Home court looming larger in series

Updated: May 1, 2004, 9:38 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Hornets hope Miami forward Lamar Odom was right about at least one thing -- that perhaps their opening-round playoff series is meant to go seven games.

Odom suggested the series might stretch to the limit after New Orleans' 96-85 victory in Game 4 left each team with a pair of home victories.

Now that the home team has once again emerged victorious from Game 5 in Miami, the Heat have a chance to eliminate the Hornets in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon.

But winning on the road has been quite a chore for the Heat, and Hornets forward P.J. Brown thinks Miami will be skittish in New Orleans.

"There's doubt in their mind. I don't think they're too confident that they're going to come here and close this thing out," Brown said Saturday. "They haven't played well here. We've been able to protect our home court."

Brown even suggested that Miami's 30-point victory in Game 2 is the only game the Heat should have won.

"We feel like this series should have been over or at least we should be leading 3-2," Brown said. "In Game 1 and Game 5 we controlled our destiny in both games."

Miami didn't take the lead for good in Game 1 until rookie Dwyane Wade hit a driving floater with 1.3 seconds to go. In Game 5, New Orleans led by 11 in the first half and was up 58-49 midway through the third quarter. The game was tied in final minute, and Miami was in danger of turning the ball over on a shot-clock violation when Wade hit a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left.

Heat center Brian Grant conceded that the Hornets played well enough to win Game 5.

"If you look at the numbers ... they should have won the game," he said. "We were able to pull it out by stopping them at crucial moments of the fourth, going up and not allowing them to get back in it."

Miami does not expect the Hornets to fold now that they're facing elimination.

"We haven't won a playoff game on the road yet, and I think that's where the real challenge comes in," Grant said. "It's going to be very hostile."

Miami has been close in the fourth quarter of both playoff losses in New Orleans, which is encouraging to Heat coach Stan Van Gundy.

"The first thing you've got to do on the road is get to the fourth quarter to have a chance," Van Gundy said. "The hardest thing on the road actually is to get there."

Hornets guard Baron Davis did not participate in a light practice Saturday, but that hardly seems to matter. Playing on a sore left ankle, Davis has gotten better as the series has gone on. He had 33 points on Friday night.

"We've gotten to where we expect that out of him and we hope to see it again in Game 6," Hornets coach Tim Floyd said. "I think he's in good shape."

Floyd, in his first NBA playoffs, takes an experienced squad into his first elimination game -- not that he thinks it'll make a big difference.

"All those intangibles are only important if you win. Miami's not thinking about our experience right now. They're thinking about execution and that's what we need to be thinking about," Floyd said.

"Our guys have confidence we can win. That's certainly important."

In the second round of the 2001 playoffs, the Hornets forced a Game 7 against Milwaukee after falling behind 2-0 and 3-2. But the Hornets have never won such a series. And if New Orleans wins Game 6, it will still be faced with one more game in Miami, where the Heat have now won 15 in a row -- and all five games there against Hornets this season.

Perhaps that's why Odom last week was willing to concede the possibility of a Game 7.

"This year we were decent, maybe less than decent on the road," Odom said. "We defended our home turf well, and in this league, that's really important."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press