- Associated Press - Monday, December 9, 2013

MIAMI (AP) - In the Eastern Conference, there’s Indiana, there’s Miami, and there’s everybody else.

Or maybe nobody else.

The Pacers and Heat have run away from the rest of the East, and seem destined to meet again in the East finals next spring to pick up where last season’s seven-game thriller left off.

Their first of four regular-season meetings is Tuesday in Indianapolis, where the Pacers are 9-0 this season, winning by an average of 14.9 points per game. In seven of their nine home games, the Pacers haven’t even faced as much as a five-point deficit.

“It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere,” Heat guard Ray Allen said.

Added Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “Indiana’s done a tremendous job so far this season.”

Dwyane Wade’s status for the Heat is unknown; he’s missed six of Miami’s 21 games so far to either rest his oft-ailing knees, or deal with illness. He didn’t play in Miami’s win at Detroit on Sunday night.

Miami toppled Indiana in seven games last season to win its third straight East crown. Including playoffs, the Heat are 9-8 in their last 17 meetings against the Pacers, with an average victory margin in those games of only 2.5 points.

The Pacers are 18-3 this season, the Heat 16-5. It’s hard to envision any scenario where these aren’t the last two clubs standing in the East.

“I don’t really get too much involved in regular-season matchups, especially early in December,” Heat star LeBron James said. “They’re a great team right now. We’re trying to get healthy. We’re trying to get to our full potential.”

Besides Heat-Pacers, here’s five things to watch in the NBA this week:

KOBE’S MINUTES: Kobe Bryant returned to the Lakers on Sunday, his first outing since tearing his Achilles tendon in last season’s playoffs. The Lakers host Phoenix on Tuesday, then visit Oklahoma City on Friday and Charlotte on Saturday. How the Lakers handle Bryant’s minutes in that first back-to-back will be interesting.

CELTIC REUNIONS: The Celtics will see former stars and a former coach this week. They play at Brooklyn on Tuesday in a game that looked huge a couple months ago, given the departures of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, but now is barely noticeable. On Wednesday, Doc Rivers returns to Boston when the Clippers visit the Celtics.

SCORING FRENZY: Houston goes to Portland on Thursday, and don’t expect a defensive struggle. The Rockets are averaging 107.5 points, the Trail Blazers are at 106.2. Fun fact: Portland’s Damian Lillard is shooting better from 3-point range (42.5 percent) than 2-point range (39.4 percent).

ANTAWN 20K: Antawn Jamison is five points shy of becoming the 39th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points. He and the Clippers are in Philadelphia on Monday.

LEBRON VS CAVS: Isn’t it funny how this barely even seems significant anymore? Cleveland visits Miami on Saturday.


STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: The Knicks’ starters combined to score 29 points on Sunday. Carmelo Anthony has scored that many points by himself 77 times since joining the Knicks.

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