expects, the moment will be more about motivation than culmination for James.

"His goal is to be the best player at the end of the season," Wade said. "But if he can pick up a little history along the way, I don't think he's mad about that at all."

So the MVP trophy that was awarded Saturday and will be repeated for ceremony's sake Sunday will be put away, and the chase for another — the one presented to the NBA champions — resumes for the Heat.

The reigning Eastern Conference champions open a second-round series at home against the Pacers, who won the last meeting between the clubs in the regular season after losing the first three matchups.

Some of the time leading up to this series was dominated by talk of how the Pacers insist the Heat flop their way into calls from referees, but the verbal jousting never really took off. The NBA noticed, however, fining Indiana coach Frank Vogel $15,000 on Saturday for "comments about how the referees should officiate the Pacers' upcoming series with the Heat," the league said.

And while perceptions might be that the Heat are overwhelming favorites, it certainly bears noting that Miami's 46 wins were fourth-best in the NBA during the regular season — while Indiana's 42 wins were fifth-best, suggesting there might not be as big a gap between the clubs as some might think.

"I feel great," Vogel said Saturday before his team headed to Miami, and a few hours before the fine was announced. "You never know how it's going to go once you get out there, but we're as prepared as we have been for any game this year and I feel good about what we can do."

He should, given the way his club has been playing of late.

Since April 1, counting both regular-season and playoff games, Indiana is 16-4 — the second-best record in the NBA over that span, trailing only San Antonio's 18-2 mark. The Pacers are scoring nearly 101 points on average in their last 20 games, sixth-best in the league entering Saturday's play.

In short, the Pacers — who beat Miami 105-90 in their last meeting March 26 — got hot at the right time.

"I think this is what we all live for," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "Big stage, big moment, playing a team that everybody talks about. It's definitely the place you want to be. ... I don't know if it's about respect. It's about basketball. It's about finding out who's the better team. We're a good team. They're a good team. It's going to be a battle."

Miami doesn't disagree with that assessment.

"They're a much different team in the last six weeks," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We feel we are, too. Watching some of our film from those last two games (against Indiana), it's not really recognizable. Our energy level at that period of time, but also how we were playing offensively — there's a lot of different things from our standpoint."

It will be a different series for the Heat than the first-rounder with the New York Knicks was, for a lot of reasons. Indiana's starting front line of Granger, David West and Roy Hibbert stands 6-foot-9, 6-9 and 7-2, respectively.

In the teams' last matchup, Indiana outrebounded Miami 49-33, with those three players doing much of the damage. Not surprisingly, rebounding has been a point of emphasis in Miami's practices leading up to this series.

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