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Late rally carries Heat past Nets, into Eastern finals

AP

LeBron James leaped onto a courtside table as the postgame celebration was starting, thumped his chest and punched the air.

Next stop: The Eastern Conference finals. Again.

James scored 29 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 and Ray Allen delivered two huge plays in the final seconds as the Heat rallied to beat the Brooklyn Nets 96-94 on Wednesday night, winning the second-round matchup 4-1.

“It’s always been like that for us,” James said. “It’s never easy. It’s never easy for us.”

Sure looks easy, though. It was the 10th straight series win for the two-time defending NBA champions.

“When we met the first day for prep we said the No. 1 key, overwhelmingly the No. 1 key in this series, was great mental stability,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

“That’s what it was down the stretch . . . incredible focus.”

Incredible defense, too, when it was needed most.

Down by eight with less than five minutes left, the Heat forced Brooklyn into nine straight missed shots while peeling off a 12-0 run to take the lead. Allen’s 3-pointer off an assist by Mario Chalmers with 32 seconds remaining was the go-ahead moment, and the Heat wouldn’t trail again.

Allen disrupted Joe Johnson’s dribble on the game’s final play, James then swatted the bouncing ball out of everyone’s reach, time expired — and the Heat advanced.

“Give the Heat credit,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “They were attacking there in the fourth quarter. We were attacking. Both teams were attacking. They made plays, they made shots and we didn’t.”

Chris Bosh scored 16 and Allen finished with 13 for Miami. Johnson had 34 points, Paul Pierce scored 19 and Deron Williams had 17 for the Nets.

It’s the sixth trip to the East title series in the last 10 seasons for Miami, which is bidding for a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals — something only the Lakers and Celtics franchises have accomplished.

James is heading to the East finals for the sixth time in eight seasons, the first two of those trips coming with Cleveland in 2007 and 2009.

The Heat will next face either fifth-seeded Washington or top-seeded Indiana. The Pacers lead that series 3-2, one win away from setting up a rematch with Miami that seemed like an absolute certainty for much of the season.

“Obviously, we thought this was a game we should have won,” Johnson said. Spurs 104, Trail Blazers 82

In San Antonio, the veteran Spurs showed Portland a few things about succeeding in the playoffs. The biggest lesson was how not to panic when an All-Star goes down.

Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard each scored 22 points, and San Antonio overcame an injury to Tony Parker to close out the Western Conference semifinals with a victory.

Patty Mills scored 18 points and Tim Duncan had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Spurs, who had four blowout victories in the five-game series.

It’s the third straight conference finals appearance for San Antonio, which lost a heartbreaking seven-game series to the Miami Heat in last season’s NBA Finals.

San Antonio, which had the NBA’s best record, will await the winner of the series between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder have a 3-2 lead.

“Whoever’s the best team, I want to play them,” Leonard said. “It’s gonna prepare us for the (NBA) Finals.”

LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points for Portland, while Damian Lillard added 17 points and 10 assists.

With Parker forced to exit in the first half with a hamstring injury, Leonard, Mills and Green pressed the action on both ends.

San Antonio finished with 13 steals, including five for Leonard, while forcing 18 turnovers.

“My mindset was just trying to be aggressive on the offensive end,” Leonard said. “Just knowing Tony was out, he’s very aggressive and still try to stick with our system. Play our offense, move the ball, just try to be a little more aggressive.”

The Spurs also had 24 assists on 42 baskets, shooting 47 percent from the field, and had 43 fast-break points.

“They definitely showed us about moving the ball around,” Aldridge said “They made five or six passes every possession down. It just makes your defense tired and just makes guys make mistakes. They definitely showed use where we are trying to go.”