Monday, May 3, 2004
It's poise vs. provocation in series finale
MIAMI -- In the NBA playoffs, insults can be a compliment.
The wily old New Orleans Hornets keep talking trash, tutoring the inexperienced Miami Heat in the ways of the postseason, desperate to rattle an opponent that's younger, faster and perhaps better.
Miami has searched for an answer to the taunts. A victory in Game 7 would do.
The tight, testy, 17-day playoff marathon concludes with a winner-take-all showdown Tuesday, and the Hornets are sure to try the intimidation tactics that helped them even the series at 3-all
by winning Game 6 on Sunday.
"Things are going to get rough out there," Heat center Brian Grant said. "You have to try to keep your composure the best you can."
The weary, bruised series survivor will advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, with the opening game scheduled for Thursday in Indianapolis.
New Orleans-Miami has included the usual playoff pushing and
poking, along with plenty of hard fouls and in-your-face venting,
mostly from the Hornets. In the last two games, officials have
called 11 technical fouls, eight on New Orleans, with one ejection
for each team.
"Game 7 is going to be even 10 times more intense," New
Orleans guard Baron Davis said.
The length of the series has allowed hard feelings to fester.
Bad blood was evident even on Monday's off day, when Heat coach
Stan Van Gundy said he expects the Hornets to stay with the
approach they've used all season.
"They have some guys who are big into the extracurricular
activities, equating that with toughness," Van Gundy said. "You
know, it's pretty easy to hit a guy after a play and call it
"What you have here are some very physical players, and you
have a lot of cheap players. Cheap isn't physical. I can hit
somebody on their way down after a play. That's not physical."
The Hornets have lived up to their nickname by being irksome
pests, and not just because they came back from series deficits of
2-0 and 3-2. Davis enjoys sticking his head into Heat huddles, and
even mild-mannered forward P.J. Brown has gone nose-to-nose with
Lamar Odom and Dwyane Wade.
"That's all in bounds," Davis said. "You're going to talk,
you're going to get confrontational, you're going to get up in
somebody's face. If not, you don't need to be playing in this
Wade acknowledged the tactics have affected the Heat.
"Sometimes it can get to you, and at different times you don't
play as well as you should," the rookie said.
It should be noted that Wade still managed 27 points, seven
rebounds and six assists Sunday. But Odom, the target of
considerable verbal abuse from the Hornets, went 3-for-12 with six
turnovers and six fouls.
"Let them yap," Odom said. "They're just trying to play a
little mental game with us, them being the older team and having
been here before."
While the Hornets are much more familiar with May basketball,
neither team has thrived in winner-take-all games. The Hornets are
0-2, losing to Milwaukee in 2001 and to Philadelphia last year. The
Heat are 2-4 and have lost their last three in a row, all at home
to the New York Knicks, in 1998-2000.
Those results suggest Miami might be unwise to count on the home
court making a difference against New Orleans. Still:
The home team has won every game in the series.
The Heat have won 15 consecutive home games.
Hornets are 0-5 at Miami this season.
The home team has won 70 of the past 85 Game 7s in the NBA.
"This is why we played hard for that home-court advantage _ so
we could have Game 7 at our place," Odom said.
The Hornets will again rely on their superior postseason
experience -- more than 500 games, led by guard Steve Smith's 88.
Grant is the only member of the Heat to play in a Game 7.
"Those guys hadn't been in an elimination game [before
Sunday]," Brown said. "When you're trying to end a team's season,
that is the hardest game to put away."
Both teams will now try to finish off the other, which is why
Van Gundy stood before his players after Monday's practice and
spoke not of bad blood or trash talk but of a moment to savor.
"Guys," he said, "it doesn't get any better than this."