The Miami Heat can avoid fueling any fire set by the Indiana Pacers only so much. Though LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and their teammates hold their expressions steady and craft their comments around savvy "it's just another game talk," the most obvious of facts make their home game against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday quite significant.
Behind closed doors, the Heat are ready to get revenge.
The extension of a 17-game winning streak is on the line. So too is a chance to finally beat the Pacers after dropping the first two games this season to Indiana, in Indiana. In fact, the Heat's last loss dates back to -- you guessed it -- a Feb. 1 loss to the Pacers.
The Pacers, dating back to last season, have been the less idle personality, the little brother yapping in the big brother's ear to get under the Heat's collective skin. And so far, it's worked. Indiana's two wins came by way of games played in their slow-down, defensive style. The best team in the NBA in defensive ratings at 98.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com, Indiana is also in the bottom-five in pace.
Its two wins came during a 87-77 slugfest on Jan. 7, then in a 102-89 victory on Feb. 1. The former came despite the Pacers shooting an abysmal 36 percent from the field themselves. The latter saw the Heat shoot 47 percent, yet Indiana came out with a win anyway.
Simply put, the Pacers' defense has put them in positions to win in any situation against a Miami offense that scores at the league's second-best rate at 112.4 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Will that trend stand up once again on Sunday?
Wade's world, Hibbert's rejuvenation
The matchup between James and Paul George, as usual, holds the most intrigue. But both the Pacers and Heat have gotten a leg up of late, in part, because of others.
Quietly alongside James, Wade has been putting in one of his most solid few weeks of basketball in a long while. The often banged-up guard is averaging 25.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 59 percent from the field over the last 10 games. Wade hasn't scored less than 20 points since a Feb. 21 game against the Chicago Bulls.
It's a major reason why the Heat have been so good.
Meanwhile, the Pacers have seen a resurgence from center Roy Hibbert, who struggled offensively for most of the season with a wrist injury. Of late, he's been more efficient, shooting 55 percent over the last 10 games and blocking 3.2 shots per game over that span. Hibbert is shooting just 43 percent from the floor on the season.
Indiana's elder statesman, Danny Granger, was once the ringleader in the Pacers' jawing with Miami during last year's heated playoff series. But following his return for five games after sitting out with a knee injury, the Pacers forward was shut down for the time being and won't be available to add any fire to the brewing rivalry between the two squads. He will be reevaluated this coming week.
Time: 6 p.m. ET
Odds: Miami opened as a 10-point favorite.