Fighting the temptations of Miami
Games 3, 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals will be played at American Airlines Arena in Miami, a town that lures visitors to its nightlife.
During the 2006 Finals between Dallas and Miami, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson ordered his players to switch hotels after the Heat won Games 3 and 4 to tie the series.
Johnson said his players had developed a "vacation mentality" and moved them 25 miles north to Fort Lauderdale, away from family and friends who had been sharing the previous hotel. Miami went on to win four straight and claim the series 4-2.
In last year's Finals against the Heat, which the Mavs won 4-2, Dallas players and coaches were booked into one hotel while family and friends stayed in neighboring hotels.
Asked if he was concerned about his players engaging in the Miami nightlife, Thunder coach Scott Brooks deadpanned, “What about the coaches?” before playfully revealing his wife was on the trip.
“I've never had any issues with our guys playing on the road,” Brooks said, not kidding. “They've always been focused. Miami is a great city, there's no question. It's a great environment, but we're here to play basketball. There's only 10 days, two weeks left of the season, then there's plenty of time to vacation.”
Miami guard Dwyane Wade chuckled when reminded what the Mavs did six years ago.
“That was funny back then,” Wade said. “I remember that story, but I think maybe during the regular season a team comes here once and will enjoy it, but not during the Finals. You look at the season and say, ‘Man, there's only 10 days left in the season at best.' I don't think it's a trap. I don't think the urge to want to go out and enjoy Miami is that important right now, especially when in 10 days you can enjoy it as much as you want.”
MY OWN CONCERNS
Miami's LeBron James has been heavily criticized for his fourth-quarter play in the past, but don't ask the Thunder's Kevin Durant what he's seen out of James so far the Finals.
“I haven't really been paying attention to him, to be honest,” Durant said. “As a fan maybe I would look at it, but I'm worrying about what we can do to win a ballgame in the fourth. I can't worry about LeBron or if he wants the ball or anything like that. I'm just worried about our team and how we want to try to do a good job and trying to win.”
You haven't noticed his demeanor or anything?
“No, that's the last thing I'm paying attention to,” Durant said. “I'm just worried about us. I'm sorry.”
The Thunder has been outscored only in the first quarter so far in the NBA Finals, yet the series is tied at 1.
The Miami Heat has outscored OKC 56-37 in the first period. The teams have tied the second quarter of both games (25-25 and 28-28), while the Thunder has outscored Miami in the third quarter (51-42) of both games and in the fourth quarter (60-43) of both games.
Though the Thunder's defense has been suspect in the opening period, Brooks said he also has his concerns about the offense.
“We talk about toughness all the time, at least I do, and one may think it's just about the defensive end, but I always look at it as the offensive (end) also,” Brooks said. “We have to do a better job of setting screens. That's one of strengths of our offense. We set screens, and we shoot a good percentage and score in the paint and we get to the free throw line. But we have to have better screens, we have to be able to come off our screens harder and we have to make the passes on time.”
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said OKC has to “come out and attack first.”
“We can't come out and just keep taking punches and expect to keep bouncing back,” Perkins said. “They came out and were aggressive on both ends, playing more aggressive than we were, so we've got to do a better job.”
GET GOING EARLY
Durant dominated the fourth quarter in Games 1 and 2, combining for 33 points and shooting 11 for 19 from the field. What must the Thunder do to get Durant going earlier?
“I think we've got to do a better job of getting him the ball, and Kevin has to do a better job of getting open and being more aggressive,” Perkins said. “I think he has to ask for the ball more, and we've got to do a better job of getting him open on screens and letting him get to his spots and do what he does.”
Durant admitted he didn't like what he saw on film.
“It was tough to watch, go to the film and look at it and say, ‘Wow, did I really just do that?'” Durant said. “It falls back on me as a leader, so I have to start the games out with a lot of intensity, no matter if I'm making shots or missing shots, no matter if I make a bad defensive rotation, I've just got to start off with a lot of energy.”
