SAN ANTONIO — For the past 10 games, it’s been the same.
The Miami Heat win. The Miami Heat lose.
The pattern is the only consistency in their inconsistency. On Sunday, they have an opportunity to end the trend that players agree is becoming annoying. The Heat want to regain the feeling of winning consecutive games in a playoff series, and there’s no better time for it than Game 5 against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
“We can’t wait until our back is against the wall every time to respond,” forward LeBron James said. “We have to build some momentum. And we can use (Thursday’s victory) as momentum, but we still have work to do.”
The Heat have not carried momentum into the next game during the last two series. After sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks and defeating the Chicago Bulls in five games, they have been unable to string together consecutive victories.
They went back-and-forth with the Indiana Pacers before winning Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals. Things have repeated in the Finals versus the Spurs, but a win Sunday would at least provide a bit of relief.
“We still got to get better,” James said. “There were stretches (Thursday) where we didn’t play well. And if we understand and if we own it, we come in with a mind-set on Sunday that we are desperate again and our back is against the wall. It’s going to be a challenge for us, and we have to be ready for that.”
Only the 1993 Seattle SuperSonics have endured a stretch similar to that of the Heat. The Sonics played 10 games in the second and third rounds without winning consecutively. Their luck ran out when they lost to the Phoenix Suns in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
The Heat realize a victory Sunday would lessen the chances of their season’s ending like the Sonics’. If the series plays out like it has, the Spurs will celebrate their fifth title on the Heat’s home court.
“We would love to put a great string together, consistent games together,” guard Dwyane Wade said. “I’m sure they (the Spurs) would love to do the same thing. So, we will see. We have to come in with the same focus that we had after losing the ballgame. I know it’s not easy to do that, but it’s three games left and we have to come out with that intensity and that focus that we had to start the game, and to end the game all the way through. That’s the only way we’re going to win it.”
Recent history has shown the Heat are in for a struggle in Game 5. After wins in each of the past two series, they have lost the following game by an average of 13 points.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said it isn’t indicative of his team’s losing focus. He felt it has been more about stiffer competition as they progressed in the postseason.
“The further you go on, as it should, the competition gets better,” Spoelstra said. “And you have to earn it. If people just say it’s about us and the fact that we’re not winning, we don’t have our act together, that’s not giving any credit to the Pacers or what we’re dealing with right now, with the Spurs. We feel these are the two best teams in the league, and it should be tight. It should be contested. It should be a tough series.”
That said, the Heat are tired of the close calls. The team did not practice Friday, using the time off as a”mental break.” The focus Saturday returns to winning consecutive games in the series.
“We’re going to be real about it,” Spoelstra said. “And, yes, the most significant factor, and that’s not being able to put back-to-back wins. It’s been the competition for the last two weeks, Indiana and now with San Antonio. But there has to be a point where enough is enough. And we have to try to fight for a breakthrough. So that’s what (Saturday) will be about.”
The biggest concern is if the Heat have gotten too comfortable in their current state. It started last year when they rallied from 3-2 down to defeat the Boston Celtics in the conference finals. Several big comebacks during the 27-game win streak earlier this season made them even calmer in adverse situations.
Still, the Heat want to move past testing the limits, especially against the experienced Spurs.
“Our focus is trying to bring the same disposition on Sunday,” Wade said.
“We’re a team that feels that every ballgame that we line up in that we can win, if we play the way that we’re capable of. Right now, we’re 50 percent in this series of playing the way we’re capable. But we want to continue it. So we have two days, we have time to rest and make adjustments.”