It is Time to Win on the Road, Simba

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

No time like the present. Today is the first day of the rest of Miami's life. Their distance to the trophy is the same as the Lakers, Kings, Wolves, Pacers, and Spurs. It's a three game series with one home game. It's time for Miami to win on the road.

They don't do it very well or very often but if there is any truth to momentum theories of basketball, then it is all entirely in Miami's corner. You only have to look at the fourth quarter to see Indiana start giving hard fouls with the game pretty much rapped up, as if to say, you can win, but we'll hurt you, and injure you for the next game. The Pacers remained entirely unapologetic for their physical play, and in fact coach Rick Carlisle complained about the lack of fouls called in Jermaine O'Neal's favor. O'Neal shot a team-high 12 free throws.

Indiana is already squabbling internally: losing does that. More specifically, unexpected losing does that. Stan Van Gundy's team doesn't squabble even after losses because no one expects them to win. It is the privilege of the underdog to be optimistic. But when you're the heavy favorite for the title and you're dropping games to the team with the worst record still in the playoffs, you bicker.

Ron Artest wants defensive specialist Jamison Brewer to get more playing time. Too bad Brewer's not on the playoff roster. Larry Bird wants Al Harrington and Reggie Miller to step up their productivity.

You know it's good news when the opposing GM starts acting like a coach.

Meanwhile in Miami, the Heat GM Pat Riley has avoided all spotlights and focused all the attention on Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy, in turn, has focused all the attention on the players. And the players have focused all the attention on the fans.

It's a love-fest in Miami, but now it's time for the Heat to take that step into manhood and win on the road.

Their fans, like Mufasa, live inside each of them. The Heat take their fan base in their hearts whereever they go. If they can acknowledge that, they can win on the road.

The Heat's playoff run continues tonight, Wednesday, May 12th, at 8:00 p.m. EDT/7:00 p.m. CDT on ESPN. The complete playoff schedule is as follows:
1 - Miami (81) @ INDIANA (94)
2 - Miami (80) @ INDIANA (91)
3 - Indiana (87) @ MIAMI (94)
4 - Indiana (88) @ MIAMI (100)
5 - Miami @ Indiana - Saturday, May 15th - 8:00 p.m. EDT/7:00 p.m. CDT on TNT
6 - Indiana @ Miami - Tuesday, May 18th - 8:00 p.m. EDT/7:00 p.m. CDT on ESPN and the Sunshine network
7 - Miami @ Indiana - Thursday, May 20th - TBA (if needed) on ESPN

Carol Butler did got a steal in Wednesday's game, ending his streak of playoff games with at least one steal at ten. Butler set a new franchise record, surpassing the nine game prior record held by Dan Majerle.

Dan Le Batard ofThe Miami Heraldasks Stan Van Gundy twenty excellent questions. Here's the first:Q: If I had told you at 0-7 that you would still be playing in May, would be one of only eight NBA teams remaining, would be 11 victories from a championship and would be in exactly the same position today as Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, you would have said what?A: ``I would have said that it was an absolutely ridiculous thing to say and that you would never, ever make one penny analyzing NBA basketball. This has been amazing. I sit back and am in awe of our players.'' Read the rest here.

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun Sentinel notesseveral streaks are at stake in the pivotal game five. Here are a few of them:
1. The Pacers' 12-game home winning streak and the Heat's five-game road losing streak.
2. The Heat has left the Pacers with only their fourth two-game losing streak of the season.
3. The Pacers have yet to lose three in a row this season.
4. The winner of game 5 has gone on to win 96 of the 115 times in NBA history that a series has been tied 2-2 (including the Heat-Hornets in the first round).

Brian Grantseems to be getting a new injury every quarter. His latest is dislocating his right pinkie after an accidental clash with Ron Artest in the last quarter of Wednesday's game. Grant may need to wear a splint. ''Bad back, bad knees, face -- he has it all,'' Samaki Walker toldThe Miami Herald. ``With him, it seems the more he's injured, the more he puts pressure on himself to play.'' 


