Originally created 05/06/04

Well-rested Pacers face surging Heat in Round 2



INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal couldn't help but smile while watching the Miami Heat prevail over New Orleans in a grueling first-round series.

"They're looking tired," O'Neal said Wednesday. "They had a tough, physical series with New Orleans and that's kind of what we wanted. We wanted those guys to beat up on each other and when they see us, we throw 10 or 12 guys at you that can really play."

The Heat finally finished off the Hornets with a Game 7 win on Tuesday, giving them just one day to prepare for the top-seeded Pacers. Game 1 of the second-round series is Thursday night.

The Pacers, on the other hand, have had an 11-day layoff since wrapping up their first-round sweep of Boston way back on April 25.

"Coming off an 11-day break, I'm not worried as much as I am curious as to how we'll respond," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "I know we'll be anxious and I know we'll be ready to play hard. I just have never been through a situation like this, so we'll have to wait and see."

Indiana will be well-rested, but could be rusty as well.

"We got rest, that's for sure," O'Neal said. "But the plus that they have is they've been playing. They have a rhythm."

Miami is riding strong play from Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Dwyane Wade and a 16-game home winning streak into the second round.

When asked if he took some time to celebrate the first-round win, Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said, "You don't have time right now. I thought I'd get to rest, but as soon as I laid my head down, all I could think about was, 'Oh my gosh! What are we doing on Jermaine O'Neal? What are we doing on Ron Artest? We've got to keep (Reggie) Miller off the 3-point line."'

Both teams are in the second round for the first time since 2000. The Heat clearly are elated to be in the position after starting the season 0-7.

"I'm just happy that we are able to go to Indiana and play," said Heat guard Eddie Jones, one of the few veteran contributors. "I'm just happy to be in the second round. It's been a long ride for me. Just to be there right now is a dream come true."

The Pacers, meanwhile, see this as simply the next step.

"We really think we're supposed to be here and we feel like we're supposed to win a championship," O'Neal said. "Anything outside of winning a championship isn't really civilized for us."

The Heat will be looking to jump on the Pacers early, hoping to catch them off guard after their long break.

"Right now, we're going in as tremendous underdogs," Wade said. "All we've got to do is go up there and play well and steal one game. We're just gonna go out there with tremendous confidence and a lot of energy."

Among the Pacers' chief concerns is allowing the young Heat to get confidence early in the game.

"We can't leave no doubt in their minds," O'Neal said. "We have to go out and say, 'OK, they can't win this game."'

On paper, O'Neal might be right. The Pacers have beaten Miami nine straight times, including all three regular-season meetings this year. But Butler and Wade missed time in their meetings this year.

"The core of our guys weren't together," Wade said. "And guys have been playing well for us of late. That means a lot for us and gives us tremendous confidence."

Among the key matchups in this series is defensive player of the year Artest against Butler and Odom, and O'Neal against Jeff Foster.

The Pacers have a decided edge in size in the frontcourt and on the bench. Carlisle said he will play as many as 10 players in the series, while Van Gundy used just a seven-player rotation for much of the New Orleans series.

None of that matters to Miami.

"Every time you play on the court, you step out there and you expect to win," Odom said. "You're going to have to play your best game, and it's going to come down to the last quarter, to the last couple of possessions."