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.