Beat them one night, then wait a game.
The Heat extended their mind-boggling trend of regrouping from losses in dominant fashion with a combined 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals, nine assists and five blocks from James, Wade and Chris Bosh in a 109-93 victory against San Antonio to even the Finals at 2-2 entering Game 5.
But why don't the Heat have a stronger grip on prosperity?
It's one of the few unresolved dilemmas facing Miami as it looks to capitalize on the best collective performance from its star trio heading into Sunday's pivotal game. A win in Game 5 would not only give the Heat a 3-2 lead heading home with two chances to close out the series in Miami, but also would mark the first time they will have won consecutive playoff games in nearly a month.
Miami has perfected the process of following losses with emphatic victories. But it hasn't quite figured out how to build on playoff success from one game to the next.
"Today, it's about [taking] a mental break, but tomorrow, we're going to be real about it," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during the team's day off Friday, addressing the trend of recent inconsistency. "The most significant factor, and that's not being able to put [together] back-to-back wins, it's been the competition the last two weeks. Indiana and now with San Antonio. But there has to be a point where enough is enough. And we have to try to fight for a breakthrough."
That could shape up to be the toughest challenge the Heat have faced since James, Wade and Bosh became teammates during the summer of 2010. Miami is two victories away from successfully defending its NBA title. But on Sunday, the Heat will take on a desperate Spurs team that will be playing its final home game of the season in a building that has four championship banners hanging from the rafters.
And while the Heat's so-called Big Three finally produced a relentless, overwhelming performance worthy of the hype that has surrounded them the past three seasons, the Spurs' veteran core has yet to have a big game collectively.
Although the series is tied, the tide seems to have shifted. Factor in how James is now attacking the basket; how Wade just had his best game of the playoffs; and how Bosh's steady progression resulted in his third straight double-double, and the Heat appear to be the stronger team.
Now, it's the Spurs who are limited by Tony Parker's hamstring strain, which played a huge part in his second-half struggles in Game 4. With Manu Ginobili unable to find his offense and Tim Duncan having a hard time finishing at the rim against Miami's speed and athleticism, the Spurs are now the team in a deep search for answers with a short time in which to find them.
The Heat and Spurs have alternated wins in the first four games, with the last three decided by double figures in a see-saw series that has both teams scrambling for stability.
"That's what drives me crazy," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Friday. "Because as coaches, you try to prevent that. You would like to be a little more on an even keel and perform the same way each night. And the only thing I can tell myself after all these years is you're dealing with people with emotions, and not robots. They come out and they all play hard, but there's that little intangible, that little spark of intensity or back against the wall or a little bit of fear that just seems to kick in when you've lost the previous game. And when you find teams that can get over that, those are the championship teams."
"If those three guys can score like that consistently, they're really, really tough," Popovich said. "And it makes the margin of error very, very slim. They have that ability to kick it up a notch, where most teams don't."
The problem for the Heat has not been maintaining that gear once they've reached a dominant notch. For James, that means continuing to press the action and attack in transition after getting defensive stops. The Heat converted 19 Spurs turnovers into 23 points. Miami had 13 steals and seven blocked shots, which theoretically generated 20 potential possessions with James on the run.
Playing at that level is as much about a mentality as it is a method. But when there's no pressure, the Heat don't tend to press as hard from the outset. James said it's a habit that needs to be broken in order to reach a breakthrough.
"We can't wait until our back is against the wall every time to respond," said James, who is averaging 20.8 points, 12 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks in the Finals. "We have to build some momentum. We can use [Game 4] as momentum, but we still have work to do. If we understand and if we own it, we'll come in with a mindset on Sunday that we are desperate once again and our back is against the wall. So it's going to be a challenge for us."
Bosh jokingly suggested there are several creative ways the Heat can maintain the motivation they have after losses. Having faced high expectations and scrutiny every step of the way since 2010, Bosh said his team has always felt more comfortable responding to adversity and criticism.
The plan is to take a proactive approach Sunday, knowing a loss in Game 5 would put Miami on the brink of elimination with a lesser margin for error. They will try to generate a sense of desperation before any real despair. The Spurs handed Miami a 113-77 beating in Game 3. There might be enough lingering sting from the Heat's worst loss in postseason history to carry them through the series.
Bottling Wade's performance in Game 4 might also help. Even if Wade's troublesome right knee won't allow him to recreate the 32-point scoring binge, the Heat would settle for a versatile floor game that included six steals, six rebounds, four assists and a block in 40 minutes.
"We would love to consistently get to that game, but we're playing a good team," Wade said. "We would love to put a great sting together. I'm sure they would love to do the same thing. I know it's not easy to do that, but it's three games left. We have to come out with that intensity and focus we had to start the game, and to end the game all the way through. That's the only way we're going to win it."