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How Pacers explained, shrugged off loss to Heat and No. 1 seed battle; Heat, Dolphins chatter

After this resounding 98-86 Heat win over Indiana Friday, the most interesting place afterward was the Pacers locker-room, if only to see their players sit in front of their locker stalls staring morosely into space, trying to explain what has shockingly happened to them over the past month.

Here was the best they could do, after losing for the eighth time in 11 games, and 13th in their past 21:

### David West said “we had no energy and intensity tonight.” Asked why, he said: “I got no clue. No answer for that.”

More West: “We haven’t played well enough to be the top seed. We got what we deserve, I guess.”

### Lance Stephenson: “Whatever God put us at, I feel like if He puts us in the second place or if he puts us in first place, we got to live up to the challenge. I like us as underdogs and us coming after people. I feel we’re better as underdogs.”

### A couple Pacers starters chose to dismiss the ramifications, with the Heat now ahead by half a game in the race for the top seed in the conference.

“Now the No. 1 seed is not in our hands we’re perfectly fine with that,” Paul George said.

And George Hill said: “It doesn’t mean anything. It’s one loss. It would’ve helped us but it doesn’t mean anything.”

### And then there was Roy Hibbert, speaking barely above a whisper, trying to explain why he didn’t even take a shot in the first half (despite the six-inch height advantage over Udonis Haslem, who did more good work against him) and why he didn’t get his first rebound until just over three minutes remained in the third quarter.

“I’m disappointed in my play,” he said. “I felt good. I’ve got to do something on the boards. I’ve got to get long rebounds and work on that.”

He said he didn’t want to force shots in the first half “and we were in a rhythm. We were taking all good shots. I was fine with it. I wasn’t worried about shot attempts.”

But in the next breath, he said, “it was tough getting into a rhythm” offensively “in the second half,” suggesting it was a byproduct of him not taking any shots in the first half.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of Hibbert: “We have to get more from him and break their defense as well as box them out.”

The Heat had a 40-31 edge on the boards. Hibbert closed with five points (2 for 7 shooting) and one rebound in 33 minutes.

Paul George (22 points) shot 7 for 17 with four turnovers.

George Hill didn’t attempt a shot in 32 minutes.

Stephenson (11 points) had four of the Pacers’ 16 turnovers.

“Having 10 turnovers in the second half cost us in the third quarter,” Vogel said. “It was too much for us to overcome. I don’t think we played that bad, other than the third quarter.”

The Heat opened that third quarter on a 16-0 run, then ran off a 9-0 spurt to open the fourth.

“It’s still a good basketball team," Vogel said of his reeling group. "Overall, we feel very confident.”

### Chris Bosh, on the Heat’s approach with Hibbert: In the past, “we were allowing him to get too many easy dunks and layups. That was really hurting us and it got him going. Today we were able to stay between him and the basket and make his catches in the paint tough.

“We want to challenge him every time and test his conditioning level. If he is going to be down there every time, we are going to make him work. I think before we were trying to avoid putting him in pick-and-roll situations, and today I think we just attacked him a lot more.”

### LeBron James, who had 36 points and six rebounds, said: “The best thing about tonight is we didn’t force passes” and commit turnovers (just nine overall).

He said “for us, it’s big” to win because of earlier losses this week. But “it’s not as big as everyone wants to make it.”

Asked about the No. 1 seed, LeBron again downplayed it, saying: “It’s more important for us to play the right way. The No. 1 seed doesn’t guarantee you a playoff series.”

And LeBron showed respect for the Pacers, saying “they have their record for a reason. They are going to be there.”

### Since the Pacers own the tiebreaker by virtue of a better conference record, Miami (54-25) would need to finish 3-0 to claim the No. 1 seed IF the Pacers (54-26) beat both visiting Oklahoma City and Orlando on the road to finish out their schedule. The Heat's remaining games: at Atlanta, at Washington and home to Philadelphia.

DOLPHINS NOTES

### New Dolphins receiver Damian Williams said Miami broached the issue of being a return man during his visit Thursday. But he would be an underdog in that competition with incumbent Marcus Thigpen.

Thigpen ranked 18th in the NFL in kickoff returns last season, averaging 22.5 yards per return. He ranked 19th in punt returns with a 7.8 average.

In his career, Williams has returned four punts for 12 yards, and five kickoffs for 129 yards.

### The Dolphins worked out 50 players during their local day today, the majority from UM, FIU and FAU.

### Clemson tackle/guard Brandon Thomas had planned to visit the Dolphins before tearing the ACL in his knee during a recent workout with the Saints.

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