Heat know road to the NBA title goes through Miami
Good news for the Miami Heat: They're the only team still unbeaten at home in this year's playoffs. Better news for the Heat: To win the NBA championship, they only need to stay that way.
And here's perhaps some sobering news for the Heat: Every other team left in this postseason is 1-0 on Miami's home floor this year.
So if there's a reason for Miami to be more cautious than celebratory, that's it. Yes, winning Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals in Chicago came with a bonus - the road to the title now goes through Miami, which wrested home-court advantage from the Bulls and would also have it in the NBA finals against either Dallas or Oklahoma City.
Still, just getting into the driver's seat is a source of pride for Miami, for obvious reasons.
''We beat the best team in the league on their floor and now the pressure is to keep home-court advantage - and that's extremely important,'' Heat forward Chris Bosh said Friday. ''So, yeah, if we defend home-court from here on out, you can do the math.''
Game 3 of the East finals, which are knotted at 1-1, will be played Sunday night in Miami.
The advantages that come with being at home are many, and most are easy to figure out: Familiarity with the court, encouragement from the crowd, sleeping in own beds.
There's intangibles as well, and even the players involved can't quite figure all of them out. Since he turned pro, Dwyane Wade's career regular-season winning percentage at home is .674 (186-90). But when the lights get playoff-bright, that percentage rockets up to .800 (32-8).
Why? Anyone's guess.
''That's a great question,'' said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who has been with Wade for all those past playoff games in Miami. ''I can't really say. Maybe because there's less home games in the playoffs, less chances to lose, maybe. I think our home crowd has always upped the ante in the playoffs.''
The Heat are 6-0 at home so far in the playoffs. Dallas' loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday night was the Mavericks' first defeat at home in seven games there this postseason.
Of course, there's also a flip side to this home-court-edge stuff - that being this deep in the playoffs, the road team is clearly good, too. Chicago is tied with Dallas for the NBA's top playoff road record at 3-2, having allowed more than 89 points in only one of those five games.
Plus, the Bulls won at Miami on March 6, rallying from a 12-point deficit to prevail 87-86 in their lone regular-season visit. And starting from that weekend, Chicago is 14-3 away from home - easily the top mark in the league over that span.
But the Bulls also insist that winning in Miami nearly three months ago will mean very little on Sunday night.
''Far away. So far away,'' Bulls guard and reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose said Friday, asked how long ago March seems now. ''But I know we're all anxious to play. These days, you just have time to think about what you did wrong in the game, what you did right, analyze the game when you're at home.''
LeBron James sees it the same way.
He's said it often in recent weeks - home-court advantage guarantees nothing, a lesson he learned often when he was with Cleveland. The Cavaliers were the East's top seed last season, and the NBA's overall No. 1 seed in 2009, coming away without a title both times.
''There's no time for an exhale,'' James said. ''We're in the conference finals. We understand that this team is a very hardworking team and they're coming to try to steal home-court back. We've done some great things on our home court in this postseason and we'd like to continue to do that. Our fans deserve it.''
Having ''Something to prove'' was the Heat marketing slogan for the 2008-09 season, yet it still rings true for Miami, especially in these playoffs - first by getting past Boston, then bouncing back from a 21-point loss at Chicago in Game 1 of the East finals.
Now the Heat are back at home, and no one needs remind them that, against the NBA's elite, they were sometimes less than stellar there this season.
The home loss to the Bulls essentially ended whatever hope Miami had of securing the No. 1 seed in the East. Losing by two points at home to Dallas in December wrapped up the Mavericks' seventh straight season sweep of the Heat - naturally, not including the 2006 NBA finals. And a 96-85 defeat against the Thunder on March 16 was Miami's only double-digit home loss in the last six months.
''We can't take it for granted,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ''This is a possession series. It really is. Even when we were down by 23 in Game 1, it was still in the balance in the third quarter. ... It's a series of runs, a game of runs, a game of endurance, there's not a lot of room for error on either side. So we have to continue to grind.''
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed from Chicago.
Tim Reynolds can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds