LeBron James and the Miami Heat haven’t lost consecutive games in almost five months. They’ll need to keep that streak intact to earn a return trip to the National Basketball Association Finals.
The Heat host the Indiana Pacers tonight in a decisive seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals, with the winner facing the San Antonio Spurs in the championship series.
The Heat, who entered the postseason as odds-on favorites to win a second straight title, are 7-point favorites at home following their 14-point Game 6 loss in Indianapolis two days ago. Miami hasn’t trailed in the series, as Indiana rallied three times to tie after losses in games 1, 3 and 5.
“Certainly you don’t want it to get to that point when you feel like you had opportunities to close out a series,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters yesterday. “But when it does, these are the moments. There’s almost not a better two words in pro sports than ‘Game 7.’”
The Heat reached the NBA Finals a year ago by beating the Boston Celtics 101-88 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Miami gets to host the deciding game again after finishing with the NBA’s best regular-season record at 66-16.
“That’s what we had the best record in the league for,” James said after Miami’s Game 6 loss. “If we didn’t take care of business on the road at some point in the playoffs, we can always fall back on this. We hate to be in this position, but it’s an opportunity and we look forward to it.”
The Heat lost back-to-back games three times during the season, most recently on Jan. 8 and 10, against the Pacers and the Portland Trial Blazers.
The Pacers, whose 20-1 odds of winning the NBA title were tied for sixth-best entering the postseason, won two of three meetings against the Heat during the regular season. Including the playoffs, they’re 1-3 in Miami this season.
“We believe we can win there,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said yesterday. “We believe we can win the series. We always have. We haven’t been perfect this series, but we’re going to need to be near perfect to win a Game 7 there.”
Spoelstra said the series has been a showcase of contrasting styles, with James and the Heat facing a Pacers team that led the NBA in rebounding this season while holding opponents to the lowest field goal percentage in the league. Roy Hibbert, the Pacers’ 7-foot-2 center, is averaging 16.9 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game this postseason.
“We’re trying to impose our will on the game and attack and get to the rim,” Spoelstra said. “They protect the paint, protect the rim, protect the free-throw line. So who can get to who? Can our speed and quickness and our pace, our spacing, can it get to them more often, or can their size get to us? That’s what makes it a compelling series. We’re embracing it.”