One thing that’s always interesting to me around this time of year (re: when the Nets are on the brink of elimination) is to see how their self-belief is tested.
The vibe right now around this team is only slightly better than it was when they were down 3-0 last season against Miami. Completely different circumstances, of course, but there is still the palpable sense that the end is near. There isn’t any talk about how getting it to a Game 7 would be a lot easier than getting it to a Game 6, should they do so tonight. There isn’t a sense they can survive the series.
But you try to get the closest, on-the-record gauge you can as to what they’re really feeling. You wonder aloud what the past two fourth quarters have done to their confidence level. You hope to extract something acknowledging a hit. You listen. You learn that the truth will only come out when it’s over.
“We are still a confident team,” Vince Carter said this morning at shootaround. “It’s not like we don’t know what’s the problem or where the breakdown is. We understand we didn’t execute and didn’t do what we needed to get the win. For us to win games, we have those two turnovers, whatever, game-changing mistakes late in the game, one mistake can be the cause of the game.
“That is how playoff basketball goes. It is not like the regular season. It is a little different. A little more on the line. We understand that. And that is why we are still a confident team. We know we are right there. You just have to eliminate some of those things to beat good teams.”
The Heat are a little freer with their emotions, as evidenced by the Dwyane-Payton sideline undercard in the first round.
Pat Riley, in fact, simply owns up to the doubts he had about his team in the regular season, when they couldn’t stop anybody on the defensive end.
“We always have doubts. Everybody,” Riles aid. “I’m an Irish Catholic pessimist. I always thought that the worst was going to happen. Sometimes my players reflect that on me too, they say, ‘Coach, we don’t need to hear that today. We want to win.’
“But you always have doubts. Players have doubts. And I think that’s what creates the faith. If the team that keeps faith in each other and you go through the tough times and you win games, it creates a bond.”
Some other sinking feelings (Hey, it’s raining here in Miami)…
Anyone else out there think Shaq still has a 30-20 game in him? This would be the time to rise to the occasion, with a chance to close out the Nets tonight on the Heat’s home floor. We think Shaq may step up the aggression a tad more, with the whistles possibly a little more reluctant to blow given the circumstances.
Whatever happens with O’Neal, credit Jason Collins for having a very good series on the Big Fella. He’s gotten better and smarter on him, by making it less about strength. He also didn’t have any help from Cliff Robinson the last two games.
“I think it's just a matter of me getting more comfortable guarding him,” Twin said. “The first time I played against him was in the Finals my rookie year. And there's a difference between watching somebody play on TV and then actually going out and playing against him, learning what they like to do out on the court, what's effective in guarding them, trying to make it tougher on them.
“I'm kind of used to him. Like when he wants to do a spin out. He's only gotten one this series on the baseline spin. I remember first playing against him, it was hard to gauge when that move was coming. So it's just a matter of experience and playing against him all the time.”