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Game #76: Miami Heat (41-34) vs. Indiana Pacers (28-47)

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The countdown to the playoffs is on and with just 7 games remaining on the Heat's schedule, tonight's game in Indiana could end up being their most difficult.  Despite trailing 8th place Toronto by 9½ games, the Pacers are playing some very good basketball of late.  They have won 6 of their last 7 games against mostly poor teams, but they do have wins over Utah and Charlotte in the last couple weeks. 

While Jermaine O'Neal has missed the last two games dealing with a hyperextended right knee, guys like Joel Anthony and Michael Beasley have stepped up to give the Heat a needed boost.  Jermaine could return to the lineup on Friday to face his former team, but the confidence boost that Anthony, Beasley and even Udonis (who has been a downright beast for the past month) should be riding will benefit the entire team. 

For the Pacers, their best player has been playing pretty amazingly during their recent run of wins.  Danny Granger is averaging 31.3 points, 5.3 boards, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals over his last 7 games.  He has struggled against the Heat this season though, averaging just 15.0 points on 22% shooting in the three games (all losses) against Miami.

Coming into this season, the Heat had lost 14 straight games at Conseco Fieldhouse.  They snapped that streak early in the season and have been dominant against the Pacers in each game this year.  They have won each game by a minimum of 13 points, and the last two games they've won by more then 30.  Jermaine O'Neal has done a good job against his former club, averaging 17.0 points (on 62.9% shooting), 8.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in the 3 games. 

GAME NOTES

  • J-O tested his knee on Thursday before the Heat practiced, but still remains questionable for tonight's game.  I imagine that he'll work out with the team during their morning shootaround and then see how it feels when they return to Conseco Fieldhouse for the game at night. 
  • Another guy playing well against the Pacers this season is Dwyane Wade.  He's averaging 29.7 points on 55.4% shooting, with 4.3 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.6 blocks in the 3 games. 
  • Indiana has won 8 straight games at home, and are looking for their first 9-game home win streak since the 2002-03 season. 
  • A win will give Miami their first season sweep over Indiana in their franchise history. 
  • Just a happy reminder, the Heat is on a season-long 6 game winning streak and has won 12 of their last 15. 
  • Pacers guard T.J. Ford (groin) is listed as questionable while forward Tyler Hansbrough (ear) and center Jeff Foster (back) are both out. 

Tipoff from Hoosier-ville is set for 7pm.  A win could potentially bump the Heat into 5th place, as Milwaukee plays at Charlotte tonight as well.  Either way, with those teams playing against each other, a win is uber important for Miami.   Lets go Heat!!

UPDATE: Jermaine O'Neal will miss his 3rd straight game tonight and will likely sit out tomorrow night in Minnesota as well.  Considering how well the Heat have been playing, even without J-O (and his history of knee problems) its no surprise that the Heat are being cautious with him.  The most important thing right now is that the team is at full strength when the playoffs roll around.