The two best teams in the Eastern Conference are set to meet on Wednesday night. The Miami Heat, though, could be without their best player when they host the Indiana Pacers.
LeBron James has played every game in the 2013-2014 NBA season, but that streak is in jeopardy. The four-time MVP is questionable for the contest against Indiana, and a decision on his status might not be made until close to tip-off time. James suffered an ankle injury on Monday and was held out of practice on Tuesday. He told reporters that if a game had been scheduled on Tuesday, he would not have been able to suit up.
"Very stiff, very sore," James said. "Like I said, I've had my fair share of ankle twists. I already knew what it was going to be [like] today. I'm going to be [in] around-the-clock treatment. We've been through this, so we know how to attack it."
Miami will need all the help they can get when facing Indiana. At 18-6, the Heat have the second-best record in the East, trailing the Pacers by two games.
A week ago, the two teams met for the first time this season. James led the Heat with 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but it wasn’t enough to help Miami get the victory. Indiana won by six points, holding James to 6-16 from the field.
The Heat did get off to a hot start, leading the Pacers by 11 at the end of the first quarter. Much of their early success in the game was due to James’s defense on Paul George. The small forward did not make his first field goal until late in the third quarter, finishing the night with 17 points, three rebounds and four assists. James was, largely, able to contain George, who has had a breakout season and is considered among the top MVP candidates.
In last week’s matchup, Roy Hibbert may have been the deciding factor in the outcome. The center led all scorers with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Dating back to last year’s playoffs, the Heat have had trouble with Hibbert, who excels against Miami. The Pacers’ frontline has a tendency to give the Heat problems, who are last in the NBA in rebounding.
Miami sports one of the league’s best offenses, having scored at least 100 points in 17 of their 24 games. Without James, however, that task would become much more difficult. Indiana allows a league-low 90 points per game. Even with James in the lineup, the 84 points they scored against the Pacers was their lowest total of the season.
If James can’t play, the onus would fall on Dwyane Wade, who has battled injuries and missed six games. When attempting to score, Wade has been very efficient, shooting a career-high 53.4 percent from the field. He’s done so, though, by taking his fewest shot attempts since his rookie season. He might not be as effective if forced to put up 20 or more attempts.
Despite James’s uncertain status, the sportsbooks that do have a point spread for the game favor the Heat. The betting line at most Las Vegas casinos has Indiana getting four points.
The Pacers have only been defeated four times, but they’ve had a few big road losses against elite teams. On Dec. 8, they lost at Oklahoma City by 24 points. In November, they visited the Chicago Bulls and a healthy Derrick Rose. Indiana left with a 16-point loss.
On Tuesday, Miami head coach Erick Spolestra wasn’t sure if James would play. According to ESPN.com, Chris Bosh seemed positive that his teammate would be ready to go.
Betting Odds: Miami -4, 190
Prediction: Miami 101, Indiana 92