The Miami Heat can only hope their attention-grabbing play on opening night travels when they visit the snake-bitten Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.
The Heat came right out of the chute with a 40-point first quarter and stunned the Milwaukee Bucks 137-95 on Thursday night in Miami, scorching the defending champions with 53.1 percent shooting and 15-for-35 accuracy on 3-pointers.
Many of the usual suspects — Tyler Herro (27 points), Jimmy Butler (21) and Bam Adebayo (20 with 13 rebounds) — spearheaded the assault, but equally impressive was newcomer P.J. Tucker, who posted a team-best plus-31 in 22 minutes in his Heat debut after leaving the Bucks as a free agent over the summer.
“(Tucker was) definitely the biggest reason why we won,” Adebayo insisted after the win. “He only had eight points, but he had the highest plus-minus. To me that shows a lot about his way to impact winning …
“Seeing him coming off of a championship and also wanting to be in the trenches, wanting to fight, wanting to get that ‘W.’ Most guys, I feel like would’ve been like, ‘Nah, man, it’s cool, whatever.’ But P.J. has that dog mentality; you can definitely see he’s a part of the kennel.”
Tucker will draw the matchup on Pacers star Domantas Sabonis in his encore performance.
Sabonis had 28 points to go with nine rebounds and seven assists when the Pacers completed a nightmarish two-game road trip to open the season with a 135-134 overtime loss at Washington on Friday night.
Interestingly, the Pacers have opened with the same two teams they faced in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament last May. On that occasion, they beat Charlotte to stay alive before seeing their season come to an end at Washington two nights later.
Those games were each decided by 27 points.
The rematches were a mostly different story, except for the same sad flight home.
Sabonis misfired on a short jumper just before the horn in a 123-122 loss at Charlotte on Wednesday in a game the Pacers led for 34 of the 48 minutes.
Two nights later, his dunk in the first minute of overtime triggered a 6-0 Pacers burst to start the extra session, before the Wizards rallied to send Indiana to a second consecutive one-point defeat.
Myles Turner, a popular name in trade rumors over the offseason, exploded for 40 points to complement 10 rebounds in the loss at Washington.
It’s early, and the Pacers have no wins to show for it, but the early returns on the Sabonis-Turner tandem have been positive.
“Always the burning question here in Indiana: Can me and Domas play together? From a personal standpoint, I think we can,” Turner predicted on the eve of the season. “It’s just a matter of putting all the right pieces in the right places, just a matter of (coach) Rick (Carlisle) being able to do that, and I think he can.”
The road team won all three Heat-Pacers matchups last season, with Miami taking a 92-87 win in its only trip to Indiana in March.