- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI – LeBron James insists he's not concerned about his safety on the court, but does vow to brace for even more hard fouls Thursday in Game 6 of what has become a brutally physical playoff series against the Indiana Pacers.
“It may have gotten to that point. For me, it's always at that point,” James said Wednesday after the Heat wrapped up practice and prepared to travel to Indiana. “I'm always in protect mode. For me, in the playoffs or the regular season, there are teams trying to go for me. It's happened. I'm not saying guys are playing dirty, but certain guys say if you hard foul LeBron, get him off balance, he'll stop being aggressive and things like that.”
After winning consecutive games to overcome an early 2-1 series deficit, the Heat are looking to close out the Pacers in Indiana and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season. But James and his Heat teammates know they'll likely have a fight on their hands - maybe even literally, considering how rough the play has gotten in the series over the past few games.
Punishment was doled out by the league Wednesday when reserve Heat center Dexter Pittman was suspended three games for his hard foul on Pacers guard Lance Stephenson in the final seconds of Tuesday's game. Heat forward Udonis Haslem was also suspended one game (Game 6) for a flagrant foul on Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough.
Another byproduct of this rough series is that James and Heat guard Dwyane Wade have attempted 46 and 45 free throws, respectively, through five games against Indiana. What already had been an especially physical series through the first four games turned ugly during the Heat's 115-83 victory in Game 6, which included three flagrant fouls – included the two by Haslem and Pittman that clearly seemed to have been committed in retaliation for earlier actions and antics.
James, who won his third league MVP award this season, said even the threat of suspensions might not drastically alter the rugged tone of a series that has included a total of 234 personal fouls, five conduct-driven technical fouls and four flagrant-1 penalties. James also said he's been a target for hard fouls throughout his nine-year NBA career, and doesn't think the Heat-Pacers series is any different.
Check out the video above to watch James react to the storylines entering Game 6 Thursday at Indiana.
19hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
3dDan Le Batard