GAME 3 IS VITAL
Since the NBA implemented a 2-3-2 format for the NBA Finals in 1985, the team that has won Game 3 when the series is tied at 1-1 has gone on to win the championship 11 times out of 12 instances.
“There's pressure on both teams to win this game,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “But we have home-court advantage now and we want to keep it that way. We know that we're a very good team at home. That doesn't really change anything as far as the expectation of the game. We still have to come out here and do our job.”
Perkins said the Thunder is embracing the challenge of the 2-3-2 format.
“Right now, in order for us to win this series, we got to get a win on the road,” Perkins said. “It's just a good challenge for us. It's hard, and it's supposed to be hard. But at the end of the day, we still just got to go out there and play basketball.”
Miami knows exactly how the Thunder has felt the last two days because in last year's Finals, the Heat lost Game 2 at home and then hit the road for the next three games with an extra day of preparation for Game 3.
“We have to handle Game 3, and I know there's a lot of talk that we don't have to go back there, that we control our own destiny and all that,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That's kind of dangerous if you get too far ahead of yourself. What we have to understand is what they (Thunder players and coaches) dealt with yesterday, what they're probably dealing with today, all the motivation that they'll have to come in (Sunday) very aggressive, and we have to make sure that we're playing as a desperate team here at home, not taking that for granted. That (being at home) does not guarantee anything.”
Heat forward Shane Battier is 9 for 13 from 3-point range in the first two games.
“We've got to avoid the times we just lose him in transition, particularly early in games, which helps him get going,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said of Battier, who has started each game by making his first 3-point attempt. “When we get back, we're kind of lost. Those are the ones we need to cut out. If he gets shots because they drove and kicked it two or three times and we can't get to him, those are a little more acceptable as opposed to the one where we just lose him.”
Does Collison want a shot at defending Battier?
“Yeah, if I'm in there, I'll do it. We've had different matchups on him. We've just got to get a good feel for helping versus closing out. We've been helping, but we haven't been close enough to close out.”
Heat players said the key to Battier's success has been hot starts.
“The fact that he's getting open looks at the rim, that's huge for his psyche and what he does,” Bosh said. “The first couple of times, if you get open shots and they're not contested and they go in, you get a lot more confidence and it doesn't really matter, you don't see the defenders out there. He's really spacing the floor out for us, for me, LeBron and Dwyane and hopefully he can continue to do that.”
Battier is three wins away from joining a rare group of players who have won an NCAA national championship as well as an NBA title. He'd be the rare Duke alum to accomplish the feat.
“As long as I can do something Grant Hill didn't do, call it a day,” Battier said, only half-jokingly. “That's my idol. That's the guy I grew up watching. That's why I wanted to go to Duke — Grant Hill. So anything I can do that Grant Hill hasn't had a chance to do yet, whew.”
Maybe playing on the road for the next three games will be a good thing for the Thunder.
Something about being away from Chesapeake Energy Arena has brought the best out of the Thunder. Oklahoma City is 25-15 on the road this year.
“I think we actually play better when we're on the road,” Perkins said. “At home, I feel like we get too comfortable. I feel like we're too relaxed and feel like just because we're at home that we're supposed to win the game, or we are going to win the game instead of just going out there and attacking. When we're on the road, we have the mindset that we have to go out there and play with some type of force; grind, grit and just go out there and play hard.”
In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston, James shot 10 for 16 outside the paint during a 45-point performance that forced Game 7. In the three games since, he has shot just 4 for 26 outside the paint. … After taking all 11 of his shots outside the paint in Game 1, Bosh took 10 of his 13 shots from the paint in Game 2, making 5 of 10. … Through two games, the Thunder and Heat are tied for points in the paint at 88-88. … After shooting 68.3 percent (28 for 41) from inside the paint in Game 1, OKC shot just 44.4 percent (16 for 36) inside the paint in Game 2.
Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha on how tough it is for officials to correctly make a charging call: “It's very tough, very tough, between the flops that we've been seeing and the regular charges, I think it's a tough call to make. But sometimes it goes that way, sometimes it doesn't.”