Thunder vow to avoid siren song of South Beach

MIAMI – Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade chuckled when reminded about how the Dallas Mavericks were swept up by the South Beach nightlife during the 2006 NBA Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have a party reputation, but time will tell if the South Beach scene claims another victim.

“That was funny back then," Wade said, smiling at the memory of the Mavericks' turbulent week here six years ago.

The Mavs arrived here for the 2006 Finals with a 2-0 lead and were initially booked for the series' middle three games at an upscale downtown hotel about 10 minutes from South Beach. Sightings of Mavericks player in nightspots were quickly reported by the local media, and after Dallas lost Games 3 and 4, then-Mavs coach Avery Johnson accused his players of having a “vacation mentality.” He forced the team to move 45 minutes away in Fort Lauderdale and banned family and friends from the hotel.

The Mavs lost Game 5 in Miami and Game 6 in Dallas as the Heat won their first title. In last season's rematch during the 2011 Finals, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle took the team to the same Miami downtown hotel, but had an early curfew. Dallas won two of three games in Miami to win its first championship.

“We went along with it," former Mavericks forward Josh Howard said of Johnson's lockdown. "If he felt like we needed to move, we needed to move.

"There was no trying to persuade coach. All of us were young kids. I wasn’t thinking about the change. I was just trying to win a ring."

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The Thunder also have a young roster. Nine players are 25 or younger and their top four players – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka – are all under 24. The Thunder are staying at a downtown hotel for the week while family and friends are at a nearby hotel in the Biscayne Bay area. The team does not have a curfew.

Thunder guard Daequan Cook, who played for the Heat from 2007-10, says he has talked to teammates about the allure of South Beach. Some Thunder players, he said, have told him it would be difficult to play in Miami because of it.

"It could be a trap if you’re not smart," Cook said. "I can actually talk to them and let them know what [South Beach is] capable of doing. Not that I ever got [in trouble], but it can be to a lot of guys. It’s important that you separate and manage your time while you’re out here. There is so much out here."

OKC's veteran point guard, Derek Fisher, has won five NBA championships and is playing in his eighth Finals. Fisher, 37, said his younger teammates can block out the distractions.

“The Finals is an event of its own,” Fisher said. “Often times you feel like you can do the same things that got you here. Being in the Finals, when you’re one of two teams left, it merits another level of mental preparation. So even if you’re going to a road city or home for five or six days, free time can’t necessarily be filled with free-time activities.

"You need to watch film, you need to make sure you get your recovery, your rest – everything that you can possibly do to make sure that when that game starts that next day or two days later, you’re ready to go.

"Professionally speaking, there shouldn’t be anything more important than that. I tell them if you think going out and having a good time now is fun, win a championship and measure that fun against what that is."

With the series tied going into Sunday's Game 3, the Thunder must win at least one game in Miami to avoid elimination. The Heat are 8-2 at home in the playoffs and defeated Oklahoma City 98-93 here on April 4 during the regular season. The Thunder are 4-3 on the road in the playoffs.

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“The best thing about being on the road is you have to come together as a group even more,” Durant said. “We do it a lot at home, but we have to come together even more because everybody is against you. Everybody in the stands is against you. The other team, of course, is against you, so it's fun kind of being like the villain on the road.”

Will South Beach haunt the Thunder the way it did the Mavericks? Wade isn’t counting on it.

"I don't think the urge to want to go out and enjoy Miami is that important right now," Wade said, "especially when in 10 days you can enjoy it as much as you want."

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