Despite 3-1 series lead, Heat know they must play better

MIAMI — Urgency. Desperation. Prideful. Home territory.

Take away the context of postgame audio from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals and one might think the discussion was about a wounded animal.

Even up 3-1 in the series against the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat’s toughest task still awaits.

How does a defending NBA champion combat an unraveling team with one last-ditch effort to salvage its season? A group of players not keen on losing again to the very champion it secured home-court advantage over during the regular season?

"It’s going to take a better game than we had tonight," LeBron James said following Monday’s 102-90 win over the Indiana Pacers. "It’s that simple. You have to get better every game. Their back is against the wall, but we have to go in with that mindset that our back is against the wall, too."

Interesting, considering Miami led by as many as 23 points and committed a postseason-low seven turnovers in a game it never trailed.

All series long, coach Erik Spoelstra has stressed the Heat’s goal of striving to achieve its best game. When playing a team over several matchups, it is critical to "crack the code" and encourage a collective honesty. Adjustments take time and effort.

"Naturally you’re going to get incredible urgency and desperation coming from their side with their backs against the wall, and that’s the only thing you have left is to play as if you have no tomorrow," Spoelstra said on Tuesday afternoon before leaving for Indianapolis. "That’s something you not only try to match but have to exceed it, and that’s the human condition, the collective challenge of being able to get to that point.

"For us — I want to focus on trying to get to our best game. (It’s) not about closing them out, not about moving on, not about any of that. Just compartmentalize and can we push forward to have our best game of the series?"

Since dropping the opener, the Heat have won three in a row. Not pleased with the disparity in performances between them and the Pacers in that game, they analyzed what went wrong, particularly a lack of competitive disposition.

Twice — last year and in 2011 — Miami has strung together four straight wins after losing Game 1 to the Chicago Bulls. Two years ago, the Heat did the same thing to capture the title over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"We understand the moment," Dwyane Wade said following Monday’s win. "We’re never going to say we don’t. But kind of as I said after the game, we also understand that you have to get to four wins before you can move on. So we have to complete that task. We feel we’ve been playing good basketball the last three games, and we want to continue that."

Miami is 13-3 in closeout games since the 2011 postseason, the most such wins in basketball during that period. The Heat are 8-0 when up 3-1 in a series.

With a fourth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals on the line, the veteran Heat squad looks to tame the young but talented Pacers on their home court.

"I think part of that is perspective of understanding how hard it is to beat a team," Spoelstra said. "How hard it is through experience to get to that last game and how competitive it usually is. Usually you learn through experience, so our team has gained some maturity over the years."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.