Reigning NBA champions the Miami Heat are on the verge of a third consecutive NBA Finals berth, but the Indiana Pacers plan to spoil the repeat bid in the Eastern Conference final that starts in Miami today.
The Miami Heat, sparked by regular season Most Valuable Player LeBron James and playmaker Dwyane Wade, have the home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series to decide who will face the Memphis Grizzlies or the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
However, the Pacers promise a formidable test for Miami, having beaten them in two of three regular-season meetings. Each team won on their own home court, with Miami having now won six of their past seven home meetings with Indiana.
The Pacers figure to be underdogs, but Indiana coach Frank Vogel is focused upon his own team rather than dethroning the defending champions.
“When you’re in the final four, you’re competing for a championship,” Vogel said. “They are the next team in our way. That’s how we’re approaching it.”
That comment stirred the emotions of James, who saw it as an insult to their champion status and 66-win season.
“We’re not just another team,” James said. “He said we’re just another team in their way. We’re a great team. If we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. You have to prepare for us. We’re a great team. We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them.”
That prompted Vogel to respond on the Pacers’ Web site on Monday.
“Sorry sports world, the words ‘just another team’ never came out of my mouth,” Vogel said. “Great respect for LBJ and the champs. Looking forward to [a] great series.”
It was not the first time Vogel had aroused the tensions of the Heat ahead of a playoff matchup.
Miami and Indiana met in the second round of last year’s playoffs and ahead of that series Vogel called the Heat the “biggest flopping team in the universe.”
After the Pacers seized a 2-1 lead in that series, Miami rallied to win the next three games and advance.
“This is not about getting back at Miami,” Vogel said.
“We’re not satisfied with where we’re at. We feel like there is no ceiling on this team this year and we are looking forward to the next series,” he said.
James said the Heat would be prepared for whatever the Pacers have in store for them.
“We’re ready for whatever,” James said. “I believe it’s going to be like last series. They’re going to try to put me on the floor, maybe. Be physical with me, maybe. I don’t know. Every team kind of does the same thing. They kind of read what everyone else talks about: ‘You have to beat up the Heat to beat them.’ We’ll see.”