LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were not carrying “Help Wanted” signs around the Miami Heat practice floor on Wednesday. The mood was not grim, voices were not hushed and scowls were not prominent.
The way the Heat see it, their series with Indiana begins anew Thursday night. And the Pacers sound like they agree.
Indiana will play host to Miami in Game 3, after grabbing home-court advantage away from the reigning East champs with a 78-75 win Tuesday in perhaps the most offensively baffling night in Heat history — when, for the first time in the franchise’s 24 years of existence, only two players scored more than five points in a game.
Just about everyone wearing Heat colors struggled, and James and Wade both misfired on key chances in the final moments.
The Pacers were hardly scoring juggernauts either. Still, Indiana was good enough to knot the series, and head home with even more confidence than the ample amount they brought to the start of the matchup.
“Our goal is not to come in here and try to put up a good fight or whatever,” Pacers forward David West said in Indianapolis on Wednesday. “We’re trying to win the series. We’re competing to win the series.”
The Pacers got everything they wanted in Game 2.
Instead of the get-out-and-go style that the Heat prefer, Indiana turned Tuesday’s matchup into more of the ground-and-pound variety. Pacers coach Frank Vogel calls it smash-mouth basketball, and others may just call it plain old ugly. But it suits Indiana just fine, and unless Miami gets at least one win on the Pacers’ floor, Vogel’s team will pull off something that few people might have thought possible.
“We’ve got to keep our edge,” Vogel said. “We understand that we feel good about who we are as a basketball team and that we can win this series. But that means nothing. We’ve got to do it in between the lines.”
James had 28 points in Game 2, Wade had 24. The rest of the Heat had 23, the offense sorely missing Bosh, who’s out indefinitely — the rest of this series is all but certain — with a strained abdominal muscle.
“We’re confident and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “We can do it. We know we can do it. But it’s not going to be easy. So we’ve got to go in there, we’ve got to be armored-up and we’ve got to be ready to go.”
Miami missed all but one of its 16 tries from 3-point range, is 1 for 22 from deep in the series, and lost for the first time in its last 14 playoff games at home against East opponents.
So now, the Heat will have to advance the difficult way.
“It’s going to be fun,” said James, the three-time NBA MVP who’s averaged 28.2 points on the road in playoff games in his career, the best mark of any active player. “It’s what the playoffs are all about. At the end of the day, you’ve got to try to win on somebody else’s floor. And we look forward to going up there.”
James wore one of the “MVP” headbands the Heat gave out in his honor to fans at Game 1 during Wednesday’s practice, Wade answered light-hearted questions about his fashion sense and why gaudy eyeglass frames are all the rage across the league these days, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sounded far from downtrodden when talking about what he saw on the tape of Game 2.
In short, the Heat insist they’re not panicking after one loss, even though it brought back memories of playoff failures from a year ago.
It was Miami’s lowest scoring total at home in the “Big Three” era, and down the stretch the Heat just couldn’t get a point. In Miami’s final seven possessions, James took only one shot, getting blocked by Paul George. He passed the ball twice on the play where a layup try from Wade hit the rim with 16 seconds remaining.
He had an assist on one possession, missed two big free throws on another with 54.3 seconds left, and did not get a touch on three of those trips.
“At the end of the day, I was satisfied with my performance and trying to help us win a ball game,” James said. “That’s all that matters.”