NEW ORLEANS -- The focus shifts the moment Sunday's NBA All-Star Game concludes.
Once the final buzzer sounds, the Miami Heat will turn attention to the team most believe has the best chance to end their three-year string of appearances in the league finals.
The Indiana Pacers.
The only remaining suspense for the regular season is if the Heat will catch Indiana for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
"They're first in the East," center Chris Bosh said. "We pay a lot of attention to them. We feel you have to know your competition. I'm a fan of the game. I check out everybody, especially if you're on top. If I flip through the channels on League Pass, I'm going to watch it, see what they're up to, see what they're doing, how they're feeling, if they win. I'm sure they do the same for us."
The Pacers have a two-and-a-half game lead entering the final stretch. The teams meet twice, with both games expected to weigh heavily on the postseason seeding. The Pacers have made it no secret they are playing for the best record in the Eastern Conference to avoid dealing with a Game 7 on the road.
Last year the Heat clinched a berth in the Finals after beating Indiana at home.
"It's real important," Pacers guard Paul George said. "We don't feel like because we're going to win homecourt it's going to be easy. We just like our chances playing a Game 7 on our floor."
The teams have easily been the class of the conference. They are two of only three teams in the East with winning records. Their closest competitor is the Chicago Bulls, who are 27-25 despite playing with All-Star guard Derrick Rose.
Still, the conference is generally considered a two-team race.
"I'm just looking forward to seeing what we're going to be able to accomplish down the stretch," forward LeBron James said. "And then we'll see where we put ourselves with the Pacers. It's a hell of a team that they've got down there. Frank Vogel is one of the great coaches that we have in our game. Obviously, Paul George and Roy Hibbert are (at All-Star Game) for a reason. David West is an All-Star. Danny Granger's been an All-Star. We'll just see what happens."
Like Bosh, James said he has paid attention to the Pacers' every move. The teams have split two games thus far this season, each winning on their home floor. Both made recent acquisitions to bolster the frontcourt. Last summer the Heat signed injury-plagued center Greg Oden, who was acquired solely to help them deal with Hibbert.
Indiana countered by signing center Andrew Bynum last month. He has yet to play for the Pacers this season, but is expected to factor in during the playoffs.
"Of course we worry about them," said George, who will play in his first All-Star Game. "We're very aware of what they're doing. We've got to like where we're at right now. But we've got to understand that they're going to go on a run of their own. We just got to be able to match that."
Although they have kept an eye on the Heat, the Pacers are careful enough to avoid focusing too much on their rivals. Hibbert said he's given "very little" attention to Miami, preferring to concentrate on his team.
"We know that they're two-and-a-half games behind us," Hibbert said. "And we just want to win as many games possible to get the No. 1 seed. We've been talking about homecourt since the beginning of the year. That's what we want."
The teams have met in the playoffs the past two years, with the Pacers replacing the Boston Celtics as the Heat's conference nemesis.
"I don't think it's anything more than they're the champs and we want to be the champs," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "I don't think it's a tremendous dislike for them or them for us. I just think they're a great basketball team. We have the utmost respect for them and for what they've accomplished. We hope to be able to accomplish the same things."
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