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SPORTS EXTRA / NBA PLAYOFFS

For Knicks and Heat, Nothing More to Say--Except Game 7

May 21, 2000|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI — Forget the cliches about who wants it more or is more intense or whatever the buzzword of the moment may be.

The Miami Heat and New York Knicks got to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals, with the winner to face the Indiana Pacers for the East title starting Tuesday at Indianapolis, because they have pushed each other to the limit of their emotional and physical endurance. Neither team has expended this much sweat to concede anything to age, injury or history.

"The ultimate game is the ultimate game. You've got to bring your best game," Heat Coach Pat Riley said Saturday. "You've got to be loose, free, and you've got to execute. There can't be any feeling of real pressure.

"That's what this has gotten to. Four consecutive years it has gotten to the ultimate game."

Somewhere along the way, their hatred evolved into respect. "It's a shame somebody has to lose," Knick guard Latrell Sprewell said.

Barring a sudden switch to a best-of-nine format, someone will lose today and will spend the summer wondering where it went wrong.

For the Knicks, will it be their inability to outrebound the Heat in the first five games? Will the Heat, kept together by Riley this season for a last charge but sure to undergo changes before next season, rue the 18-point second-quarter lead it squandered Friday in the Knicks' 72-70 victory?

"The pressure is on them now," Knick forward Marcus Camby said. "We feel confident. We feel we can come down here and get a win. We closed these guys out down here last year [in their best-of-five first-round series] and particularly after coming back from being down 18, we have the momentum going in."

Neither has won two games in a row since the Knicks won the last two games of their 1998 first-round series.

"We're going to go after it like we haven't gone after anything in our lives," Riley said. "That's what impresses me about what happened in New York. The way we came with no fear or trepidation is the way we have to come [today]."

The Heat has won the only Game 7 it played, against the Knicks in the 1997 East semifinals. The Knicks are 6-8 in seventh games and have lost their last three, to the Houston Rockets in the 1994 NBA finals, the Pacers in the 1995 East semifinals and the Heat in 1997. Their last Game 7 victory was over Indiana in the 1994 East finals.

"It's been very hard fought and I wouldn't expect anything different [today]," Knick Coach Jeff Van Gundy said after holding a team meeting and leading a walk-through on a half-court set up in the ballroom of the team hotel.

"I like those sweeps better than deciding games, but going into it we knew it would be hard fought and that we'd probably have to win two games on the road, and that's where we're at. Hopefully, we can start well and finish well."

Neither team practiced Saturday. Riley urged his players to rest rather than watch tapes of Friday's 25-point second half and their defensive failings down the stretch.

"We need to clean our minds and conjure up the energy and disposition to come ready to play," Riley said. "I don't think taking the team to task [would have helped]. I made a request the team stay away from that. We went on the road to close out a very good, very proud team. We know what happened at the end and we don't have to analyze it."

The Knicks couldn't practice at American Airlines Arena because it was being used by the Miami WNBA team. However, a workout might not have been productive because players were upset over the death of Malik Sealy of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who had played in the annual Wheelchair Charities game hosted by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and knew many Knick players.

"They're a little bit discombobulated today, a little tired and [disturbed by] Sealy's death," said Van Gundy, who recruited Sealy while Van Gundy was on the coaching staff at Providence. "Hopefully, they'll be excited and energetic and ready to go [today]."

To go on to the East finals, the Knicks must play as they did in the second half Friday and establish a presence on the boards, fight for loose balls and put aside their egos. "I think we understood as a team that's how we won the game," Sprewell said. "It's a shame it took us six games to do that."

Said Allan Houston, whose free throws with 17.6 seconds to play stood up as the winning points when Anthony Carter missed a three-point try at the buzzer: "Both teams are going to want it badly, but it's a little bit more than desire. It's execution. Both teams have shown a desire to win and know what it takes to win."

Riley said the Heat must find open men when the Knicks double team and must regain its rebounding edge. "You go up 10, 15 points you know the other team is going to make a rush at you," Riley said. "We got there and couldn't close it out."

*

Houston twisted his ankle in the fourth quarter Friday but will play. . . . Miami point guard Tim Hardaway, hobbled because of sprained left foot, played 23 minutes Friday and scored only two points. However, Riley won't move Carter ahead of Hardaway. "We need Tim. We need his leadership," Riley said.

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