Heat-76ers Preview

LeBron James blew past a yellow-shirted defender, deked another

with a dazzling behind-the-back dribble and threw dunk a

rim-rattling dunk.

The Miami Heat were nearing the end of a 2 1/2-hour practice

Saturday when James punctuated it with a highlight play. Players

and coaches say they’re focused on the Philadelphia 76ers – a win

in Game 4 at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday would complete a

sweep. Judging by the pace of practice at Saint Joseph’s

University, it seemed they were already gearing up for a showdown

with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

”We don’t look ahead,” James said. ”No one on this team looks

ahead. This series isn’t over yet. We got Philly to worry about. If

we get to Boston, whenever that happens, then we’ll get ready to

take care of business, but I’m not looking ahead to those guys

because we still have to finish what we started.”

The Celtics also have a 3-0 lead in their first-round series

against the New York Knicks. No team in NBA history has ever come

back from such a deficit to win the series.

So, it would take a monumental collapse for the Heat not to play

the Celtics in the next round. The playoff matchup everyone

expected – James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat vs. Boston’s

Big Three plus Rajon Rondo – is almost a reality.

”It wouldn’t be right if Miami and Boston didn’t meet in the

playoffs,” Wade said. ”Everyone is expecting that, but we both

have to finish our business.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he’s watched the Knicks-Celtics

series as a fan, leaving the scouts to analyze and breakdown film.

He wouldn’t even comment on Rondo’s sensational performance – 20

assists – in Boston’s victory in Game 3.

”I’m not letting myself get there,” Spoelstra said. ”We have

enough to take care of right now. If I let my mind drift, my focus

drift, if we start talking about other things, that’s probably the

most dangerous thing we can do. Philly has given us all we can

handle. Right now, I’m looking at what we can do better, where our

holes have been, what they can do to capitalize on it. These first

quarters in two of the three games were not our best. At the end we

had to play with extreme desperation.”

The Sixers outscored the Heat 60-40 in the first quarters of

Games 1 and 3. They raced to double-digit leads in both games only

to apart at the end. No one thought a team that finished 41-41

would seriously push the Heat. Even Philadelphia coach Doug Collins

said he knows the team is considered merely a ”speed bump” for

the Heat. All the Sixers want is to get a win, avoid a sweep and

send the series back to South Beach for one more game.

”We just want, first of all, to get a win at home,” said Andre

Iguodala, a major disappointment in the series. ”The crowd was

really behind the guys. They gave us a lot of support. That’s

definitely our first goal, to win at home. I think the guys have

been motivated from the start, in tuned to what the coaches say and

focused in and really been motivated. We’ve played hard. I expect

that to be the same.”

Effort isn’t Philadelphia’s problem. They’re simply overmatched

against a team that was put together to win an NBA title.

”They’re so athletic,” Elton Brand said. ”If they get a

fastbreak, they’ll finish it. We have to take good shots. We don’t

turn the ball over a lot. We have to turn it over even less.”

The Sixers are a young team with little playoff experience. They

haven’t been intimated by Miami’s superstars, and Collins isn’t

going to let them go down without a fight.

”That’s the good thing about having a young group,” Iguodala

said. ”They just have that natural energy. And they’re just too

goofy to know the situation, so they’re always excited to play the

game. It kind of rubs off on everyone. They’re always wanting to

play another game.”

Spoelstra is quite aware of this.

”This is still a series until you eliminate somebody,” he

said. ”They’re a dangerous team. They’re young enough to not

understand any statistics or anything that’s happened over the

years, 3-0. The way they are, their fabric, they’re gonna keep on

coming. They’re relentless, they’re well- coached, they will not

stop. We will have to earn this victory.”