by Greg Heakes
MIAMI, June 20, 2012 (AFP) – The National Basketball Association finals are a battle of attrition and no team understands this better than the Miami Heat.
All postseason long Miami has been motivated by the memory of last season’s fourth quarter meltdown in game four against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat dropped game four in Dallas, kicking off a three-game slide that cost them the 2011 title.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra says now that they are one victory away from a NBA title they can draw on last season’s failures to help maintain their focus on winning a second franchise title.
“What you see over the years and the history of playoff basketball are the teams that are resourceful, that find different ways to win,” Spoelstra said at Wednesday’s Miami practice.
“You’ve just got to find a different way, because you’re going to get knocked down on the canvas at some point.
“I can’t even count how many times we’ve been punched and hit the ground this playoff run and even the last two games where we’ve been down. But you’ve just got to keep on digging and stay the course.”
The Heat won their third-straight game by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-98 to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series on Tuesday.
Miami could celebrate its first title since 2006 as early as game five at American Airlines Arena. No team leading 3-1 in the NBA finals has ever failed to win the title.
A hobbled LeBron James led with 26 points and 12 assists, role player Mario Chalmers chipped in 25 and Dwyane Wade ground out 25 points as the Heat spoiled a 43-point performance by Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
James had to leave the game with five minutes left with leg cramps, sat out just over a minute and then came back but had to leave again for the final 55 seconds to received treatment while his teammates held on for the win.
In between the spells on the bench, a limping James nailed a three-point shot that proved to be the go-ahead basket, giving the Heat a lead they would maintain for the rest of the game.
Wade was knocked to the canvas several times Tuesday but managed to dust himself off and rejoin the fray.
Wade’s mind has had to be elsewhere at times during these playoffs as he is dealing with custody battle in his personal life. Prior to Tuesday’s game, Wade’s lawyer asked an American judge to suspend his wife’s visitation rights to their two young boys because of a delay in returning them which led to her arrest.
Chalmers usually plays in the shadow of Miami’s big three stars of James, Wade and Chris Bosh, but he was a major factor in game four.
Chalmers had been mired in a two-for-18 shooting slump before his heroics on Tuesday. He scored Miami’s final five points and finished with 12 in the fourth quarter.
“Even though he was struggling offensively he was actually doing some very great things defensively for our team,” Wade said of Chalmers. “Coach gave him some freedom to attack and he had a hell of a game.”
James said at Wednesday’s practice there is still some tightness in his muscles but after treatment he expects to be in good shape by game time Thursday.
“I feel a lot better than I did last night,” James said. “I’m still a little sore because of the muscles being at an intense level, very tight.
“With the game basically being at midnight tomorrow night, I have all day tomorrow to prepare. I should be fine.”
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