SAN ANTONIO Erik Spoelstra's Miami Heat breezed through the regular season mostly untouched but the coach of the defending NBA champions is not fazed his team has been unable to dominate the playoffs the same way.
The Heat, who had a 27-game win streak in the regular season, were pushed to a decisive seventh game by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Final and are currently tied 2-2 with the San Antonio Spurs in the championship round.
"If people just say it's about us and the fact that we're not winning, we don't have our act together, that's not giving any credit to the Pacers or what we're dealing with right now, with the Spurs," Spoelstra said during a Friday conference call.
"We feel these are the two best teams in the league, and it should be tight. It should be contested. It should be a tough series."
The Heat set a franchise-record with a 66-win regular season that earned them the top seed for the playoffs and made them heavy favorites to repeat as NBA champions.
Miami needed just the minimum four games to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs and, after dropping the opening game of the second round, won four straight to send the Chicago Bulls packing.
But Miami then ran into a plucky third seed Indiana Pacers squad in an intense series where neither team was able to win consecutive games.
The Spurs have presented a new challenge for Miami as the teams have exchanged wins through the first four games of an NBA Finals that has been reduced to a best-of-three.
"It's the competition. The further you get, the better the teams are. The more you play the better teams, the less chance you'll have of going on a run of whatever, 10 straight, 15 straight. It doesn't happen against the best teams.
"So each game is different. I know it sounds like a cliche, but you have to get to that mentality as quickly as you can in the playoffs to be able to try to conquer it."
Game Five is Sunday in San Antonio with the series shifting to Miami for Game Six on Tuesday and a decisive seventh game on Thursday if necessary.
Rather than let panic set in that his once untouchable team is being tested like never before, Spoelstra prefers to embrace the competition being presented by the four-time champion Spurs.
"They're a great basketball team. They can beat us just the same as we can beat them, and that's what ultimate competition is," said Spoelstra.
"You want it to be like that. You want to be challenged and pushed and hopefully have the competition bring out the best in you ... that should be fully embraced by us."
(Editing by Julian Linden)