The Miami Heat have not lost two games in a row since January, a streak they will try to maintain when they face the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals Thursday night. Down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, a loss would put the Heat in the untenable position of needing to beat the Spurs three games in a row to secure their second straight championship.
The day after their blowout loss in Game 3 (the worst margin of defeat since the Big Three joined forces in Miami), Heat forward and reigning MVP LeBron James again vowed not to put on as bad a performance as he did Tuesday.
"I'm putting all the pressure on my chest, on my shoulders to come through for our team," he said.
In Game 3, James shot 7 for 21, scoring 15 points. He has not scored more than 20 since Game 7 of the conference finals, his longest such streak all season.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, knowing his team has responded well to losses in the playoffs, did not reveal any worry regarding James. "Look, we have great confidence from our guys and their ability to bounce back and respond in a big way," Spoelstra said.
"And that's all our focus is the next 24 hours — how do we prepare ourselves to play our best game of the series tomorrow night. That's the only thing that matters. LJ has proven himself enough in this league and on the biggest stage. He is going to ... he'll be better."
The Heat need more from James, but they would also like to see their other starters get more involved. Mario Chalmers missed all five of his shot attempts on Tuesday, and Chris Bosh shot 4 of 10. Dwyane Wade fared better (shooting 7 of 15) but could only get to the free throw line twice, a sign that like James, he is not driving in the paint enough.
On defense, the Heat have to limit San Antonio's propensity to find an open shot from 3-point range. Miami's biggest weakness is that a patient team can pass the ball around long enough, and Miami's defensive rotations will eventually create an open look.
This allowed Danny Green and Gary Neal of the Spurs to hit 13 3-pointers, allowing San Antonio to win despite another low-scoring night for their star triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
If Miami is to win Game 4, it needs to keep Green in check, and continue to thwart Duncan. It would also help for the Heat to stop giving San Antonio so many second chances. The Spurs grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in Game 3, a trend which cannot continue.
Parker seems likely to play for the Spurs Thursday night. On Tuesday he sprained his hamstring. He underwent an MRI Wednesday, which revealed a grade 1 strain. He is listed as day to day.
"I was just hoping it was not a tear," Parker said. "The good news is it's not a tear or a defect. So that's the good news. Now I just have to see how I feel tomorrow."
One change could be in the future for the Heat. ESPN reported Thursday afternoon that Spoelstra is considering inserting Mike Miller in the starting lineup. He would supplant Udonis Haslem, giving the Heat more spacing and potential to shoot 3-pointers. James would likely take Haslem's place guarding Duncan in this scenario.
If Miami loses Thursday, the Heat will face elimination on the road Sunday night. Game 4 tips off at 9 p.m. ET, with coverage on ABC.
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