Heat eager to get Finals started despite quick turnaround, injury concerns
MIAMI -- Injured or not, fully rested or not, the Heat are eager to begin their title defense against the Spurs when the 2013 Finals open Thursday night.
"I'm glad we're tipping off rather than giving us more days to confuse ourselves," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra joked Thursday morning, after just two days off following a grueling Eastern Conference finals against the Pacers that went seven games. The Spurs, by contrast, have had nine full days off since completing a sweep of the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals on May 27.
The assumption of that disparity -- that the Heat are rushing into the series, or that the Spurs have been sitting around bored -- draws a distance between the two teams' mentalities that doesn't seem to exist. San Antonio is unquestionably thrilled to be back in the Finals after six years on the outside looking in, and there's not much concern about the turnaround from a Miami squad that seems excited, and perhaps a bit relieved, to be back in the Finals for the third straight season.
"The anticipation is huge," Heat All-Star forward Chris Bosh said. "We want to keep the wheels rolling, keep the momentum going with the home crowd. It's really exciting to get back here and it takes a long time to get here. This is for everything. We're excited. We want to start off the series with a bang and protect our homecourt."
The Heat played the waiting game twice during the postseason, enjoying seven days off after sweeping the Bucks in the first round and another six days off following their Eastern Conference semifinals triumph over the Bulls in five games. The fact that San Antonio plays a similar style to Miami -- at least compared to Chicago or Indiana -- has the Heat chomping at the collective bit. In theory: more ball movement, more flow and a faster-pace will replace the grinding style of the last two series.
"If we were feeling like we were cramming for a test right now that would be a panic situation," Spoelstra said. "That's why you fall back on your habits. For six months, [we have played] against every kind of style, in the playoffs, we're going through so many different situations, we're actually looking forward to this rather than having all those days off. ... This round probably [pits the] two teams most similar; the last two rounds were very contrasting styles. ... We'll see what happens in this one. This will probably be a much quicker, faster series both ways."
One crucial question: Will Bosh and Dwyane Wade be able to keep up? Both Heat All-Stars have seen their numbers shrink this postseason and both dealt with injury issues against the Pacers.
Spoelstra expressed no concern hours before tip-off of Game 1. "They're both ready to go," he said, leaving it at that.
Wade, 31, is averaging 14.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists during the 2013 playoffs, as he battles a bone bruise in his right knee that has limited his effectiveness. Following a strong performance in Miami's Game 7 victory over Indiana on Monday, Wade admitted that his knee could present some challenges in the Finals.
"There will be some moments next series where I won't be looking so great," he said after the win. "I'm sure there will be some great headlines out there about myself. I'll continue pushing. I'll continue to try to do what I can to help the Miami Heat win another championship."
After averaging 22.8 points in last year's playoffs, Wade has cracked 20 points just twice this year, including 21 points in Game 7 against the Pacers. He's averaging less than four free throw attempts per game, easily the lowest rate of his career.
"I am just trying to do whatever it takes," Wade said Wednesday. "Certain nights, it's higher assists. Certain nights, it's higher rebounds. Certain nights, it's more focus defensively. Hopefully I get my opportunities to be aggressive offensively. ... I know when I'm playing the game of basketball well, we're even more of a special team than we are when I'm not. And so I take a lot of pride in it, and I take a lot on my shoulders when I'm not playing that way. ... Doubt creeps in at certain times. You just have to get doubt out. Get doubt out your house. Get doubt out your mind as quick as possible."
Bosh, 29, sprained his right ankle during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. While he has played through the pain, he hasn't cracked double-figures in scoring in the Heat's last four games, an unprecedented drought during his time in Miami. Bosh is now averaging just 12.3 points and 6.6 rebounds in the playoffs, a step down from last postseason despite the fact that he missed weeks last year with an abdominal strain before returning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I'm healthier this year, I'm healthier now," Bosh said Thursday. "That's cool."
Even though his scoring and rebounding numbers are at postseason career-low levels and his 45.7 percent shooting is down nearly eight points from the regular season, Bosh brushed off the assertion that he's been struggling in this year's playoffs.
"I've been successful because the team has been successful," he said. "I said when I came here that I wasn't caring about numbers. The only number I care about is wins. I've stayed true to that. Some nights, I'll have a big offensive output, some days I'm more of a defensive player."
And Bosh definitely didn't want to play along when asked to praise Spurs forward/center Tim Duncan, who is seeking the fifth title of his first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
"I'm not trying to pay [Duncan] too many compliments and everything," he said. "It's competition. He's going to be difficult to guard, I'm going to be difficult to guard, everybody's going to be difficult to guard."
Bring it on, in other words. The Heat are ready to get on with the show following a season that produced a league-best 66 wins and an astounding 27-game winning streak. That sentiment surely stems from their dominant Game 7 performance but also the steady brilliance of LeBron James, who has picked up the slack when Wade and Bosh have been off their games.
Following a Game 5 win over the Pacers, James said that he went "back to my Cleveland days" in shouldering a heavier offensive burden against an Indiana team that succeeded in defending both the rim and the three-point line. James is averaging 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists in the postseason, and his hope is that the Finals matchup with the Spurs will be an opportunity to return to Miami's preferred style of play, which he believes will be good news for his fellow Big Three members. "We're going to play our game," James said Wednesday. "We're going to share the ball. We're going to attack, try to get to the free-throw line. ... Myself, [Wade and Bosh] are the key ingredients to that attack. [Wade and Bosh] don't need to put no pressure on themselves. These guys have been to The Finals. [Wade] has two rings, [Bosh] has one. We've been in this position before. They know how to play."