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Caught in a Miami vise

Heat feel the pressure to crank it up at home

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / April 23, 2010

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MIAMI — Dwyane Wade did not offer a plea to his Miami teammates to respond to their dire situation in Game 3 tonight at America Airlines Arena. He didn’t have to. They fully acknowledged yesterday that they need to play better to have a chance to prevail against the Celtics in this first-round series, which they trail, two games to none.

The Heat will unleash the black T-shirts for their fans tonight, and a raucous home crowd should provide some type of spark for a team that has played historically poorly in this series. In a stretch of Game 2 Tuesday, the Celtics outscored the Heat, 44-8.

Except for Wade, who has produced his usual All-Star numbers (27.5 points, 5.5 assists, 61 percent shooting), the Heat have been deplorable, sputtering under the pressure and perhaps further encouraging Wade to explore free agency this summer. Take away Wade, and the Heat are shooting 32 percent with 27 turnovers in the series.

The Heat are convinced they have the talent and savvy to overcome an 0-2 deficit despite losing to the Celtics all five times this season, including twice in Miami.

The players walked off the practice court yesterday more apologetic than they were following Game 1.

Coach Erik Spoelstra has yet to find a second option to Wade. A team filled with proven players and young upstarts is faltering. Jermaine O’Neal, a former All-Star who was supposed to take some of the scoring responsibility off Wade, is 4 for 24 in the series.

That’s beyond embarrassing for the league’s third-highest-paid player, one who sought to prove he was still capable following years of knee problems. His struggles even encouraged him to reach out to his high school coach, George Glymph, for some consultation.

O’Neal had an extra shooting session scheduled yesterday, determined to show that 4 for 24 is an aberration.

“I expect to do well, I expect to shoot better,’’ he said. “I expect to be better and I will be better come Game 3.

“There’s no need to look at any more film, I have already done that. I am not comfortable being down, 0-2, and struggling. I am a big part of what this team needs to win and I’ve got to do my job.’’

But it appeared yesterday that the Heat were more miffed than embarrassed by their disappearing acts in the two games. Since leading, 61-47, in the third quarter of Game 1, the Heat have been outscored, 144-92.

The frustrated Wade has taken to scoring binges because he has lost faith in his teammates. And although he won’t publicly admonish O’Neal, Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem, and Dorell Wright, they know they have let him down.

Those customary Haslem baseline jumpers have rimmed off, and he has not been the defensive or rebounding menace of years past.

“We’ve got to play a whole game,’’ he said. “We haven’t played a complete game against these guys yet and that’s the most disappointing thing about it. Looking at the film and seeing some of the mistakes that we made that are so uncharacteristic of how we play, you know it’s disappointing.

“I’m not going to sit here and say all the mistakes are our mistakes and [the Celtics] have nothing to do with it. Just because we miss shots doesn’t mean we have to go from down 2 to down 20.’’

The Celtics have the opportunity to deliver a knockout blow and perhaps give their veterans some rest with a victory tonight. Meanwhile, the Heat could revive their confidence and Wade’s faith with a resounding victory.

Don’t call the Heat desperate. They credit the Celtics for defending their home court and realize they are capable of doing the same. And it’s hard to say whether the Heat are a team that’s finished but in denial or whether they truly believe they can beat Boston four times in five games.

So far, all they have proven is that they are capable of baffling stretches of ineptitude, forcing Wade into an Ahab role, fighting Moby Dick. The consensus is that the situation needs to change and perhaps the shift to sunny South Florida will renew their vigor.

Asked if his team should play with desperation tonight, Spoelstra said, “Not from fear. That’s kind of negative energy. This should be really about us coming home. We play every well here. Everybody is looking forward to the game. The world hasn’t come down on this team, and this is typically when we respond the best.’’

Spoelstra spoke yesterday as if he were convinced that the Heat will respond to their tenuous situation.

“Here’s the deal,’’ said the coach. “It’s sort of easy to point fingers at our front line for all those [Boston] opportunities in the paint. That’s all about the trust in our system.

“In Game 2, you saw the most glaring example of the lack of trust in our system. What we’ve built all season is good enough. Our game is good enough. We just need to get to it.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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