Pacers and Heat open Eastern Conference title series in Indy

( - The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat both completed their destinies and will meet in the Eastern Conference finals, starting Sunday afternoon at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It will be a rematch of last season's conference championship, which was won in seven games by the Heat. However, last year's Game 7 was in South Beach and that won't be the case if this series goes the distance. The two teams split four regular-season meetings with the home team prevailing each time.

For the entire regular season, Indiana and Miami ran over the Eastern Conference. The two sides were bunched closely in the standings until the Heat basically conceded home-court to the Pacers when they rested LeBron James and some other stars down the stretch.

"Two best teams in the Eastern Conference, that simple," said James. "Two very good teams, two teams that have worked all year to get to this point. Two teams with the same aspirations, to hoist the NBA championship."

The Pacers were terribly inconsistent the last two months of the regular season and the Heat weren't much better. The two teams built such a commanding lead in the conference that their positions were never threatened, but as the playoffs have progressed, the Heat have looked like the two-time champs and the Pacers have been an enigma.

Miami opened the postseason with a four-game sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, aided by the fact that Al Jefferson, Charlotte's beast in the middle, hurt his foot. The Pacers needed seven games to best the under-.500 Atlanta Hawks and had to come from behind in Game 6 on the road.

In the semifinals, the Heat had a competitive series with the Brooklyn Nets, but won in five games. The Pacers were challenged by the Washington Wizards and won in six.

"How we struggled down the stretch, and took a lot of criticism, that means nothing, that's behind us and this is where we wanted to be, at the conference finals and a chance to move on," said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.

The Pacers know how to beat the Heat. Their size should be a major advantage, but Roy Hibbert has to play well. Indiana is 5-0 this postseason when he scores 10 or more points. Problem is, the Pacers have played 13 postseason games and he's had two zero-point, zero-rebound efforts in the playoffs.

Hibbert is only averaging 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in the Pacers' two series. Paul George has been sensational with averages of 21.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists.

Miami is still driven by the Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Based on contract outs, this could be the last ride of South Beach's immortals, but the team is 13-0 all-time in the postseason when this future Hall of Fame trio scores 70-plus points.

James, the MVP runner-up, has been his usual remarkable self, averaging 30.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 4.7 apg. Wade, who has been in and out of the lineup all season because of injuries and rest, is posting good numbers as well, scoring just a shade under 18 points. Bosh is at 14.6 ppg and shooting 51 percent from 3-point range.

Home court shouldn't mean too much considering the Pacers are 3-4 at home during the postseason. The Heat are a perfect 5-0, but both teams are riding four-game home winning streaks against the other.

Game 2 will be Tuesday night in Indianapolis.