Stephen F. Holder ofThe Miami Herald writes: It was more about numbers, really, the prevailing theory being that the deeper Pacers would eventually overwhelm the undermanned, undersized Heat with a supporting cast that would prove the difference. Well, the experts were half right. The supporting cast was the difference all right. Or, make that the absence of the supporting cast... How bad were things for the Pacers?Miller didn't score a single field goal, going 0 for 5 from the field. Tinsley, who loomed large in Games 1 and 3 with 17 and 16 points, respectively, suddenly disappeared, scoring four points before being ejected in the fourth quarter. And what about the Pacers' touted bench? It produced 15 points, but forward Al Harrington, averaging 12.3 points in the postseason coming in, finished with four. And Fred Jones, who has shown himself capable of providing a spark, didn't score a point. Now, heading into Game 5 Saturday night at Indianapolis, the Pacers have to find a way to get more widespread involvement. 

Mike Phillips ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: After evening the series with Indiana by winning twice at home, Miami readies for a key Game 5 on the road.'Our confidence is very high,' Caron Butler said.

Stephen F. Holder ofThe Miami Herald writes: Apparently, the Pacers do not think apologies are in order.After a rough ending for Game 4 on Wednesday in Miami, Indiana made no bones about its use of force to prevent a pair of easy late baskets. Tinsley was ejected after receiving his second technical foul after being called for a flagrant foul against Eddie Jones, a hit that nearly resulted in a brawl. After grabbing Jones around the neck from behind, Tinsley said it was just part of the game and won't change during this series. ''It's going to continue to be like that,'' he said. ``We're going to play physical.'' Artest said his knockdown of Wade with 1:04 left, which also resulted in a flagrant foul, was not intended to be harmful. ''I was just trying to hold him and he lost his footing,'' Artest said. ``I would have held him up, but when he lost his footing, we went down.''

Jeremy Fowler ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: After getting minimal playing time in the opening series against New Orleans, Malik Allen has stepped up his play and been a key off the bench against Indiana.

Mike Phillips ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: Perhaps the most foolish ''experts'' were TNT's Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson, who played the game much better than they predict it. After Game 1, Johnson all but laughed, saying the Heat ''might win one game,'' and Barkley was talking about an Indiana sweep. Almost everyone picked the Pacers to roll over the Heat. TNT's Kenny Smith was the single detractor. After Game 1, he told Johnson and Barkley the Heat was going to make a series out of it.

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: Among the suggestions of forward Ron Artest after Game 4 was getting more playing time for defensive-minded guard Jamison Brewer. There's one problem with that: Brewer is not on the Pacers' playoff roster, and therefore he is ineligible. ... Artest also voiced concerns that Indiana's offense had grown too predictable. After Game 4, Pacers President Larry Bird questioned Miller's and forward Al Harrington's lack of productivity. Harrington was 2 of 5 from the field for four points.

Ethan J. Skolnick ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: But no matter how sluggish the Pacers' defense sometimes was, and how hot they let the Heat get, they still would have won if played the same offense as before halftime.The Heat shoots jumpers because it has to, especially in the halfcourt, where most of this game was played, and it should be commended for making so many. But the more physically powerful Pacers shoot them by choice. It was a bad choice Wednesday. And it was odd that O'Neal (37 points) and Ron Artest (28 points) were asked repeatedly after the game if they had taken too manyshots, after they had hit 54 percent of them.

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: Tuesday night's Game 6 between the Heat and Indiana Pacers is a sellout.Wednesday afternoon, only hours after tickets went on sale, all 19,600 reserved seats and 500 standing-room tickets at AmericanAirlines Arena had been distributed. The next possible home date for the Heat after Tuesday would be for a Game 3 of an Eastern Conference Finals series against Detroit or New Jersey.

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: The last time, before Wednesday's 100-88 victory over Indiana, that the Heat reached triple-digits in the postseason, Jamal Mashburn still was in the team's good graces, Alonzo Mourning was its healthy man in the middle, and John Crotty was helping run the offense. It had been an NBA-record 38 consecutive postseason games since the Heat scored 100 points in the playoffs.The date was May 18, 1997. The score in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was Heat 101, Knicks 90. Further, only six times over those 38 double-digit games had the Heat even scored 90 or more. So why now? Why Wednesday in Game 4 but never over the previous seven years?