The pressure is off.
How else to explain LeBron James laughing during his news conference Saturday, one day before the Heat plays the Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA Finals.
How else to explain Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen crowding around a phone before practice and laughing at a YouTube video?
In years past, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has looked like a zombie at this point in the NBA Finals from lack of sleep. On Saturday, with his team trailing the Spurs 3-1 in the series, he responded to pointed questions with levity.
Have you figured out how to slow down the Spurs?
“Well, we better,” Spoelstra said with a touch of laughter.
How do you?
“We’ll figure it out,” Spoelstra said, all smiles.
“It’s just basketball,” James said.
No team has ever battled back from down 3-1 in the NBA’s championship round, and the Heat apparently is using that sense of inevitability in the days between Games 4 and 5 to lighten the mood. The Heat’s players have trailed in postseason series before, of course, but never have they been more upbeat when facing a deficit than they were Saturday.
James answered a question about appearing to be at peace by noting that he already has won two championships.
“Two championships helps that,” James said. “It helps it, for sure. But understanding what means a lot to me; understanding what’s important and understanding what’s not important allows me to kind of just live in the moment and not focus on what’s happened in the past.
“I can’t control the past. I can’t redo it. I can live in the present, try to affect the future and live with the results while I’m in it.”
James then returned to a story about his sons, who didn’t give him much time to dwell on the Heat’s embarrassing defeat in Game 4. The Heat has looked completely outmatched and outclassed since winning Game 2 in San Antonio.
“I think it’s the motor that they’re playing with,” James said. “It’s the second situations, the third situations, the fourth situations, and we’ve watched film where we’ve been on top of exactly what they’re doing and they’ve still made shots.”
Spoelstra turned philosophical when asked about the state of the series and his team.
“Last year we thought that there wouldn’t be anything tougher than that,” Spoelstra said. “This year, it’s proven to be, and that’s what competition is all about. Embrace it and get into it.
“There is no logic. There is no natural order to competition. Competition just happens. The better team gets the better team until the first team gets to four. You just have to figure it out.”
So far, the Heat has not. The Spurs have shot 59 and 57 percent from the field in their past two victories.
“They’ve played well enough the last two games where we’ve had a lot of holes in the dam, OK, where we’re trying to plug some bigger ones and we have small ones,” Spoelstra said. “But you still can’t get overwhelmed with the result of those two. We need to correct some things and do it better.”
Specifically, James needs more out of his supporting cast Sunday if the Heat is to extend this series and send it back to Miami for Game 6. Wade began Game 4 going 1 of 10 from the field and finished 3 of 13. He said Saturday his health wasn’t the problem.
“I just want my teammates to be themselves, man,” James said when asked what more his teammates could provide in the series.
On Wade, James said, “You expect everyone to be great. This is the biggest moment of the season.”
“But the game has to play itself out,” James said. “I expect for [Wade] to be great. I expect all our guys to be great, or put themselves in a position where we can succeed.”
James pointed to great postseason comebacks in NBA and Major League Baseball history for proof that the Heat can climb out of its hole.
“Why not us? Why not us?” James asked rhetorically. “History is broken all the time.”
And so are streaks.