MIAMI — LeBron James has been here before, with dire results.
It was two years ago, the end of the first season of “Big Three” basketball in Miami. The situation: The Heat down 3-2, hosting Game 6 of the NBA Finals, only two home wins separating them from what would have been James’ first title.
James had six turnovers in Game 6, the Heat were outscored by 24 with him on the floor and the Dallas Mavericks became NBA champions.
Now here comes the same situation. Down 3-2 again and back at home for Game 6 of the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, Miami needs two wins in three days or it will be watching someone else end this season with a party on its own floor.
“We’re going to see if we’re a better team than we were our first year together,” James said.
We’re also about to see is how much James has grown since that 2011 season.
He has more at stake than any other Heat player in this series, especially now that the Spurs are one game away from the championship. If the Heat loses, it’ll be widely perceived as James’ failure. If the Heat wins, his status as the game’s best player not only becomes even more cemented, but he might even win over a few more doubters.
“Our next challenge, biggest challenge, will be Tuesday night,” James said. “We have an opportunity on our home floor with our home fans to keep the series going, and we look forward to it.”
Getting swept in the Finals by San Antonio in 2007, that one was written off as James just not having enough talent around him. Losing to Dallas in 2011 — a year after he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together in such ballyhooed fashion in Miami — was a nightmare for James. Winning it all by topping Oklahoma City last season, that was his long-awaited ascension.
And what will be written about this season, it’ll all be decided in the next few days.
“I have to come up big, for sure, in Game 6,” James said. “But I believe we all have to play at a high level in order to keep the series going. So me being one of the leaders of this team, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game 7, and I look forward to the challenge.”
When the Heat have been in trouble the past two postseasons, it pretty much has meant James to the rescue.
In matchups where the Heat has been down in a series or faced elimination over the past two seasons, the game’s best player has played like the game’s best player. In those eight games — Game 4 against Indiana last season, Games 6 and 7 against Boston last season, Game 2 against the Thunder last season, Game 2 against Chicago this year, Game 7 against the Pacers this year and Games 2 and 4 against the Spurs — James’ numbers simply pop. He has averaged 31.1 points on 53 percent shooting and added 10.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
The Heat are a whopping plus-128 with him on the floor in those contests.
“LJ has proven himself enough in this league,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “and on the biggest stage.”
The Heat aren’t down in this series because of James, who was a scapegoat in 2011 against the Mavericks. He has more points than anyone else in this year’s Finals, the second-most rebounds (two behind Tim Duncan) and the most assists (one ahead of Tony Parker).
They’re down in the series for a litany of other reasons, not necessarily related to James. The Spurs might be the best top-to-bottom team that the Heat have faced in these three seasons of playoff runs. They have a mastermind coach in Gregg Popovich, a veteran core of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the supporting cast like Danny Green (with a Finals-record 25 3-pointers and counting) and Gary Neal (12 3-pointers).
“We’re in the same position, going back home with Game 6 on our home floor,” Wade said. “So we’re going to see if we’re a better ballclub and if we’re better prepared for this moment.
“Everything happens for a reason. And this is not a bad reason at all to go home for Game 6 on your home floor.”
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