Heat better prepared for NBA Finals after loss to Mavs in 2011
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2012 9:20PM
San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four
Heat vs. Thunder
All games on Ch. 7.
Tuesday: at Thunder, 8 p.m.
Thursday: at Thunder, 8 p.m.
Sunday: at Heat, 7 p.m.
June 19: at Heat, 8 p.m.
x-June 21: at Heat, 8 p.m.
x-June 24: at Thunder, 7 p.m.
x-June 26: at Thunder, 8 p.m.
Updated: July 13, 2012 6:23AM
OKLAHOMA CITY — A year after a humiliating failure at the NBA Finals, a loosey-goosey LeBron James is leading the Miami Heat back onto the NBA’s biggest stage for a shot at redemption and the first of multiple titles he tacitly promised.
Even after his news conference had ended and it was time to get down to business Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, James was joshing with media members along the baseline as he and his teammates warmed up for practice — about guard Mario Chalmers’ shoes, how Oklahoma State doesn’t have a rival, that the only ‘‘OSU’’ in college athletics is Ohio State University and the best way to counter a ‘‘boom’’ microphone trying to catch your private conversation is to throw a few swear words in there.
There’s no telling what’s really going on inside James’ head — he has been a one-man Beatles for nine years now. But he and the Heat are hoping last year’s Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks pays dividends against the Oklahoma City Thunder, beginning with Game 1 on Tuesday.
‘‘I just feel more at ease now,’’ said James, who also played in the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007, losing to the San Antonio Spurs in a sweep. ‘‘I played too much to prove people wrong last year, instead of playing my game and doing what needs to be done.
‘‘In this series, I’m going to play my game, try to do whatever it takes on both ends to help us win. And whatever happens, I’m going to be satisfied with that. I’m going to give it my all, and I won’t leave anything behind.’’
After last year’s Finals loss, the Heat is turning every negative into a positive. Miami doesn’t care that it’s the underdog, that it doesn’t have home-court advantage and that it had only two days of ‘‘rest’’ with travel to Oklahoma City to play a team that will have had five days of rest after the Western Conference finals and 19 days of rest between series throughout the playoffs. And if the Heat does care, it’s all good.
‘‘I like this setting; this team is built for this,’’ Heat forward Chris Bosh said. ‘‘We love these situations — the tense atmosphere coming in. It’s different walking in here because we know we’re not in our comfort zone, and that’s where we want to be.’’
As first-time Finalists, the up-and-coming Thunder is a collective X-factor. Coming off playoff victories over the defending champion Mavericks, the 2009 and 2010 champion Los Angeles Lakers and the four-time champion Spurs, it could be a team making bigger strides than anyone imagines. Or, only a year removed from a colossal flop against the Mavericks, it could freeze in the glare of an NBA spotlight the Heat is well-accustomed to.
‘‘Last year, the circus got to us; we let it get to us,’’ Chalmers said. ‘‘Some people weren’t used to it. It kind of affected people. This year, we’re ready. Nobody’s uptight like we were last year. We know what to expect.’’
Bosh, still recovering from a groin injury but expected to play 30 minutes or more whether he starts or not, thinks his team’s fate is in its own hands.
‘‘If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to win,’’ he said.
That remains to be seen because the Thunder is better equipped than the Mavericks were to combat the Heat. Oklahoma City’s own ‘‘Big Three’’ — forward Kevin Durant and guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden — are backed by 6-10 defensive stalwarts Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. The only questions are whether the Thunder will be as composed or as well-coached.
‘‘It’s still basketball,’’ Harden said when asked about NBA Finals experience. ‘‘We’ve been through so much this postseason — the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs. We’ve prepared ourselves for this situation. We’re ready.’’