Heat awake, leave Nets on brink

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The wake-up call came early Sunday for an 8 a.m. walk-through – a decidedly unusual gathering in NBA circles.

“Make no mistake,” Udonis Haslem said. “It was grueling.”

But it worked – and Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and company are a win away from a return to the Eastern Conference finals.

Wade had 31 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and the Miami Heat beat the New Jersey Nets 102-92 to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.

“We’re not surprised. When we play Miami Heat basketball on both ends of the floor, we’re a tough team to beat, at home or on the road,” Wade said. “We go home to Game 5 and try to close it out at home.”

Wade was sensational as usual, but it was the play of Antoine Walker and Haslem during a key stretch of the third quarter that gave Miami the cushion it needed to hold on for its third straight victory. The Heat can now wrap it up when they host Game 5 on Tuesday night in Miami.

“I’ve said it all year,” O’Neal said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be fine.”

Walker scored 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting and Haslem added 20 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 8-of-11. They combined for 16 of Miami’s 22 points during the third period, when the Heat built their lead to as much as 11.

“They hit shots, they hit a lot of shots,” Nets forward Richard Jefferson said. “Udonis Haslem, I swear he didn’t miss one tonight.”

Jason Kidd tried to rally the Nets, collecting his ninth postseason triple-double and moving over to guard Wade after his hot start. But New Jersey could never regain the lead after the first quarter.

Kidd had 17 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, tying Wilt Chamberlain for third place on the postseason career list and moving within one of Larry Bird for second.

Vince Carter added 26 points and Jefferson scored 17. Nenad Krstic had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

Clippers 114, Suns 107

LOS ANGELES – Elton Brand dominated the inside again. And Sam Cassell bounced back from a dreadful performance with a beauty.

Brand had 30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, Cassell added 28 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Phoenix Suns 114-107 Sunday night to even the Western Conference semifinals 2-2.

Phoenix star Steve Nash was held to eight points and 11 assists. He shot 3-of-11, and didn’t make a field goal after halftime.

The Suns scored 11 straight points to move within one before Brand made an 18-foot jumper with 56 seconds remaining and Cassell hit a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left to clinch the victory.

Brand scored 67 points in the first two games, but was held to 20 in Game 3.

The 36-year-old Cassell, who entered the postseason with more playoff experience than the rest of his teammates combined, shot 2-of-10 for six points in Game 3 and played only 35 seconds in the fourth quarter.

He began the final period of this game on the bench, but returned with 7:19 to play and made a pair of 3-pointers down the stretch.

The Clippers won without starting center Chris Kaman, sidelined because of a sore right shoulder. Kaman, injured in Game 3, suited up and was available, according to a team spokesman, but never left the bench.

Corey Maggette had 18 points and 15 rebounds, Vladimir Radmanovic scored nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, and Shaun Livingston added 11 points for the Clippers.

Raja Bell led the Suns with a career playoff-high 33 points – two more than his regular-season career best. Boris Diaw added 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists; Shawn Marion had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Leonardo Barbosa added 15 points.

It was 100-93 when Radmanovic and Cassell made back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Clippers a 13-point lead with 5:54 left – largest of the game for either team.

That’s when the Suns began their rally, which Barbosa finished by making a 3-pointer with 2:36 left and a layup with 1:12 to go.

At that stage, the Clippers’ big two made the two biggest plays of the game.

Even without the 7-foot Kaman, the Clippers dominated the backboards, outrebounding the Suns 55-37. Los Angeles outrebounded Phoenix 57-26 in winning Game 2, but just 47-46 in losing Game 3.

The Clippers shot 48.8 percent to the Suns’ 45.5 percent. Phoenix committed only five turnovers to nine for Los Angeles.

Marion picked up two fouls in the opening 1:11 of the second half to give him four. Thomas picked up his fourth less than 2 minutes later, and joined Marion on the bench.

But the Suns hung tough, and thanks to 15 points by Bell in the third quarter, they trailed by only eight entering the final period, when Marion and Thomas returned.

Radmanovic started in Kaman’s place, and Maggette replaced Quinton Ross, giving the Clippers additional scoring punch.

The Maggette-for-Ross move paid big dividends in the first half, when Maggette had 16 points and eight rebounds to spark the Clippers to a 61-51 lead.

The Suns led 26-21 before Maggette and Mobley scored four points each during a 12-0 run that put the Clippers ahead by seven. They were on top the rest of the way.

Notes: NBA commissioner David Stern said at an informal news conference before the game that he was pleased for the Clippers and their fans. “Good for them. I think it’s great,” he said. “Thirty years is a long time to wait for the second round.” The Clippers won a playoff series this spring for the first time since 1976. … Counting the playoffs, Kaman has played in 86 games this season, starting 85.

AP-ES-05-14-06 2241EDT

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