Last year it was everyone's season long hope that the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. This year, no one wishes that.
The Heat and Pacers face off on Wednesday night for the first time since the departure of LeBron James and the horrific injury to Paul George, the rivalry's two biggest stars. What's on the court will be very different from what we have seen the past three seasons.
The Heat have eliminated the Pacers from the playoffs the past three seasons. Each year the Pacers truly thought they were the better team, and they made that claim vocal, too. But now, the teams couldn't be further apart. The Heat are in the wake of LeBron's departure and are 5-2 on the season. They've recovered and are looking strong. The Pacers have stuttered out of the gate to 2-6 while their entire roster deals with injuries.
On Wednesday, the rivalry will be absent of James, George, David West, George Hill, Lance Stephenson and Ray Allen.
But that doesn't mean the feelings of a rivalry are gone. Chris Bosh recognizes this.
"It's still there. These two organizations have been fighting for a long time to try to get to the top. They still have their core group of guys together -- even though a bunch of them are out right now -- they're still a very strong team, especially when they get Paul back. They're going to be tough and they're going to stay the same organization they've always been." -- Chris Bosh
So what will be the same come Wednesday's match-up? Well for starters the Heat will still have to deal with Roy Hibbert. Hibbert had 29 points Monday against Utah, and he has been a headache for the Heat in the past. The size that he uses to disrupt the rim attack and his rebounding ability has been problematic for Miami. But he will be without his running partner David West, who usually saves his best stuff for the Heat.
Other than that, Luis Scola is about the only other familiar face that the Heat will see. Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, A.J. Price and others are filling in the void.
There's still going to be plenty of distaste from the Miami sideline towards the Pacers, but nothing that is going to lead to any dramatic issues. Lance is gone, and that takes about 80% of the drama out. And the Pacers might be in tank mode, not sure.
So there will be none of this.
And none of this:
And just for kicks and giggles:
Since that is over, there is something to keep an eye on.
You never know when Udonis Haslem will want to start a new rivalry, so you can always watch for that. Tyler Hansbrough is gone, unfortunately. One thing is for certain, there's no way the Heat and Pacers are meeting in the playoffs this season. Simply not happening.
So for this season, or at least for this week's game -- there is no rivalry left. Maybe when David West and George Hill return it might start to feel a little closer to a competition. Because those players have all spent so much time in the postseason against each other it will bring it out. But not now, not while the Pacers are limping from game to game.
One thing is clear: this time around the Pacers are talking a whole lot less.