INDIANAPOLIS — As panic ensued along South Beach and the national scrutiny intensified, the Miami Heat decided to chill out.
After the storm, there was silence.
One day after they lost by 19 points and Dwyane Wade lost his cool in Game 3 against a balanced Indiana team growing in confidence and not getting nearly enough credit, the Heat cancelled Friday’s practice and media availability. They stayed back in their downtown hotel to recharge mentally and physically.
Miami needed a short-term escape.
A team that loves the spotlight dodged it for a day.
Trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals and with Chris Bosh unlikely to return in this series, the Heat are in trouble and have two days to regroup before a Game 4 that LeBron James has already deemed vital to the team’s NBA championship chase.
“It’s a must win, honestly,” the league MVP said after Game 3. “We’ve just got to go out and play.”
The Pacers also took advantage of the two-day break between games to rest and recover. They chose not to practice either, but coach Frank Vogel doesn’t have nearly the issues facing Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, whose team appeared to unravel during Thursday’s loss.
As the Pacers pulled away in the third quarter, Wade, having one of the worst playoff games of his career, got into an ugly sideline exchange with Spoelstra. An angry Wade appeared to swear at his coach before brushing him aside and then had to be steered away from the coach’s huddle by several teammates.
“We’ve got a lot of alpha males in this locker room,” said veteran forward Udonis Haslem, who managed to settle down Wade. “It’s all constructive criticism. I don’t think it’s personal with anybody. Emotions get high. It’s the playoffs.”
Spoelstra tried to dismiss the confrontation with Wade following the game, but the damage was done and the sight of one of Miami’s “Big Three” arguing with his coach raised questions about the Heat’s future should they again fall short of a title.
“We’re all connected,” Spoelstra said. “Dwyane and I have been together for a long time, a long time. We’ve been through basically everything. A lot of different roles, a lot of different teams. That really is nothing. That type of fire, shoot, that’s good.
“That is the least of our concerns. Our concern is getting ready for Sunday.”
Wade’s health, however, is a major worry.
The eight-time All-Star is clearly not himself. He’s not making explosive moves to the basket and settling for jump shots that aren’t falling.
He scored just 5 points – his second-lowest output in 95 career postseason games – on 2 of 13 shooting.
He didn’t score in the first half and didn’t adequately support James, who has had to move to power forward with Bosh out with a strained abdominal muscle. If not for Mario Chalmers kicking in 25 points, many coming on aggressive drives, the Heat would have been beaten even worse.
Wade has reportedly been receiving extra medical treatments for lingering leg soreness. He doesn’t have his usual lift, which could account for many of his jumpers being short. He’s never been one to make excuses, and Wade, who missed 17 games this season with assorted injuries, won’t start now.
“At this point of the season, no one is 100 percent,” Wade said, refusing to disclose if he has a serious injury.
To be fair, Wade isn’t the only reason the Heat are in hot water. Miami’s bench hasn’t stepped up. The Heat are 5 of 42 on 3-pointers, and Miami’s front line is being outrebounded by Indiana’s big men, who have thrown their weight around inside.
The Pacers are punishing the Heat.
“We will not back down or take anything from any team,” said forward David West, who has delivered some well-placed elbows into James’ back on defense. “We are not going to be pushed around.”
Center Roy Hibbert dominated at both ends of the floor in Thursday’s win, racking up 19 points, 18 rebounds, five blocks and an unspecified number of alterations. Of all Miami’s problems, the 7-foot-2, 260-pound Hibbert could be its biggest.
The 25-year-old is beginning to put it all together, and his maturity is a major reason the Pacers have risen from also-ran status to contenders this season. Hibbert has been getting tutelage from an unlikely mentor, San Antonio center Tim Duncan, who has been helping him with his skills in the paint and outside the lines.
“We sat down and talked to see how he goes about his business,” Hibbert said of the Big Fundamental. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. I model my game after him. He texts me after every game. I’m very appreciative.”
Vogel was grateful he had Hibbert in Game 3.
“One of the best games I’ve ever seen him play,” he said.
Without Bosh, Spoelstra, who started Dexter Pittman at center in Game 3, doesn’t have an answer inside for Hibbert, who helped the Pacers outrebound the Heat 52-36.
Miami’s next rebound, though, must be to even the series at 2-2 and get back to Florida, where Bosh has remained to get extensive rehab so he can return in the next round.
A loss on Sunday would put the Heat on the brink of elimination, well short of a championship Miami has craved since losing in the finals last season.
While others have their doubts about Miami’s chances, Spoelstra believes his team can bounce back.
“Everything can change in the next two days with a win, and we have a lot of veteran guys who understand that,” he said. “We’re fine and that extra day of rest will help us.”