It's poise vs. provocation in series finale
MIAMI -- In the NBA playoffs, insults can be a compliment.
Miami has searched for an answer to the taunts. A victory in Game 7 would do.
The tight, testy, 17-day playoff marathon concludes with a winner-take-all showdown Tuesday, and the Hornets are sure to try the intimidation tactics that helped them even the series at 3-all by winning Game 6 on Sunday.
"Things are going to get rough out there," Heat center Brian Grant said. "You have to try to keep your composure the best you can."
The weary, bruised series survivor will advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, with the opening game scheduled for Thursday in Indianapolis.
New Orleans-Miami has included the usual playoff pushing and poking, along with plenty of hard fouls and in-your-face venting, mostly from the Hornets. In the last two games, officials have called 11 technical fouls, eight on New Orleans, with one ejection for each team.
"Game 7 is going to be even 10 times more intense," New Orleans guard Baron Davis said.
The length of the series has allowed hard feelings to fester. Bad blood was evident even on Monday's off day, when Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said he expects the Hornets to stay with the approach they've used all season.
"They have some guys who are big into the extracurricular activities, equating that with toughness," Van Gundy said. "You know, it's pretty easy to hit a guy after a play and call it toughness. ...
"What you have here are some very physical players, and you have a lot of cheap players. Cheap isn't physical. I can hit somebody on their way down after a play. That's not physical."
The Hornets have lived up to their nickname by being irksome pests, and not just because they came back from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-2. Davis enjoys sticking his head into Heat huddles, and even mild-mannered forward P.J. Brown has gone nose-to-nose with Lamar Odom and Dwyane Wade.
"That's all in bounds," Davis said. "You're going to talk, you're going to get confrontational, you're going to get up in somebody's face. If not, you don't need to be playing in this series."
Wade acknowledged the tactics have affected the Heat.
"Sometimes it can get to you, and at different times you don't play as well as you should," the rookie said.
It should be noted that Wade still managed 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists Sunday. But Odom, the target of considerable verbal abuse from the Hornets, went 3-for-12 with six turnovers and six fouls.
"Let them yap," Odom said. "They're just trying to play a little mental game with us, them being the older team and having been here before."
While the Hornets are much more familiar with May basketball, neither team has thrived in winner-take-all games. The Hornets are 0-2, losing to Milwaukee in 2001 and to Philadelphia last year. The Heat are 2-4 and have lost their last three in a row, all at home to the New York Knicks, in 1998-2000.
Those results suggest Miami might be unwise to count on the home court making a difference against New Orleans. Still:
"This is why we played hard for that home-court advantage _ so we could have Game 7 at our place," Odom said.
The Hornets will again rely on their superior postseason experience -- more than 500 games, led by guard Steve Smith's 88. Grant is the only member of the Heat to play in a Game 7.
"Those guys hadn't been in an elimination game [before Sunday]," Brown said. "When you're trying to end a team's season, that is the hardest game to put away."
Both teams will now try to finish off the other, which is why Van Gundy stood before his players after Monday's practice and spoke not of bad blood or trash talk but of a moment to savor.
"Guys," he said, "it doesn't get any better than this."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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