LeBron James came to Miami last summer for the chance to be a champion.
He arrived back here Friday just hoping to be a survivor.
The Dallas Mavericks have a 3-2 lead in the NBA finals and can win their first championship Sunday night. Less than a year after the Heat's free-agent victory celebration, the real party might belong to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs.
But the Heat, despite consecutive losses that have renewed criticism of their execution and James' ability in the clutch, insist they still can win the first of multiple titles James boasted of upon his arrival in South Florida.
"I guess they have momentum in the sense they came home and won two games. But each game is its own," Dwyane Wade said Thursday night. "Every game has been pretty much a possession here, a possession there. Either team can come in and say they can be up different than what they are. We'll be coming to the game understanding it's a possession game in Game 6, doing whatever it takes to win the ballgame. So we're confident."
So are the Mavericks, who hung in for four games until their offense finally started clicking the way they believed it would. They get two chances to close out the Heat, but stress the importance of doing it on the first try.
"Game 6 is Game 7 for us," guard Jason Terry said. "We want to play like there's no tomorrow. If we do that, I have no doubt in my mind we can be successful. We must come out aggressively."
Wrapping it up on Miami's floor would be the sweetest revenge for Nowitzki and Terry. It was Terry who launched the Mavs' final shot that Wade rebounded and fired in the air as the clock expired on Miami's Game 6 victory in Dallas in the 2006 finals.
Now, Wade has a sore left hip but said he'll be fine in time for Sunday's game, and the Heat get a break with the extra day between Games 5 and 6. Under the usual format, there is only one day off when the finals switch cities.
James' reputation has absorbed its own wound.
He rebounded from his eight-point Game 4 flop by delivering a triple-double in Game 5, but it came with only two points in the fourth quarter. He has totaled only 11 points in that period, a major reason the Mavericks have pulled out three games in one of the tightest finals ever.
"We've just got to push through it. At this point we have no choice, honestly," James said. "We've got two games left, and we worked hard all year to get home-court advantage. So we have to take advantage of it."
The winner of Game 5 has gone on to win the title 19 of the previous 26 times the finals were tied 2-2, but the Heat will try to become the second consecutive team to overcome those odds. The Lakers returned to Los Angeles down 3-2 last year and took the last two from the Boston Celtics.
The Heat's chances depend on being able to regain control of a Dallas offense that was at its frightening best in Game 5. After averaging 87.8 points through four games, the Mavericks shot 56.5 percent from the field and hit 13 of 19 3-pointers (68 percent) in their 112-103 victory.
Another performance like that and veterans that fill up their roster could finally become champions.
"Look, we're trying to execute our game plan and see if we have the most points come Sunday," 38-year-old point guard Jason Kidd said. "We're not looking to knock no one out. We're here to play team basketball and continue to do what we've been doing the last two games."
Still, these finals are turning into what James isn't doing, much more than what the Mavs are doing.
Even the two-time MVP's triple-double felt hollow because it was accompanied by two missed shots and a turnover on an offensive foul after the Mavs tied it at 100 with 3:23 remaining.