End of an Era or 48 Minutes Away From ECF?

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

Will tonight's Miami home game mark the end of an incredible season and home court era, or will the Heat pull out yet another stunner to go back to Indiana for a game 7, where they will find themselves just 48 minutes away from the Eastern Conference Finals? In perhaps the Heat's final home game of the season, the fans will be raucous, the players will be pumped, and the game will be nasty, brutish, and physical.

Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley says the Pacers are the top dogs. Dwyane Wade and Malik Allen both guaranteed wins tonight. This is a game you look forward to no matter who you are.

Stan Van Gundy will make some adjustments to be sure, but he will not be looking to change his game plan for Jeff Foster. His points, said Van Gundy, came from putbacks and hustle plays, not from plays being run for him. Lamar Odom, his primary defender, needs to stay with him longer rather than helping out on the weak side. That is all as far as Foster is concerned.

On the other hand, with Ron Artest guarding Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler will be expected to have a huge game, as he will be matched up with Reggie Miller or Jamaal Tinsley. Neither of them can contain him, though of course Miller will flop or otherwise get some fouls called on Butler. Miller is a wily veteran after all. Butler should be wary of those wiles and look to post up his defender.

One thing that won't be adjusted is the home court's noise. These fans are going to go wild -- as usual! -- and the NBA's most magical home court may snatch another stunning victory from the jaws of the conteder-hopeful Pacers.

The Heat's playoff run continues tonight, Tuesday, May 18th, at 8:00 p.m. EDT/7:00 p.m. CDT on ESPN and the Sunshine network. 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 (83) @ INDIANA (94)
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

Fans are reminded and encouraged to wear their official 2004 Heat Playoff shirt or simply all black tonight. They're looking to get a full house by 7:45pm when the Heat take the floor for warmups. There may still be ticketsavailable.

Malik Allenwas sent home before practice for stomach problems but will be available tonight.Brian Granthas too many bumps and bruises to list.


Israel Gutierrez ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: If it's playoff experience the Heat wanted, the team has experienced almost every possible playoff scenario in the past month.The Heat has been up 2-0, lost a two-game advantage, had an opportunity to eliminate a team early, blown an opportunity to eliminate a team early, been down 0-2 and come back to tie a series after facing a two-game deficit. But this, needing a win just to stay alive in a playoff series, this is totally new to these playoff novices.

Greg Cote ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: ''This is not Fan Appreciation Night,'' reminded Van Gundy. ``It's not automatic. It's far from automatic. This is an elimination game. We're playing for big stakes.''Miami also faced elimination in Game 7 against New Orleans here, but that was the Hornets. The fall is steeper now, the ledge narrower. The Pacers had the best record in the NBA and would remind the Heat why. Oppositely, Miami has done everything the hard way, fighting its way to the best table in the restaurant via the alley and through the kitchen.

Michelle KaufmannofThe Miami Herald writes: Robertson Auguste, the lone survivor of the Feb. 15 fire, and his 20-year-old brother Conrad, who was not home that night, will be in prime seats for tonight's game against the Indiana Pacers, as they have been for each of the other six home playoff games. They are guests of Heat forward Lamar Odom, who took a special interest in the brothers' story and scooped them under his wing. In addition to buying their tickets, Odom invited the Augustes to every pregame shootaround, met with them after games and took them on a shopping spree, where he purchased a few thousand dollars' worth of Heat merchandise and clothing for them.Odom and several of his teammates refer to the brothers as the team's ``lucky charms.''

Mike Phillips ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: It is not all on Caron Butler tonight. But make no mistake about this: There is no better barometer to measure the Miami Heat than Butler.In so many ways, Butler's game reflects the Heat's game, and it's not by coincidence, but by design. That's why if Butler has a big game tonight in Game 6 against Indiana, then you can expect the Heat to play well, too.

Stephen F. Holder ofThe Miami Herald writes: And in the playoffs, it's all about tangible evidence. Anyone can talk a good game -- such as Indiana's Jamaal Tinsley saying Monday, ''We feel like we're the top dogs.''But winning tough games in tough environments under tough circumstances -- that's concrete. For the Pacers, the proof will be in tonight's performance.

