LeBron James blew past a yellow-shirted defender, deked another
with a dazzling behind-the-back dribble and threw dunk a
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.”