Heat vs Pacers Game 7 is Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET

lebron james

As the final horn in a Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers was sounding, LeBron James walked toward several of his Miami Heat teammates to shake some hands and share a couple of quick words.

His message was clear: Get ready for Game 7.

Here comes the ultimate game. To the winner, a trip to the NBA Finals. To the loser, an offseason loaded with regret. It’s that simple now for the champion Heat and the confident Pacers, who meet in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night in Miami—a perk the Heat earned by finishing with the league’s best record this season.

“Each and every year there are 30 teams that would love to be a part of this, to have one game to advance to the NBA Finals,” James said. “And there’s two teams that’s in this position. And it’s something that you can’t substitute, this feeling. You can’t substitute the atmosphere that we’re going to be in on Monday night for both teams. We should all cherish this moment.”

When it’s over Monday, only one club will be cherishing the outcome.

For the Heat, it’s a chance to move into the finals for the third straight year and keep hope alive of winning a second straight title. For the Pacers, it’s a chance to cap what would surely go into the books as one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history, considering that they finished 16 1/2 games behind the Heat in the regular season.

None of that matters much now. The Pacers have beaten Miami five of nine times this season. They need a sixth, or else it was all for naught.

“It is a closeout game and an elimination game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our approach right now is not if we lose we’re out—our approach is if we win, we get to the finals. And that’s what we’re going for. We’re going to give our best shot and try to win the Eastern Conference championship.”

Monday’s winner will open the NBA Finals on Thursday against San Antonio.

Reported by Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press

On the court, though, Hibbert has had nothing to apologize for, dominating play inside while the Heat are struggling in countless ways.

Dwyane Wade’s sore right knee - which has been an issue for about three months now - is not getting better anytime soon, and he’s stopped even wanting to discuss how it’s affecting his game. Chris Bosh said he needed to get back in the gym Sunday and regain some lost rhythm. Wade is averaging 12 points on 32 percent shooting in his last three games, Bosh just 6.3 points on 24 percent shooting in that same span.

”Just got to come out and play to win,” Wade said. ”It’s one game for both teams.”

Said James, when asked about the other two parts of Miami’s Big Three: ”I mean, we can state the obvious. They’re both struggling.”

They’re hardly the only Heat players who picked the wrong time of year to go into a slide. Ray Allen is shooting 13 for 46 in this series, Shane Battier is at 2 for 16, and they’re a combined 9 for 39 from 3-point range against the Pacers.

Reported by the Associated Press

The Heat did not hold a formal practice on Sunday, but Bosh, who has scored just 19 point in his past three games, arrived early to AmericanAirlines Arena to study film and dissect any area of his game that might help him improve his rhythm, which is conceded on Saturday “just seems off.”

“It’s been like that the whole series,” Bosh said Saturday night. “And now I have to go find it. I’ve got 48 hours to do that.”

Bosh is shooting 23.8 percent (5 of 21) since Game 4. His counterpart, Pacers center Roy Hibbert, is shooting 72.5 percent in his past three games while averaging 23 points per game. Hibbert scored 11.9 points per game during the 2012-13 regular season.

“I have to get back in the gym and work on my game,” Bosh said. “That’s about the only thing that will help me now.”

Bosh has scored in single digits in each of his past three games (seven, seven, five). It’s something that hasn’t happened since his rookie season. On Sunday, Spoelstra took the blame for Bosh’s lack of offense.

“That’s on me,” Spoelstra said. “I’ve got to get him in spots where he can be comfortable and feel comfortable. One of the greatest strengths about all of us is we own it. The players and staff alike have been through situations where we’ve failed.

Reported by the Miami Herald