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Miami Heat will return to Texas; lower seed in NBA Finals no longer plays 3 in a row at home

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MIAMI - No matter what happens in Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat are getting on a plane and returning to San Antonio this weekend.

That's fine with them.

The 2-3-2 format that had been in play since 1985 —the lower seed in the finals played three consecutive games at home mainly to minimize the amount of cross-country flights needed during the title series — is no more, with the NBA making the decision last year to instead use the 2-2-1-1-1 system utilized in all other playoff rounds. So this much is certain: Miami will be packing its bags at least one more time this season.

"I think it's the way it should be," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's the most competitive way to do it. It makes the most sense."

The 2-3-2 worked out for Miami two years ago against Oklahoma City, which had the home-court edge going into the matchup. Miami lost Game 1 of the finals, then beat the Thunder on their floor in Game 2, headed home and wound up staying there for the rest of the season. Three wins and zero air miles later, Miami was crowned NBA champions.

These finals started the same way for the Heat: road loss in Game 1, road win in Game 2. But there will be no title celebration on this homestand.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, shortly after his tenure began, wanted the format changed largely to minimize the amount of cross-country air travel during the finals — and back then, that was a major issue given that it seemed like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were in the title series on an almost-annual basis.

So when the Lakers and Celtics met in a 2-3-2 series in 2008, there was a certain irony in that those teams didn't really seem to like the format.

"What I've never liked about 2-3-2 is you fight all year to have Game 7 at home and Game 5 at home," Doc Rivers, who was coaching the Celtics — the higher seed in that series that year — said during those finals. "Game 5 is taken away from you in this format."

Not anymore.

Game 5 is in San Antonio, not Miami. But with this series tied at a game apiece, the Spurs have more on their minds right now than home-court advantage and travel schedules.

"You have to win on the road to win a championship," Spurs guard Tony Parker said.

The Heat have won on the road in every series they've played the last four years — all 16 of them, and that's an NBA record. If the Spurs are going to win this finals rematch, they must win one time in Miami.

"We know it's going to be a long series and every game is going to be very tough and you just have to be ready to go and be strong mentally and every fourth quarter is going to be big, every possession is going to be big," Parker said. "We just have to stay positive and it's going to be a long series."

Other than a tweak to the end-of-series schedule, the league stayed with its longstanding plan of playing finals games on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays this year. If there is a Game 7, it would fall on June 20 — a Friday.

The Spurs played host to the middle three games in last season's finals.

"It felt like we were in San Antonio forever," Heat forward Chris Bosh said.

This year probably didn't feel all that different. Miami flew to San Antonio last Tuesday, played there Thursday and Sunday and landed at home in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Spoelstra said he'd like to see some more adjusting on that front.

"The travel is the part the league still needs to iron out and figure out in the future," Spoelstra said. "The days in between should be the days where you have multiple days as travel days, not in between the same city."


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