The Indiana Pacers have virtually no chance of catching the Eastern Conference leaders, but they still have plenty at stake.
Coach Frank Vogel hopes his team remembers that when it seeks a fourth straight home win on Wednesday night facing the injury-plagued Minnesota Timberwolves.
Looking to end Miami's 17-game winning streak and sweep the three-game season series, Indiana (39-24) lost 105-91 in South Beach on Sunday to fall nine games behind the Heat.
The Pacers are now 9 1/2 back, but they're four up on second-place Chicago in the Central Division race and percentage points behind the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks for the No. 2 spot in the East.
"We've got to win the Central Division first then try to get the two seed second," Vogel said after Tuesday's practice. "We've got to take care of every game."
If any of the Pacers were overlooking the Timberwolves (22-39), watching them rout West-leading San Antonio 107-83 on Tuesday should have caught their attention. Minnesota has been without Kevin Love (broken right hand), Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain), Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf), Malcolm Lee (right knee) and Chase Budinger (knee), so it wasn't about to apologize for beating a Spurs team missing Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard to injury.
The Timberwolves had lost eight of nine before point guard Ricky Rubio posted his first career triple-double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.
"He's had that effort, but we had so many people step up tonight and it really made a big difference," coach Rick Adelman said.
Minnesota now has a chance to win back-to-back games for the first time since winning a season-high four straight from Dec. 7-15.
The Timberwolves are also eyeing their first sweep of the Pacers since 2006-07 after Budinger's layup with 0.8 seconds left gave them a 96-94 victory on Nov. 9.
Budinger, who led Minnesota with 18 points in that game, hasn't played since tearing his left meniscus Nov. 10 in Chicago. However, he said Tuesday that he's been cleared to resume practice with no restrictions.
Love could also be nearing his first action since Jan. 3 as he's scheduled to meet with his surgeon in New York on Wednesday.
Pekovic is expected to miss a seventh consecutive game, while Kirilenko's return after sitting out the last seven is unlikely.
"They're limited obviously, with their injuries, but that really doesn't matter in this league," Vogel said.
Indiana isn't without injury concerns of its own. Danny Granger has been out the last three games with a sore left knee and will miss at least the next three.
Pacers point guard George Hill, who scored a season-high 29 points in the November loss, will face Rubio for the first time. The Wolves guard has missed the last two games against Indiana due to a torn ACL, while Hill did not play against Rubio - who had 10 points and six assists - in Indiana's 109-99 win at Minnesota on Feb. 1, 2012, due to a sprained ankle.
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- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Chase Budinger
- Ricky Rubio
- Andrei Kirilenko