MIAMI -- In the NBA playoffs, insults can be a compliment. The wily old New Orleans Hornets keep talking trash, tutoring the inexperienced Miami Heat in the ways of the postseason, desperate to rattle an opponent that's younger, faster, and perhaps better.
Miami has searched for an answer to the taunts. A victory in Game 7 would do.
The tight, testy, 17-day playoff marathon concludes with a winner-take-all showdown tonight, and the Hornets are sure to try the intimidation tactics that helped them even the series at 3-3 by winning Game 6 Sunday.
"Things are going to get rough out there," Heat center Brian Grant said. "You have to try to keep your composure the best you can."
The weary, bruised series survivor will advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers, with the opening game scheduled for Thursday in Indianapolis.
New Orleans-Miami has included the usual playoff pushing and poking, along with plenty of hard fouls and in-your-face venting, mostly from the Hornets. In the last two games, officials have called 11 technical fouls, eight on New Orleans, with one ejection for each team.
The length of the series has allowed hard feelings to fester. Bad blood was evident even yesterday, when Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said he expects the Hornets to stay with the approach they've used all season. "They have some guys who are big into the extracurricular activities, equating that with toughness," Van Gundy said. "You know, it's pretty easy to hit a guy after a play and call it toughness.
"What you have here are some very physical players, and you have a lot of cheap players. Cheap isn't physical. I can hit somebody on their way down after a play. That's not physical."
The Hornets have lived up to their nickname by being irksome pests, and not just because they came back from series deficits of 2-0 and 3-2. Davis enjoys sticking his head into Heat huddles, and even mild-mannered forward P.J. Brown has gone nose to nose with Lamar Odom and Dwyane Wade.