Heat's goal is health, not top seed


MIAMI -- Ask LeBron James to rank where beating the nemesis Indiana Pacers on Friday to reclaim the East's No. 1 seed would fall on the current to-do list and it'll land short of his top spot.

Heck, it might not even make his Mount Rushmore of team priorities right now.

At least, that's the story he's sticking with at the moment.

"It's not about controlling our destiny with the No. 1 seed," James insists. "We want to get healthy. That's all we care about, man, going into the postseason healthy. We've got more problems as far as health issues than the No. 1 seed. And if it happens, it happens. We're going to be excited to get the postseason started. But that's the least of our worries right now."

Reading between those lines isn't necessary to discover the crystal-clear message. The only thing more annoying and aggravating for James than the threat of the Pacers is the reality that Miami is a week away from postseason play and still faces unresolved issues when it comes to the team's health.

How the Heat (53-25) approach Friday's game against Indiana (54-25) could reveal a lot about just how much they value the pursuit of home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. Ironically, in the West there are three teams with impressive records -- the  Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies -- in a dogfight just to claim one of that conference's final two playoff spots.

Meanwhile, in the East, there's been a "take it or leave it" attitude toward the No. 1 seed between the two top teams.

While the Pacers gave their entire starting five the night off during Wednesday's victory against Milwaukee, largely due to mental fatigue, the Heat were without as many as four rotation players for Wednesday's loss in Memphis because of lingering injuries or illness.

After losing three of their past four games, including setbacks on consecutive nights to Brooklyn and Memphis, the Heat did not practice Thursday. Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and Greg Oden (back soreness) haven't played since the March 26 loss in Indiana, with both missing the past eight games and set to miss Friday night's contest, too.

Twice in recent days, coach Erik Spoelstra suggested Wade was on the verge of returning to play. Instead, Wade was either held out by the training staff or opted to sit out as a further precaution.

Chris Andersen, who is a game-time decision against the Pacers, has been in and out of the lineup the past week with a sore back and knee pain, and Udonis Haslem has been away from the team this week while battling a stomach virus similar to the illness that recently knocked Ray Allen out of action for nearly two weeks. Haslem is expected to play tonight.

With four games remaining in the season, is it worthwhile to try to bring key players back and push for the No. 1 seed? Or would the more prudent move be to continue to hold them out, especially Wade, in hopes that another week of rest and recovery is best for the banged-up defending champions as they begin their quest for a third consecutive championship run?

Is it about the Pacers or the bigger picture?

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