Sun Sentinel (MCT)
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - This was the undercard, another preliminary fight with limited significance in the greater scheme.
Yes, the Miami Heat exacted a degree of revenge Sunday, pushing past the Detroit Pistons, 110-95, at the Palace of Auburn Hills in the absence of Dwyane Wade, five days after they dropped the same matchup at home with Wade also sidelined.
But this four-game trip never was about Thursday's loss in Chicago, Saturday's victory in Minnesota or even standing up to the Pistons' Sunday size.
It always was about Tuesday, against the Indiana Pacers, the first of four matchups between the Eastern Conference leaders and arguably the first of the only four East matchups that truly will matter this season.
"I'm surprised," Heat forward Shane Battier deadpanned, "the NBA is not wheeling in the Larry O'Brien trophy."
OK, maybe not that big, but undeniably more than just one of 82.
"We understand there'll be big story lines for this game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
As for Sunday night's game, with Wade resting his sore knees, with Michael Beasley sitting out for a second consecutive night due to a sore left hamstring, the Heat got enough from LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, who started in place of Wade, to move on to Bankers Life Fieldhouse back on the upswing.
A night after closing two assists shy of a triple-double against the Timberwolves, James this time closed with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting, nine assists and seven rebounds. Allen added 18 points and Bosh 16 points and nine rebounds.
For his part, James also downplayed Tuesday.
"They've a great team right now," he said of the Pacers. "We're trying to get healthy. We're trying to get to our full potential."
Withstanding 19 points and 14 rebounds from Pistons center Andre Drummond, who went for 18 rebounds in Tuesday's meeting, and shooting lights out to the point where they stood at .647 from the field at halftime and did not have a miss from a reserve until late in the third quarter, the Heat made it 12 wins in their last 14.
While that might not be as hot as the Pacers' season-long sizzle, it is enough to restore confidence no matter the state of Wade's knees or the Heat's uneven rebounding, especially with the Heat's bench, led by Chris Andersen, playing as well as it did Sunday.
"We want to play well on the road," Spoelstra said. "We started off this trip on a bad note.
"We're not there yet. We have to improve," Spoelstra said. "Tuesday is another step."
The perception these first six weeks of the season is that the conference's top playoff seed if more of a priority for the Pacers.
James said Sunday that isn't necessarily the case.
"At the end of the day, I'm not going to sit here and say we wouldn't love homecourt," he said, with the Heat using that Game 7 edge in last season's Eastern Conference finals to eliminate the Pacers on the way to the franchise's third NBA title. "I mean everyone would love homecourt during the playoffs.
"We've been fortunate to have been on both sides of the fence. We've handled both ways the best way we could. But it's always challenging going on the road starting a series."
In other words, the season series with the Pacers very much matters even amid the Heat's perceived nonchalance.
"So for us, as a basketball team, we've just got to try to play every game, try to win as many games as we can and then let the seedings take care of itself," James said.
The Heat, of course, also won in Indiana during those East finals.
"We're capable of winning in any arena," James said. "We know what we can do at home, but you have to win on the road, too, as well. But we're not sitting and saying we don't want home court. We're just saying we can also just focus on each game and at the end of the season, where the seedings place us, we've got to take the challenge."
2013 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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