MIAMI — The Miami Heat often make it hard on themselves. So why would anything be different now?
The Heat last year became the first team in NBA history to win a title after trailing in three series. The diciest it got was when they were down 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals before coming back to win 4-3.
Well, it’s another East final, and it’s another Game 7 at AmericanAirlines Arena. The Heat and the Indiana Pacers will break their 3-3 tie Monday night.
“We hate to be in this position, but it’s an opportunity and we look forward to it,’’ said LeBron James, obviously displeased his Heat didn’t wrap up the series Saturday at Indiana, losing 91-77 in Game 6.
At least it’s another chance for James to shine in a Game 7. In three previous such games, he’s averaged 34.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. While James is just 1-2 in Game 7s, the losses came on the road with Cleveland when he didn’t have much help. His Cavaliers fell 79-61 in an East semifinal to Detroit in 2006 and 97-92 to Boston in an East semifinal in 2008, when James scored 45 points.
James got some Game 7 revenge against the Celtics last year. He totaled 31 points, 12 rebounds and two assists in a 101-88 win.
If you get the idea James doesn’t pass as much in Game 7s, you would be right. He’s averaged just 3.3 assists in his three, less than half his career mark.
With so many other Miami players struggling on offense, logic would dictate James picks up a bigger load Monday. But Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Sunday downplayed that notion.
“Whatever it takes,’’ Spoelstra said. “Our best players are going to have to be making big impacts on the game. But we’re at our best and we’ve been our best all season long even under pressure moments when everybody is a live option.’’
Spoelstra said his focus heading into Monday is getting shooting guard Dwyane Wade and center Chris Bosh untracked. The two have struggled mightily the past two games, having combined for just 32 points.
Bosh, who has been bothered lately by a sprained right ankle and has been destroyed throughout the series by Indiana center Roy Hibbert, admits his “rhythm is off.’’ So he might prove a tough chore to get going.
As for Wade, hampered by a painful bone bruise on his right knee throughout the posteason, he’s the longtime face of the franchise and has tremendous pride. One has to figure there’s something Spoelstra can do to make Wade successful.
“I’ve talked to our training staff,’’ Spoelstra said. “He’s out there, he’s ready to compete. There’s no excuses. I’m more focused on what I can do to get him (going). It’s my responsibility to get him in places where he can be aggressive in a Game 7, where he’s at his best.’’
Wade last year was hobbling during the playoffs on a bad left knee that would require offseason surgery. But he was able to step up in a number of games, including getting 23 points, six rebounds and six assists in the Game 7 win over Boston.
“We’ve just got to come out (Monday) and play to win,’’ said Wade, who has averaged 21.5 points while going 2-2 in his Heat career in Game 7s. “I know it’s one game for both teams …. We’ve got guys individually that want to play better, but we got to try to help each other in this locker room.’’
Bosh and Wade are hardly the only problems on offense. Top 3-point marksmen Ray Allen and Shane Battier still can’t find their groove. Allen went 1 of 4 in Game 6 to drop to 7 of 24 for the series (29.2 percent). Battier, shooting a disastrous 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) in the series, didn’t attempt a 3-pointer Saturday while playing just four minutes.
One bright spot, though, was Mike Miller, who was dusted off in Game 6 after having played just seven previous series minutes. He made both his 3-point attempts after being inserted for the entire fourth quarter and would seem to be in line for more time Monday.
“Everything is on the table,’’ Spoelstra said when asked about Miller. “In a Game 7, our guys all understand that anything goes.’’
This will be Spoelstra’s third Game 7 as Heat head coach and seventh since he joined the team in 1995 as a video coordinator and later was an assistant. As the head man, he’s 1-1, the loss coming 91-78 at Atlanta in the first round in 2009.
“We met and talked briefly (Saturday) night right after the game, even as the emotions were raw,’’ Spoelstra said about speaking to his players. “We were all disappointed about letting that opportunity go through our hands, but we’re not above a Game 7 …. They’re special. Arguably, two of the top words in pro sports are ‘Game 7.’ And we have a secondary office of all of our playoff notebooks and preps for every team… The Game 7s, those are the ones that are marked in gold.’’
A Game 7 is lot more fun for a coach if James is on his side.
“I probably won’t be able to relax just because of the excitement of having the Game 7 in our building, the opportunity to go to the NBA Finals,’’ said James, vying for his third straight Finals trip and fourth overall. “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. We should all cherish this moment.’’
Before the Heat get too sentimental about a Game 7, it should be noted this could be a lot tougher game than last year’s that decided the East. Unlike the Celtics, who were old, injured and worn out when they showed up in Miami, the Pacers are young, strong and optimistic.
Indiana has battered the Heat on the boards throughout the series, including outrebouding them by a whopping 53-33 margin Saturday. At least it could help Miami that backup center Chris Andersen will return following a one-game suspension for shoving Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5.
This is a very confident Indiana outfit. Coach Frank Vogel didn’t hesitate to reveal Sunday the Pacers have packed for eight days. That’s how much time they will spend on the road if they beat the Heat and then play Finals games June 6 and 9 in San Antonio.
“We do draw confidence from that,’’ Vogel said about the Pacers generally playing well in Miami during the series, including having won Game 2. “And we believe we can win (in Miami). We believe we can win the series. We always have.’’
Yet the Heat relish the challenge. They often play their best following their darkest playoff hours.