MIAMI (AP) - This is getting to be a trend for the Miami Heat. A nerve-wracking one for them, sure, but a trend nonetheless.
Go on the road, fall behind in a series, put the championship-or-bust season on the brink of collapse - and find a way to overcome it all.
The Heat landed at home early Friday, possibly disembarking from their plane for the last time this season. Miami resumes play in the NBA Finals at home against Oklahoma City on Sunday night, the start of a three-game homestand where the Heat - if they do what's incredibly difficult in a title series and sweep the middle portion of the 2-3-2 format - can wrap up the franchise's second crown.
"Very excited," Heat guard Mario Chalmers said. "We get to play in front of our home crowd for the first time in the finals and we will be ready."
A Game 2 win at Oklahoma City swung the home-court edge Miami's way. And when the Heat have taken that edge away from their opponent on both previous occasions in these playoffs, they've been ultimately successful in the series.
"Any time you drop a game, especially now, it's not a good feeling, and it stays with you all the way up until you get another chance to redeem yourself," Heat forward Chris Bosh said. "We're pretty familiar with that feeling."
By now, they're also familiar with overcoming that feeling.
- Miami lost Game 3 at Indiana in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, falling behind 2-1 in a series where Bosh was sidelined with a strained lower abdominal muscle and 2006 finals hero Dwyane Wade was laboring with worse-than-usual knee pain. So in Game 4, LeBron James finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists in a virtuoso performance. Miami swept the rest of that series.
- Miami fell in Game 5 at home against Boston in the East finals, going down 3-2 and facing an elimination game on the Celtics' home floor, a place where the Heat had won only once in their most recent 16 visits. James came up huge again, filling the stat sheet with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, the Heat won easily to send the series back to Miami and a Game 7 victory.
- Then in Game 1 of the finals, Miami saw a 13-point lead vanish in an 11-point loss. But in Game 2 on Thursday night, even after the Thunder whittled a 17-point Heat lead to two, Miami escaped with a 100-96 win after James finished with 32 points, Wade added 24, Bosh scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds and Shane Battier put up 17 points for the second straight contest.
Season saved, at least for now.
"We were a confident team even before that, and that's why I think it's important to always compartmentalize and not get too carried away with the result," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "You have to play to your identity and find a way. We didn't think we played well in Game 1, and we still had an opportunity to win. This is going to be a very competitive series. We're confident going home, but that doesn't guarantee anything, and I think our guys have enough perspective to know that we're going to have to earn this."
In those three back-to-the-wall road wins, James has averaged 39 points. And he didn't understate what Game 2 of the finals meant to the Heat.
"It meant everything," James said.
So now the scene shifts to Miami, where the Heat lost their last two finals games last year - Game 2 against Dallas, where they collapsed in the final 7 minutes and blew a 15-point lead, and then Game 6 where the Mavericks closed out their championship.
The Heat are 36-7 in their building this season, the second-best home mark in the league behind San Antonio, which finished 34-6 at home. The last of those six Spurs home defeats was against Oklahoma City in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, as if Miami needed another reminder how capable - and how driven - the Thunder will be on their final road trip of the season.
"They're going to come back strong," James said. "They're going to come back strong in our house, but we're glad we split. And off to our arena, where we're very good and our fans are looking forward to this."
Spoelstra implored the Heat before Game 2 to "conquer the moment" and accept the challenge that came with playing in a building where the Thunder had been 9-0 in these playoffs.
It'll be friendlier confines on Sunday night, but the message likely won't change much.
"We seized the moment," Wade said. "And Game 3 is going to be another one of these games, so we've got to figure out a way at home to protect home floor, especially in Game 3, and win it. If you go up there and lose Game 3, you've given them, in a sense, home court right back. We just want to continue to play well at home like we've done all season long."
In other words, like they did when the stakes were highest against the Pacers and the Celtics in the previous two rounds.
That approach got them to the finals. A continuation of that approach could bring a championship, though the Heat are having none of that talk quite yet.
"Basically, it's 0-0 now, so I don't know about momentum," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "You know they are going to watch the film and make adjustments. We're going to watch film and a couple of things we're going to have to change up a little bit. The series is just starting."
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