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NBA FINALS: James says Game 4 is a must-win

by BRIAN MAHONEY AP Basketball Writer on June 13, 2013 9:59 AM

SAN ANTONIO — Even after winning 27 in a row during the regular season, the Miami Heat don’t want to rely on a three-game winning streak now.

Not against a team as good as the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs can take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals tonight, which would move the Heat to the verge of something much bigger than just another finals failure.

Lose this series, and the whole Big Three era might be a failure.

So LeBron James called Game 4 a “must-win,” and pointed to himself as the guy who has to lead the Heat to it.

“We’ve been at our best when I guess our backs are up against the wall, and we’re at it again,” he said Wednesday. “We’ll see how we respond tomorrow.”

Any questions about James and the Heat were supposed to have been answered by now. He was too good to be taken out of games, his teammates too talented to go through long stretches where they weren’t contributing.

But they didn’t resemble the league’s reigning powerhouse in Game 3, when the Spurs handed them the third-worst beating in finals history in a 113-77 romp. They looked like the club from two years ago against Dallas, when the finals last came to Texas.

“Something has to give tomorrow night,” James said Wednesday. “They have a championship pedigree. They have four (titles). We have two. So something has to give. We’ll see what happens. We’ve been able to bounce back throughout adverse times throughout the season, throughout the years that we’ve been together, these three years. We’ll see.”

“We’ll see” is the approach the Spurs are taking with Tony Parker, who has a mild hamstring strain. The team is calling the All-Star point guard day to day after he was hurt during Game 3 and had an MRI exam Wednesday.

The Spurs didn’t need much from him Tuesday, when Danny Green and Gary Neal combined for 13 of the Spurs’ NBA Finals-record 16 3-pointers and Kawhi Leonard had 14 points and 12 rebounds.

James had his practice jersey hanging over his back like a cape Wednesday, and he knows the Heat need him to be Super today.

And he insists that’s what he’s going to be.

“As dark as it was last night, can’t get no darker than that, especially for me,” he said. “So, I guarantee I’ll be better tomorrow for sure.”

The Heat look very vulnerable, but seeing them as bewildered as they were Tuesday was stunning. James too often seemed to linger around the perimeter, an old habit reappearing when it seemed he’d put it aside for good and wouldn’t allow himself to settle for jumpers anymore when he could go into the post instead.

Part of the reason is the Spurs, with a solid defensive game plan and a versatile defender in Leonard who can apply it. But the Heat also realized another problem was simply their own effort — or lack thereof — in going for rebounds and loose balls. They haven’t lost consecutive games in five months and this isn’t the time to start.

“We just collectively played a very bad basketball game last night,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s why after the film session, all we’re focused on is how we prepare the next 24 hours to have our best game of the series tomorrow night.”

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