SAN ANTONIO — Early the night of June 15, LeBron James will gather his Miami Heat teammates around him and offer a few final words of wisdom before they try to extend their reign as NBA champions.
James never rehearses the speech, but already knows what the gist will be.
“It would be in the range of, ‘Why not us?'” James said. “Why not us? History is broken all the time. And obviously we know we’re against the greatest of odds.”
Against the greatest of odds, against maybe the greatest of San Antonio Spursteams, too. Both are very much against the Heat now, and both are winning. The Spurs are a victory away from their fifth championship, and will go for it at home June 15 in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
The Spurs are the 32nd team in NBA history to hold a 3-1 lead in the finals. All 31 of the previous teams have won the title.
“History is made to be broken, and why not me be a part of it? That would be great,” James said. “That would be a great story line, right? But we’ll see what happens. I’ve got to live in the moment, though, before we even get to that point.”
The Spurs have the same way of thinking.
They took command of the finals in stunning fashion by not just winning in Miami, but winning twice — and winning big. San Antonio won Games 3 and 4 on the road by a combined 40 points, never trailing by more than two in either contest and running out to 25-point leads in each.
“We’ve got to act like we’re coming into it like it’s a road game,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “It’s a mentality thing. We have to come up with the same mentality we do on the road and try to protect home court and play with desperation.”
There was no talk from the Spurs about closing in on a title, or anything remotely close to that topic. They thought they had it wrapped up with 28 seconds left in Game 6 last season against Miami and saw it slip away — so even with a 3-1 lead and being at home instead the road for this potential clinching situation, it’s pretty clear that San Antonio isn’t willing to leave anything to chance.
“They’re going to come out and give us their best punch possible,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said.
“We know that they’re back-to-back champs and they’ve been in this situation before and they have all the confidence in the world that they can win these games. So we have to do just the same. Come out there and say, hey, we’re going to take it little by little, quarter by quarter, and see what happens.”
That all sounds good, and he meant every word.
Thing is, the Heat — these Heat, anyway — haven’t been in this situation before. Since James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up, the Heat have never trailed 3-1 in a series.
“We’re not so entitled or jaded that we’re above having to fight for it, and that’s what it is right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s competition. So we’ve got to find a way to fight and get this next game, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Miami took a day off Friday. Mario Chalmers played with his son, James watched some film and rested at home, Udonis Haslem tried to relax with family. Wade, who missed nine of his first 10 shots — raising questions about his health — went a different way.
He went into the gym, by himself, looking for answers. “I have very good reason that everything could change,” Wade said. “As I continue to say throughout the season, it’s a game-to-game thing.”
Wade was down 2-0 in the 2006 finals, and trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of that series against Dallas. The Heat won that championship in six games.
“You have to pull from your experiences,” Wade said, “and know where you came from to know where you’re trying to go.”
That also applies to the Spurs.
Losing the last two games of the finals last year still stings San Antonio. That series was portrayed widely as the Spurs’ last hurrah — an aging team with old stars, there’s no way they could come back from something as devastating as letting the 2013 championship slip away, right?
The Spurs finished with the best record in the regular season, and are one win shy of just being the best team, period.
“Whatever success anyone has is due to a lot of factors,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Some of it is not even your doing. Sometimes things just happen. So success is a pretty complicated thing.”
So are comebacks. But James is eager for the chance. “For me, it’s like you either don’t make the playoffs or you win a championship,” James said. “There’s no in-between.”
(TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer)