MIAMI -- The season began with the Miami Heat hearing about how their biggest rival in the Eastern Conference wanted to earn homecourt.
Now, the Heat have to hear about how their latest challenge embraces being the home team.
For the Heat to win a third straight NBA title, they will have to defeat the San Antonio Spurs as the visiting team.
"Once the time came when the playoffs started, we knew whoever we were going to play there was a chance that we were going to have to win on the road," guard Ray Allen said.
Last year homecourt proved valuable in the Heat defeating the Spurs in the Finals. They trailed 3-2 when the series returned to Miami. The Heat then won the last two games to capture a second consecutive championship.
"The mantra since I've been here is you have to win a playoff game on the road," forward Shane Battier said. "Not that we expect to win every game on the road but we expect to go into a series and be very competitive and be able to get one on the road. Homecourt is nice, a luxury, it was great to have it last year but it's not a necessity for our success."
The results have been mixed for the Heat during the previous trips to the Finals. They lost as the home team in 2011 and won on the road the following year. Homecourt proved overrated in the Eastern Conference finals, with the Heat defeating the Indiana Pacers in six games. It was the Pacers who harped all season about earning the top seed so they could defeat the Heat.
"I told the guys before the Eastern Conference or whatever, before the season even before the playoffs started, that this was going to be our path," forward LeBron James said. "It's different. We're going to have to win on the road. We're going to have to start on somebody else's floor in order to be able to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals."
Thus far, the Heat are 4-3 on the road this postseason, with losses to the Pacers and Brooklyn Nets. The Spurs have lost just once at home in the playoffs, but Miami feels ready for the task.
"The guys, we all responded," James said. "We all took that challenge. Obviously, we had the first two rounds on our floor, but we knew, if Indiana took care of business, we had to start on their floor, and we just had that mindset. We had that mindset, if we want to ultimately represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals, we had to win on the road, and we were able to accomplish that."
This is the first year of the altered Finals schedule format. The road team no longer hosts the middle three games of the series. Last year the Heat lost two games in San Antonio, which forced them to overcome the deficit.
With each team hosting two games before alternating the remainder, the Heat believe it can work to their advantage.
"Guys are dialed in," Allen said. "We know that it's never five against 25,000 (fans). It's five-on-five. We just have to stay focused and not let outside things interfere with what's going on, on the floor.
In the last four seasons, the Heat have won all three series they have been the road team. In addition to the Pacers and Thunder, they defeated the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 conference finals.
"To win a championship, you have to win on road," forward Rashard Lewis said. "We're not going to say we're comfortable (on the road). If we can get one, we feel like we've done our job. ... It (homecourt) can be overrated. Getting homecourt, I feel like it is a little added pressure because you have to win. You have to win at home."
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