What's at stake in the final Heat-Pacers game of the regular season

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat host the Pacers on Friday night, and the winner has the inside track at the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have taken turns giving up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. On Friday, the two teams will get together for the fourth and final time in the regular season in a game that will have a major say in who gets that top seed.

The Pacers long held the top seed in the East, but their late-season collapse made it look certain the Heat would nab it instead. But Miami has lost two straight games and three of four, leaving the door open for Indiana. The Pacers are currently a half-game ahead of the Heat, although the teams are tied in the loss column.

Indiana could take a major step in locking up the No. 1 seed if it beats Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday night. A victory would give the Pacers a 3-1 season-series victory, giving them the tiebreaker advantage. Their magic number to clinch the conference would be down to one. A tough game at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder remains, but Indiana's season closes out against the Orlando Magic. Even if the Pacers did lose both games, the Heat have games on the road against the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards before closing out the year against the Philadelphia 76ers. A single Miami loss in any of those three games would give the No. 1 seed to Indiana.

Photo credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, a Heat win on Friday would put them in control of their own destiny, but a slip-up in the final three games could cost them. While the season-series would be tied at 2-2, the Pacers would still hold the tiebreaker by virtue of having a better conference record. If Indiana beat Oklahoma City and Orlando to close out the year, Miami would have to win its final three games to get the No. 1 seed. If the Pacers won one of their last two games, the Heat would have to go 2-1 to secure the top seed. And if Indiana lost their last two games, Miami would get the top seed with just one victory.

The Pacers will catch a break on Friday, as Dwyane Wade will miss his ninth straight game with a hamstring injury. Greg Oden is also out with a back injury, while Chris Andersen is a game-time decision with a knee issue and Udonis Haslem is expected to play despite dealing with a bout of the flu.

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