2020 NBA Finals | Lakers vs. Heat

Men in the Arena: Heat believe this is 'where they're meant to be'

Butler: 'It’s not win or go home, it’s win or win. That’s how we think about it.'

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

With the 2020 general election looming, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra invoked variations of former president Theodore Roosevelt’s quote from a 1910 speech to relay his team’s mentality heading into Game 5 of The Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

On multiple occasions, Spoelstra discussed Miami being “marred by dust, blood, sweat and tears,” while pointing out that “our guys are the ones out there.”

Here’s what Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president, said in one of his most widely quoted speeches, “Citizenship in a Republic”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

They’ll find out soon enough against a Lakers team led by LeBron James, who has captured victories in 17 of his last 18 career closeout games — including three in a row in The Finals — and is prepping to play Game 5 “channeling that desperation, just knowing that the opponent and the man across from you has that same feeling.”

> Finals Game 5: Heat vs. Lakers, Friday at 9 ET on ABC

Throw in what James has learned from two-plus seasons wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform, and you’ve got the makings of a compelling matchup. The teams tip Friday from the NBA bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort, with Miami trailing 3-1 in this best-of-seven series that concludes the longest season in league history.

“What I’ve learned being a Laker is the Laker faithful don’t give a damn what you’ve done before,” said James, who captured three titles and four Kia MVP awards before joining Los Angeles in June 2018. “They don’t care about your resume at all until you become a Laker. Then, you’ve got to do it as a Laker, and then they’ll respect you.”

Interestingly, James made history in 2016, starring for a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that upset the Golden State Warriors and became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in The Finals. The only time Miami has rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to win a series in any round of the postseason was in the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Knicks; a fact well-known by this current Heat team.

Still, Miami remains undaunted by the enormity of the task.

“I don’t think it’s pressure,” said Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler. “I think it’s just win. Ain’t nobody thinking about going home over here. It’s just win, so there’s no pressure. We’re expected to win. That’s our job. It’s not win or go home, it’s win or win. That’s how we think about it.”

But you can’t help but consider the circumstances leading up to this point.

Miami lost two key contributors in All-Star Bam Adebayo (neck strain) and veteran guard Goran Dragic (torn left plantar fascia tear) in Game 1, and both sat out of the next two games before the former returned Tuesday for the Heat’s 102-96 loss in Game 4. Dragic missed Game 4, and his status for Game 5 hasn’t changed, according to Spoelstra.

Dragic remains listed as doubtful for Friday’s game, which keeps the burden of production on both sides of the floor on Butler, who has played 43 minutes or more in each of the last three games of this series, including nearly 45 minutes in Games 2 and 3.

Let’s also not forget that Dragic entered these Finals as Miami’s leading scorer.

Still, Butler smiled when asked about Miami’s confidence facing elimination, while Spoelstra pointed to the importance of the Heat simply focusing on the task at hand.

“Look, we think it’s a really competitive series,” Spoelstra said. “We have a purpose of why we’re here. We’re competing for a title, and it’s the first team to four wins. There’s a lot of different narratives out there. We don’t give a [expletive] what everybody else thinks. This is everything that we wanted this year; an opportunity to fight for, compete for a title, and that hasn’t changed at all through these first games.”

Apparently, Los Angeles shares a similar sentiment, and plans to wear its Kobe Bryant-designed “Black Mamba” jerseys for Game 5. Originally, the Lakers planned to wear those uniforms for Game 7 but will now sport them in Friday’s closeout opportunity.

It’s important to note Los Angeles is 4-0 this season in those uniforms.

“If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, then we can remain undefeated,” said Lakers forward Anthony Davis, who joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Tuesday as the only players to average 25 points or more (25.8) on better than 60 percent (60.6%) from the field through their first four NBA Finals games. “We just think that for all the things that happened this season, with our team specifically and our organization, that to be able to close it out in the Black Mamba uniforms will just make it all worth it.

“Obviously, his legacy in the NBA and then with the organization, period, is something special. For us to close it out in his honor is something we look forward to. An insane amount of pressure for sure, but we don’t want to lose. We don’t want to let him down.”

As for Spoelstra, the coach declined to go into specifics regarding any potential motivational tactics for Game 5.

They’re not needed, he stressed.

Instead, Spoelstra ended his Thursday post-practice availability by again invoking a portion of Roosevelt’s speech.

“Our guys don’t need stabilization. We don’t need a character test,” Spoelstra said. “We don’t need a competitive temperature. We all know where our guys are. We are here for a purpose. We are trying to compete for a title. That has not changed. And for our players, our guys are the ones in the arena marred by sweat, tears, blood. And that’s right where they are meant to be.”

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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