SAN ANTONIO - Stringing together a two-game win streak sounds routine for the reigning champion Miami Heat, but they have failed to do it for more than three weeks and must do so in the NBA Finals or risk losing their crown.
A victory in Sunday's Game Five of the best-of-seven series would give the Heat their first winning streak since May 22. A loss would put them in an uncomfortable position of having to win two straight at home to repeat as champions.
"If we don't do two, we won't win a championship. I wasn't that smart in school, but I do know that. The numbers don't add up," Miami guard Dwyane Wade told a news conference on Saturday.
"We have to find a way to put a string together. And hopefully our mentality and our play in Game Four can take over to the next game."
After barreling through the regular season with a franchise-record 66 wins, including a 27-game win streak, followed by an 8-1 record over the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Heat have alternated wins and losses over their last 11 games.
Miami beat the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday to even the best-of-seven NBA Finals at 2-2 and face the task on Sunday of trying to disrupt a pattern that seemed unthinkable for much of the season.
"We're well overdue when it's time for us to win consecutive games," LeBron James, who is coming off his best game of the Finals, told reporters.
"Enough is enough for our team. I'm not saying it's going to result in us having a win, but we need to play with the same sense of urgency as if we were down 2-1 or whatever the case may be tomorrow night. And we can't wait around."
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said his team's inability to get back on a winning streak has plenty to do with the level of competition at this late stage of a season.
Miami needed all seven games to eliminate a plucky Indiana Pacers team in the Eastern Conference finals and now clearly have their hands full against a Spurs team seeking their fifth NBA title in 15 seasons.
"When you get to this level, it's tough to win two games in a row against an equal opponent," said Spoelstra.
"We want to make sure that we're continuing to get better, and hopefully tomorrow we can have our best game of the series. That's what our focus is for the next 24 hours. It's not about anything else."
The Heat have faced plenty of obstacles since James and Chris Bosh joined fellow All-Star Wade in Miami three years ago to form the Big Three.
Miami responded with three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and Wade, fresh off his best performance of the playoffs in Miami's 109-93 win on Thursday, was not showing any signs of panic.
"This team we've always responded to a challenge, and right now this is our challenge," said Wade.
"Our challenge now as a team is to see if we can put complete games together, back to back. So that's got to be our challenge that we have to look forward to." (Editing by Gene Cherry)