Pacers, Heat still favorites in East, but they have work ahead of them

Just kidding!

No way are the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat as bad as they've looked the last six weeks, when the presumed Eastern Conference finalists resembled teams that couldn't get out of the first round of their local rec-league playoffs.

Three-peat? The Heat has had trouble winning three games in a row since early March.

Indiana has gone 10-13 since March 4, failing to top 100 points 17 times and stumbling its way to that regrettable 23-point first half against Atlanta. When Pacers center Roy Hibbert spoke of "selfish dudes in here" late last month, he presumably meant teammates who wanted to hoard missed shots.

Miami has been nearly as dreadful. The Heat are 11-13 since March 4, with Dwyane Wade sitting out nine games because of a strained left hamstring and active players wearing pained expressions during losses to the lottery-bound Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers.

In the good news department, when the Pacers and Heat played each other late last month … somebody had to win! Indiana emerged with an 84-83 victory that might have meant something had the Pacers not lost their next three games.

Miami went on to win six of its next 10 games before Coach Erik Spoelstra decided to start resting starters prior to the playoffs, leading to a pair of losses to end the regular season.

Everyone who figured it would be Pacers versus Heat in the conference finals — i.e. 99.9% of prognosticators — might eventually be right, but it's not going to be the idle stroll toward Biscayne Boulevard long envisioned.

Indiana must figure out how to score again to get past Atlanta in the first round after the embarrassment of the Pacers' last game against the Hawks. Miami could face Brooklyn, which went 4-0 against the Heat this season, in the conference semifinals.

Given the way things have gone recently for the Heat and Pacers, getting to the conference finals is suddenly no joke.

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