Israel Gutierrez ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: Is home court enough to get the Heat past the Pacers? ''It's not automatic,'' Van Gundy said. ``Ask the San Antonio Spurs. They won 17 in a row, and the Lakers came in and beat them.''

Stephen F. Holder ofThe Miami Herald writes: With the Heat facing elimination, the Pacers are expecting some of the most physical play yet in this series.''I think this might be the most physical series that we see,'' O'Neal said. ``Even if we make it out of this series, looking at the Detroit-New Jersey series, I don't think they play as physical as Miami. ``Miami plays hard from start to finish. Even when they're down by double digits, they go. It's a sign of their coach and also Pat Riley's supervision of the team.'' 

Barry Jackson ofThe Miami Heraldwrites: Heat guard Eddie Jones couldn't believe a question he got from a fan who approached him at a movie theater Sunday.'A guy walks up to me [and said], `You guys going to win?' That was his question. Of course. We're not playing this game to lose.'' Jones is hearing suggestions from friends and strangers during the playoffs. ''A lot of people suggesting this and that -- 98 percent of those people never played basketball at this level,'' he said. ``I ignore so much of it.''

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: Unlike with Indiana, tonight is all or nothing for the Heat.What concerns Van Gundy is too much comfort with the home court. That had him pointing out that the defending NBA champions are now home for the summer, after rolling through the latter stages of the regular season and the early stages of the playoffs.

Ira Winderman ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: Despite unheralded Pacers center Jeff Foster scoring career-high 20 points and 16 rebounds in Game 5, Van Gundy said the priority remains stopping O'Neal, Ron Artest and Miller. "We don't have a game plan to counter Jeff Foster," Van Gundy said. "That's not a disrespect thing. They're not going to go to Jeff Foster. Breakdowns allowed Jeff Foster to get what he got."Although Foster shot 9 of 10, Van Gundy pointed out that Indiana called only one play for him and that he converted only one outside shot, with the rest coming off offensive rebounds and low-post passes off double teams. Forward Lamar Odom, the primary defender on Foster, said he would be more cautious with his weak-side defense against point guards Jamaal Tinsley and Anthony Johnson. "Maybe don't come so quick when Tinsley and Johnson are coming," Odom said. "Maybe I make them finish at the rim, rather than this guy getting dunks."

Steve Gorten ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: On the brink of a possible end to his first NBA season, Wade says he hasn't had a moment to reflect on any of it.Not the winning jumper he made with 1.3 seconds left in Game 1 against New Orleans; the 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer in Game 5; his 27-point performance -- most ever by a Heat rookie -- in Game 6; the 14 points in fourth quarter of Game 3 against Indiana; or becoming the first NBA rookie since Tim Duncan in 1997-98 to score 20-plus points three times in the same playoff series. "If you look at it like that, I have been through a lot. ... It's been a blur, but that's the way I like it," Wade said. "I like it that way instead of sitting back and really thinking because you have too much time on your hands." The 22-year-old rookie point guard has taken an accelerated path through life, whether it was marrying young and becoming a father or leaving Marquette University early.

Hank Lowenkron ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: Point guard Jamaal Tinsley doesn't often get the headlines, but his steady play is one reason the Pacers go into tonight's Game 6 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Heat up 3-2. The 6-foot-3 Tinsley heads into the game with the highest assists-to-turnover marks among players still in the playoffs.With 32 assists and nine turnovers in five games against the Heat, Tinsley has pushed his playoff totals to 56 assists and 15 turnovers, a 3.73 ratio. Only Milwaukee's Damon Jones and Steve Nash of the Mavericks, both eliminated in the opening round, have a higher ratio.

Ethan J. Skolnick ofThe South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrites: It can't end tonight because the half of New York with Ms. Alston's phone numbers will be bored and lost."When a game is on, our phones are ringing off the hook," said Alston's stepfather Steve, a sanitation supervisor at Ground Zero. "His brother [Ramar] is in one room with one cell phone, [Geraldine] is in another room with another cell phone, and I'm in another with the phone and the house phone. We hang up, and it starts again. ... I'm happy as hell for him. There are so many people in the NBA that are supposed to be so much better that are sitting home now watching him on TV. It would be so amazing to go to the Eastern Conference Finals."