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LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drives against Carmelo Anthony #7 and Steve Novak #16 of the New York Knicks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 3, 2012 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Those Heat-Knicks series of the late 1990s always went the distance, momentum seemingly turning with every game.
This chapter appears headed toward a much different conclusion.
The Heat have a 3-0 lead, and any momentum the Knicks have enjoyed lasts mere minutes. Miami will go for the sweep Sunday, with the Knicks trying to force a Game 5 and end the longest postseason losing streak in NBA history at 13 games.
"Our backs are against the wall and we are desperately trying to make a series out of this, and the only way to do it is we've got to win Game 4 to force Game 5," Knicks interim coach Mike Woodson said. "And our fans deserve a win and this organization deserves a win, so we've got to go out and give it all we can."
Miami and New York met four straight years from 1997-00, all going to a decisive game and the Knicks winning the last three of them. This series has none of the testiness or tension of its predecessors, with the Heat outscoring the Knicks by 20 points per game.
Yet the Heat expect a challenge they haven't seen yet in this series.
"It's going to be very tough," veteran Udonis Haslem said. "Obviously, they're a lot of veteran guys. They've got a lot of pride. At one point, Game 3 could have went either way. The score didn't reflect how close it was at one point. We've got to understand what it took to get that win and understand it'll be even tougher come Sunday."
Amare Stoudemire is a game-time decision after taking part in the Knicks' light practice Saturday. Woodson said Stoudemire was able to rebound and catch with his left hand, which is still covered by padding after he badly cut it punching a fire extinguisher case following Game 2.
That was the closest game in the series. Miami took the opener by 33 points, then won by 10, and turned a two-point lead after three quarters into an 87-70 victory in Game 3 on Thursday when LeBron James scored 17 of his 32 points in the final period.
The Heat have outscored the Knicks by an average of 97-77 in what could go down as one of the most lopsided sweeps ever if Miami finishes it off Sunday. Orlando beat Atlanta by 25.3 per game in a 2010 second-round series, and the only other four-game sweep with an average margin of more than 20, according to STATS, LLC, was when the Lakers routed San Antonio by 22.3 per game in the 2001 Western Conference finals.
Woodson was the Hawks' coach in that 2010 series and wasn't retained afterward despite a 53-win season. So it's only natural he'd worry about a bad last impression before the Knicks decide on his future, even after leading New York to an 18-6 mark after Mike D'Antoni resigned.
"Sure I do," he said. "Again, I don't want this record to continue. I want to see our guys experience what a win is like in playoff basketball and we got one more opportunity to do it here at home in front of our fans, and I'm going to push guys to be ready and try to play at a high level and play over 48 minutes, because we haven't been able to put one of those 48-minute ballgames together."
The Knicks briefly led by double digits in the first half of Game 3, but otherwise it's been all Miami. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all shooting above 50 percent, while Carmelo Anthony is 22 for 64 (34.4 percent) in the series.
The Heat had it fairly easy for three games in the first round last year, too, before being forced to play a fifth after Philadelphia beat them with a 10-0 run to win Game 4, which Wade said taught his team to never relax.
"We're just trying to come in, take each game as its own game at a time and not look at it like we're up 3-0," he said. "This is the fourth game. We've got to come in and play this game. And you can't think about anything else. After that, if we take care of business and do our job, then we get some rest and get ready for the next series. But it's a big game and we've got to approach it that way."
Anthony said the Knicks remain confident, even though no NBA team has overcome a 3-0 deficit. They were swept last year by Boston, and their last playoff victory remains Game 3 of a best-of-five series against Toronto on April 29, 2001.
"Not winning at all, it hurts," Anthony said. "I feel that, I go home at night, I think about that. But right now my focus is for tomorrow. Them three games is behind us, and tomorrow is all we've got."
The Knicks are used to early playoff exits, but it was something Tyson Chandler didn't want to think about after winning the NBA title last year with Dallas.
"It won't sit well," he said. "(If) you get swept, it's embarrassing because you've come in and you weren't able to get a game from a team. So I definitely don't want to go out like that."