Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Practice gives Heat edge

NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION Following an early practice, Dwyane Wade had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and Miami overcame New Jersey 102-92 to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series

AP , EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY AND LOS ANGELES

The Los Angeles Clippers' Elton Brand dunks the ball during the second half of Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal against the Phoenix Suns in Los Angeles on Sunday. The Clippers won 114-107 to even the best-of-seven game series at 2-2.

PHOTO: AP

The wake-up call came early on Sunday for an 8am walk-through -- a decidedly unusual gathering in NBA circles.

"Make no mistake," Udonis Haslem said. "It was grueling."

But it worked -- and Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and company are a win away from a return to the Eastern Conference finals.

"We're not surprised. When we play Miami Heat basketball on both ends of the floor, we're a tough team to beat, at home or on the road," Wade said. "We go home to Game 5 and try to close it out at home."

Wade was sensational as usual, but it was the play of Antoine Walker and Haslem during a key stretch of the third quarter that gave Miami the cushion it needed to hold on for its third straight victory. The Heat can now wrap it up when they host Game 5 on Tuesday night in Miami.

"I've said it all year," O'Neal said. "If we do what we're supposed to do, we'll be fine."

Walker scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Haslem added 20 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 8-of-11. They combined for 16 of Miami's 22 points during the third period, when the Heat built their lead to as much as 11.

"They hit shots, they hit a lot of shots," Nets forward Richard Jefferson said. "Udonis Haslem, I swear he didn't miss one tonight."

Jason Kidd tried to rally the Nets, collecting his ninth postseason triple-double and moving over to guard Wade after his hot start. But New Jersey could never regain the lead after the first quarter.

Kidd had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, tying Wilt Chamberlain for third place on the postseason career list and moving within one of Larry Bird for second.

Vince Carter added 26 points and Jefferson scored 17. Nenad Krstic had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

Only eight teams in 163 series have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, though it did happen earlier in this postseason when the Phoenix Suns rallied past the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It's tough. You want to take care of business at home," Carter said. "We put ourselves in the hole. We're not going to hang our heads and say it's over. I expect us to come out stick together, play hard."

The game was tied at 54 before Walker drilled consecutive 3-pointers for a 60-54 lead. Carter made a basket, but Haslem knocked down three straight jumpers as the Heat pushed the lead to 66-56 with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter.

"Antoine is there to be a psychological threat," Miami coach Pat Riley said. "Teams feel he might go on a run. Udonis was solid throughout the game defensively and in the third making shots."

The lead grew to 70-59 on Walker's basket in the lane with 4:03 left in the quarter, but Lamond Murray hit a 3-pointer and Kidd made three free throws at the end of a 12-4 spurt as the Nets pulled within 74-71 with 1:11 to go. Miami was up 76-73 after three.

The Heat didn't even need much from O'Neal, who took only 13 shots and scored 16 points. Maybe that's why forward Jason Collins thinks the Nets would be better forcing O'Neal to do more instead of double-teaming him and leaving shooters open.

"Stick with the game plan of making Shaq beat us," he said. "From Game 1 that's been the strategy. Sometimes we're able to do that and sometimes we're not."

Wade opened the fourth with a drive before the Nets scored four straight to get within one. Carter then missed two free throws, and the Nets missed three more chances to take the lead before Haslem's follow made it 80-77 with 7:38 to go.

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