The rivalry has simmered for a year.

Now the stakes are even higher.

After defeating the Indiana Pacers in a bitterly contested six-game series in last season's Eastern Conference semifinals, the Miami Heat now will face the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, a series that opens Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. at AmericanAirlines Arena, for the right to advance to the NBA Finals.

A year ago, Heat-Pacers in May translated into everything from a throat-slashing gesture by Indiana guard Lance Stephenson to violent flagrant fouls from Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough and Heat forward Udonis Haslem to suspensions for the Heat's Haslem and Dexter Pittman. And all of that came after Pacers coach Frank Vogel went into that best-of-seven series accusing the Heat of flopping.

Now, not only are the stakes higher, but the level of competition, as well.

Not only have Indiana's Paul George and Stephenson made major strides this season, but since last season's playoff meeting the Heat have added the shooting of Ray Allen and the inside presence of Chris Andersen. Beyond that, Heat center Chris Bosh was forced out for the balance of the Pacers series in Game 1 last season with an abdominal strain.

The Pacers advanced with a 106-99 victory Saturday over the New York Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, eliminating the Knicks 4-2, taking one game longer in the Eastern Conference semifinals to finish off New York than the Heat required to finish off the Bulls with Wednesday's closeout 94-91 victory.

"Indiana, they're going to do what they're going to do," Bosh said. "They're more of a bigger team, classic style basketball.

"I think Chicago prepared us better for anybody."

The Pacers appreciate the challenge ahead.

"It's gonna take this effort times two," George said of facing the Heat after finishing off the Knicks. "We're going to have to come out and give it our best shot. We know how tough they are and how tough they play at their house, their building. We've got to stick to our principles, defense first."

For his part, Vogel is downplaying the challenge.

"They're just the next team that's in our way," he said of the Heat.

Even with victories in 45 of their last 48 games and an 8-1 record this postseason, with seven of those victories by double figures, the Heat believe there still is another level that can be reached, that may have to be reached against the Pacers.