Nets, Heat seek the upper hand in Game 3
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Conventional wisdom would hold that the New Jersey Nets returned home Thursday with an advantage in their Eastern Conference semifinal series after splitting the first two games at Miami.
Of course, the first two games were far from conventional. Two blowouts have left the series tied 1-1 and left a lot of questions to be answered when the teams meet again Friday night in Game 3.
"It's hard to get a true gauge of where both teams are at because they were such lopsided games," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said Thursday. "I'd be in another business if I could predict it. It's hard to say. Are we who we were in Game 1, and are they who they were in Game 2? It's probably somewhere in between."
Odd-numbered games are always viewed as pivotal in best-of-seven series, but Friday night's game could be even more revealing given the circumstances leading up to it.
Miami evened the series on Wednesday night by bolting to a 25-4 lead and cruising the rest of the way to a 111-89 win. Two nights earlier, New Jersey scored 18 of the game's first 23 points and led by as many as 28 in the second half before winning 100-88.
Players and coaches from both teams have used words like "intent" and "focus" when attributing their success. New Jersey's was there in the first game but not in the second, when Miami's was clearly in evidence.
"We showed that Game 1 was out of character for this team," Heat center Alonzo Mourning said. "Collectively, we did what we wanted to get done. How we approached that game is how you have to approach every playoff game. We hit them, we staggered them and we kept them down."
Another oddity in Wednesday's game was Dwyane Wade's ability to stretch the Nets defense with 3-point shooting. The Heat's leading scorer made just 17 percent of his 3-point attempts during the regular season but connected on three in a row early in the game.
Frank acknowledged that the Nets have to do a better overall job on Wade, but said the importance of X's and O's is often overstated.
"The biggest adjustment made in all playoffs, by and large, is intent and intensity," he said. "It's more mental than it is anything. You can't change who you are. You may have a little different scheme, but if you're doing it with greater intensity and sharpness and focus, then it's effective. That same scheme, if you don't have the right focus, it wouldn't work."
All of that would seem to downplay the Nets' advantage at Continental Airlines Arena, where they won 14 straight games earlier in the season. More recently, they lost the opening game at home in the first round to Indiana before winning four of the next five to win the series 4-2.
Nets forward Richard Jefferson, who sprained his ankle in Game 1 but played in Game 2 and scored 16 points, received treatment Thursday while the rest of the team had the day off.
Miami coach Pat Riley said Wednesday's game served as a wakeup call for both teams.
"I'm sure we got their attention. I know they've got ours," he said. "To me, it was mental, mostly, probably on the side of both teams. And whoever is going to attack, is really focused and committed first, they might get an edge. If both teams come with the same state of mind, you might get a game."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press