When the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat meet Wednesday, it’s still likely to be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals.
Only now it’s also a matchup of struggling teams.
Indiana has a three-game lead over the Heat, who suddenly have defensive problems. Then again, playing the Pacers might be just what they need to fix them.
Paul George’s shot is off and Indiana’s offense has stalled. The Pacers were held to a season-low 71 points by Memphis on Saturday, and their All-Star forward had games of 4 of 14, 4 of 17, 3 of 13 and 2 of 10 last week. Indiana had just two assists in the first half of a loss at New York on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to play for each other. We talk about it but we don’t do it,” center Roy Hibbert said. “Until we do that we’re going to keep beating the bad teams and losing to good teams.”
Miami is one of the good ones, but not nearly good enough on defense lately by its own standards. The Heat have allowed 100.1 points per game and 47.5 percent shooting from the field over their last 11 games, losing seven. They had limited opponents to 98.3 points on 45.5 percent shooting in their first 57 games, according to STATS.
“This is new territory for us. It doesn’t make it right, wrong, good, bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “This is what we’re dealing with and this is how you develop championship character, is you have to go through things sometimes and sometimes they come at unpredictable times.”
Both teams are miles ahead of everyone else in the East, so maybe they are just losing concentration. But nobody wants extended lapses this late in the season.
“When you start losing games it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it can wake a group up and get a group refocused going into the playoffs,” said Mike Brown, who coached a pair of 60-game winners during his first stint in Cleveland.
“But in the same breath, you don’t want any doubt in your guys’ heads going into the playoffs, so you hope that you don’t play your worst basketball towards the end.”
Here are five things to watch this week:
SIXERS STINK: This is not how former Spurs assistant Brett Brown envisioned his return to San Antonio. Philadelphia brings a 24-game losing streak into Monday’s game and could break the NBA record of 26 straight losses by the end of the week.
SPURS SURGE: San Antonio has won 13 in a row, most recently while Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili rested Saturday at Golden State, and has the NBA’s best record.
HOW’S HOWARD? Dwight Howard has missed three straight games with a sore left ankle but has returned to practice. Houston could use his defense on Monday against Al Jefferson when it visits Charlotte.
DOMINANT DAVIS: New Orleans All-Star Anthony Davis has scored at least 28 points and grabbed at least nine rebounds in eight straight games, the longest such streak since Shaquille O’Neal did it 12 games in a row with the Lakers in 2001.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: With Duke and Kansas out of the NCAA tournament, NBA teams and fans await the plans of freshmen Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, who would be two of the top picks if they leave school.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Durant, Thunder: 51 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists on Friday in Toronto. Oh yeah, he also made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in the second overtime of Oklahoma City’s 119-118 victory.
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