Sports

The Comforts Of Home … Aren’t Always Comforts

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(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

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TIM REYNOLDS,AP Sports Writer

MIAMI (AP) — Just about everything is better for teams at home. The crowds are nicer. The rims are friendlier. The surroundings are more comfortable.

LeBron James would rather not think of it in those terms.

With James and the Heat opening their final homestand of the season Sunday night — the middle three games of the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder — Miami gets to bask in the adoration of 20,000 or so fans, unlike the hostile setting on the road.

James likes that, of course. He just doesn’t mind the latter, either.

“A game, especially a playoff game, I’m kind of even-keeled, honestly,” James said Sunday. “One thing on the road for me, I’m able to use everything that’s against us to our advantage, to my advantage, as far as the crowd and the city that you’re in and everyone going against you. Here at home, you have a little bit more comfort, but I try not to think about it because I don’t want to be comfortable.”

It’s not like James doesn’t have road success.

Among active players with more than 25 NBA postseason games, James’ teams have a combined record of 26-30 (.464) in playoff games away from home. Only four players on that list have better winning percentages — and they’re all members of the San Antonio Spurs, starting with Tim Duncan (whose teams have a .495 winning percentage in playoff games), Manu Ginobili (.493), Stephen Jackson (.486) and Tony Parker (.473).

James’ teammates understand his point. They know being at home doesn’t guarantee anything, other than hearing cheers just before tip-off — and that it’s imperative to not relax and think the home fans will help out on the scoreboard.

“We know not to come out coasting, to resist those urges to be comfortable at home,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “We’re not comfortable anywhere. I know I’m not.”

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FOR STARTERS: Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks can’t cite one specific reason why slow first quarters have been a trend for his team in the playoffs.

He doesn’t seem overly worked up about it, either.

The way Brooks sees it, every team has certain points in a game — especially in the NBA Finals — where things aren’t going to go well. Whether they come in the first few minutes or the last few minutes, it all counts about the same.

“It’s important to have a good start and a good finish,” Brooks said. “Every fight is important. You can’t just say we’re going to knock the guy out in the final round. You have to punch him in the first round just as many times in the last round. We have to fight every possession and every round.”

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ANTHEM SINGER: Julia Dale is in her second NBA Finals.

She’s 11.

The native of nearby Davie sang the national anthem at one game in the Miami-Dallas final series in 2011, and has been with the Heat for various regular season games. She so impressed Heat management and the crowd that the team decided to lock her services up for the entire playoff run before this postseason began.

“We love her,” said Michael McCullough, the team’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

She’s rapidly become a crowd favorite in Miami, and many roar when she ends the song with a curtsy. She has also performed at many other sporting events in South Florida.

“I do get a little nervous, but it’s more exciting than anything,” Dale said. “It’s such a great experience and I’m so happy to be here.”

Her favorite player? Dwyane Wade. “He’s awesome,” she said.

And no, she doesn’t play basketball, even though she loves the game.

“I’m really short, so I’d be super bad at it, but it’s so fun to watch,” she said.

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THE 2-3-2 FORMAT: The team hosting the middle three games in the 2-3-2 format of the NBA Finals might not have as big as advantage as some would think.

Only two teams — the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2006 Miami Heat — have swept all three of those games at home since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format. More teams — three, the 1990 Pistons, 1991 Chicago Bulls and 2001 Los Angeles Lakers — have actually gone on the road to sweep all three of those games.

Ask both the Heat and the Thunder, though, and it becomes clear that they didn’t enter the three games in Miami expecting the series to be decided on Thursday night after Game 5.

“You can’t play all three games at once,” Thunder guard James Harden said.

Added Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “I know there’s a lot of talk that we don’t have to go back there, that we control our own destiny and all that. That’s kind of dangerous if you get too far ahead of yourself.”

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HASLEM’S HOME: Udonis Haslem played his high school games at Miami High, just a couple miles from AmericanAirlines Arena. His high school gym has been around for about 80 years, and it’s getting refurbished and modernized.

Haslem still loves his school — but hates the idea of the gym being made more comfortable for opponents.

“I don’t like it. It’s going to have air conditioning now,” Haslem said. “I know it was needed to improve the school but when the gym didn’t have air conditioning it was like our sixth man.”

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IN MEMORIAM: On the back of the credentials issued to the hundreds of reporters covering this year’s NBA Finals are five photos of people who covered the league and died in the past year.

Nick Charles was CNN’s first sports anchor, Lou Capozzola was a longtime photographer for Sports Illustrated, Jim Irwin was a former broadcaster of Milwaukee Bucks games, Lacy Banks covered the NBA for the Chicago Sun Times, and Jim Huber spent about three decades working for Turner Broadcasting.

The league placed a photo of each on the back of the finals credential, with the simple headline “In Memoriam.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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