The Miami Heat are on the verge of a third straight trip to the NBA Finals. They visit the Indiana Pacers Saturday night with a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Miami knows the moment. The Heat faced the exact same scenario in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, eliminating the Pacers in Game 6 on their home court.
"We're desperate, too," Heat forward and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James said Friday. "We're desperate to get back to the NBA Finals. So both teams are desperate in their own sense of they're trying to keep their season alive and we're trying to advance."
Miami has not been able to string two wins in a row the entire series. Indiana collapsed in the second half of Game 5, allowing the Heat to run away in a 30-12 third quarter.
But then again, Miami looked unstoppable during their blowout win in Game 3. Indiana returned serve in Game 4, totally disrupting Miami's offensive flow.
"You can't start thinking about opening up the invitation," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about the possibility of another berth in the Finals. "That's over there. You can't even think about that."
Miami center Chris "Birdman" Andersen will not play, as the NBA suspended him for Game 6 after reviewing his Game 5 altercation with Tyler Hansbrough. Andersen knocked Hansbrough to the floor, then shoved him when Hansbrough got up to confront him.
He was awarded a flagrant-1 foul, and the league has upgraded it to a flagrant-2 (which would have resulted in ejection had it been called during the game).
He has given the Heat quality minutes off the bench, shooting 15 of 15 and averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds per 30 minutes. With Andersen out, Joel Anthony could get major playing time for the first time in the series.
But Miami still has LeBron. Even with Dwyane Wade slowed by a sore right knee and Chris Bosh in a slump, the reigning MVP can still give the Heat what they need to win. James propelled Miami's attack in Game 5, scoring or assisting on 25 of the Heat's 30 third quarter points.
That third quarter was preceded by a fiery halftime speech from veteran Juwan Howard (who has played all of 51 minutes this season for Miami), then another from James before the Heat took the floor.
"His purity, respect level, the credibility that he has, it resonates with our guys and specifically it resonates with the guys in the locker room," Spoelstra said of Howard. "They hear what he says. It means something. And it was raw communication. We're at that point right now where it has to be real, has to be raw, has to be eye-to-eye. These are desperate times. There's no looking back. It's either us or them."
James said Friday that he couldn't even remember specifics of some things he had yelled the previous night.
"Absolutely not," James said. "You just let the game speak for itself, I guess."
The Pacers will have their backs to the wall, and will likely try to set up center Roy Hibbert for shots near the rim, as they have throughout the series. The Heat did not exactly limit Hibbert (or Paul George or David West) in Game 5, but held the rest of the Pacers to 13 points on 25% shooting.
But the Heat are strenuously avoiding a letdown on Indiana's home court.
"The close-out game," Heat forward Shane Battier said Saturday, "is always the toughest."
Game 6 tips off at 8:30pm ET, with coverage on TNT. Win, and Miami will open the NBA Finals at home against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.