Aside from a one-point victory over the Miami Heat last week, the top-seeded Indiana Pacers have found themselves in a downward spiral. Indiana followed up its win over the two-time defending champions with double-digit losses to the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers. By contrast, Miami has done its job, blowing out the bottom-dwelling Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks since the disappointment in Indiana. If nothing else, these wins signify a heightened level of focus for a Heat team that has played down to the level of its competition. To do it while extremely shorthanded is another plus.
Now the Heat and the Pacers are equal in the loss column, with one more meeting left on April 11 in Miami.
The Heat have a chance to move within a half-game of the Pacers tonight in a home matchup with the Toronto Raptors. But the Raptors have quietly put together a nice season since the trade of Rudy Gay to earn a respectable 42-31 record. And Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Greg Oden all missed this morning's shootaround and are listed as doubtful for tonight's game.
The good news for Miami? Mario Chalmers participated in the shootaround and is listed as a game-time decision. And the Heat still have LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and the significance of this game should encourage Heat players from top to bottom to play well.
The fact that both Wade and Allen -- the Heat's two shooting guards -- will most likely sit out hurts Miami, though. DeMar DeRozan seemingly always plays well against Miami -- he's averaged 20.6 points in games against the Heat since Chris Bosh left Toronto. DeRozan is 6-foot-7 with long arms, so the Heat probably can't use a backcourt of Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole and Toney Douglas tonight.
And the Heat signed Oden to defend the bulkier centers in the NBA, like the underrated Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas shot 7-for-8 from the field in Miami's last meeting with Toronto Jan. 5. Chris Bosh, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem will have to work to get him out of the paint and make him defend on the other side of the court. Haslem could earn himself into a starting position by the playoffs if he continues his solid play. If he can rebound, defend and hit the open 15-footer, he has an advantage over the foul-prone Oden.