DALLAS -- The fruitless Miami trip is behind them. And now the Dallas Mavericks, having lost three road games, have the chance to bring home their first NBA title by winning Games 6 and 7.
Beware an effective 'Toine
Dirk Nowitzki, especially.
You saw him kick the ball in the stands after a tough Game 5 loss, and he was later caught on tape, taking out his postgame frustration on an unsuspecting exercise bicycle.
Take it as a good sign. I applaud his passion and the will he has to win. Dirk wants to be the best, which frankly not everybody wants to be. I think he was frustrated in his own performance and how the game went. I think he will feel very comfortable back home for Game 6.
But what about Miami's chances? Winning in Dallas has proven to be a tall order for them.
Dwyane Wade has yet to play a great game in Dallas. Shaquille O'Neal's foul-shooting troubles have resurfaced. Still, if those two can excel and the Heat get one other standout performance, I see a window of opportunity for the visitors.
Climbing through the window could be none other than Antoine Walker.
If things don't go very well for Shaq-Wade-Walker, we'll probably be seeing a Game 7 in Dallas.
After Wade's 43-point heroics Sunday, a team might want somebody else to beat them. But I don't think Dallas will use as much doubling on Wade as some would think. Down the stretch in Game 5, I think a player like Wade can sense when a team is confident in defending him; Dallas was not. That feeds him even more.
However, it's a different game in Dallas. This series may prove definitively why the home court means so much. Miami joins the 2004 Detroit Pistons as the only team to win the middle three home games of a series.
That's why you work so hard to get it -- I think the home-court advantage in basketball means more than in any other major sport. And it's also why Dallas deserves so much credit for taking down the defending champs on the road in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Dallas has played well for many stretches in Miami and only really completely unraveled in the Game 4 loss. Miami had a spectacular effort from Wade in Game 5. When Wade goes wild, it's always going to be hard to beat the Heat.
Dallas almost did. Now, Game 6 awaits.
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If his team rules its home court, Mavs coach Avery Johnson likely won't have to repeat this scene, arguing with official Joe Crawford about a timeout called near the end of Game 5's overtime.
Josh (Princeton): When will someone [admit] that the foul call that decided Game 5 was complete crap? Why do opinion writers feel the need to equivocate? In every other game, all you hear is that you can't call a foul at the end of a game that will decide it, and now everyone all of a sudden has changed their tune? Ridiculous.
Steve (Ft. Myers): Why all the complaining about fouls? The refs called only 12 more fouls on Dallas. Remove the "Hack-a-Shaq" from the equation and the game was called evenly. Dallas' problem seems to be their inability to make clutch free throws when they do get fouled! Shaq has made more clutch free throws in this series than any of the Mavs! Shouldn't Dallas be a little more worried about their own mistakes, rather than the refs? (i.e. -- Jerry Stackhouse did lead with his shoulder, Josh Howard DID call a timeout, Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris DID foul Dwyane Wade, and not a single person in a Mavs uniform can be trusted to shoot a free throw [sans Jason Terry] with less than 1 minute to go!)
Todd (Houston, TX): I hate to talk about officiating, but when did the NBA decide that breathing on Wade constitutes a foul, while bodying Nowitzki doesn't? Last I checked, both are first-team All-NBA, and as such entitled to the NBA's "Superstars Are Fouled Excessively" clause (SAFE). Call the games tightly, call them loosely, but for the love of the game call them equally.
Marshall (Philadelphia): Disparity at the line? Miami (Wade) earned every trip by attacking the basket. No Mav is going to get to the line regularly by shooting mid-range jumpers. Dirk was all the rage going into the Finals, but he has once again shown his true self: wilting under the pressure, and flopping to the floor when he gets bumped by Udonis Haslem. The Dime wrote before the finals that Dirk would be the toughest player to handle. Apparently The Dime didn't know that Wade is untouchable, and Haslem can play some defense.
Cassidy (Boston): I have never been a Dallas Mavericks fan, nor do I have any significant personal connections to the city of Dallas or the state of Texas; nevertheless, I've become thoroughly attached to the team during these playoffs. Their heartbreaking loss Sunday night (or Monday morning) found me pounding on furniture and shouting profanities for a team who, a month ago, mattered nothing to me. I can scarcely imagine the frustration felt by a dyed-in-the-wool Mavericks fan, much less the guys on the court.
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In all likelihood, freezing the shooter was on Josh Howard's mind when he saw Mavs coach Avery Johnson signal with his hands that the coach wanted a timeout. Howard is a smart kid and knows strategy. He not only has plenty of experience at the pro level in these end-of-game scenarios, he also played for Skip Prosser, a master strategist at Wake Forest.
I am not trying to make an excuse for Howard, who made a major blunder in signaling for the timeout. He should have known the situation.
Still, Johnson was incensed at Joe DeRosa and probably had good reason to be angry. Let me explain why.
First of all, DeRosa went by the rule book and simply reacted to a player's timeout request, which is what he technically is supposed to do. Many referees would have known the circumstances and asked Howard if he really wanted the timeout between foul shots or if he wanted to wait until after the second foul shot.
This comes under the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" category. Bennett Salvatore waived off the request and was waving the Heat players back to the court because he evidently understood Johnson's intent. The officials gathered and quickly decided that because DeRosa signaled for the timeout, they had to accept it.
You can argue the case for the officials either way and be right. I'll go out on a limb and guess that if DeRosa had it to do it all over again, he would have acted like he assumed Howard's request was an indication that the Mavs wanted a timeout after the second shot.
Winning in Miami is one thing. Now, the Heat try to win in Texas.
Return To Dallas
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Dwyane Wade has left the building. Does his team stand a chance in Dallas?
If the Mavs are to avoid elimination, the part that has to change is Dwyane Wade. With Miami increasingly going to the give-it-to-Dwyane-and-get-out-of-the-way play -- "there was no Plan B," Riley said of Miami's last possession -- it's incumbent on Dallas to get his free-throw attempts under control.
Wade has gone from 18.8 field-goal attempts per game in the regular season to 24.2 in the Finals, and most players see their free-throw tries decrease when their shot attempts increase so much. In fact, Wade himself saw his mark drop to a more human .359 free throws per field-goal attempt among games in which he tried at least 25 field goals.
But that hasn't happened in the Finals. Instead, Wade's free-throw rate has risen slightly even with the increased shot attempts. With Wade attempting so many shots and still getting to the line at such a fantastic clip, it's turned the free-throw game into the Finals' biggest difference-maker. The Heat and Mavs are virtually even across the board statistically except for two categories: free-throw attempts and free-throw percentage. Dallas has a huge advantage in percentage, as one might guess (78.0 percent to 60.0 percent), but the Heat have so many more attempts -- nearly 10 per game -- that they still have more points on FTs over the five games.
So for the Mavs, the plan is clear in Game 6: Figure out how to get Wade's free-throw attempts under control. And conspiracy theories aside, it's on them and not the officials to do it. If they fail, we might see the Mavs screaming bloody murder about the officiating one more time while South Beach has an all-night championship party.
Which team will win this series?
65.2% Miami in 6
20.4% Dallas in 7
14.3% Miami in 7
Where does Dwyane Wade rank among the NBA's best players?
65.0% Top 3
21.2% Top 5
11.2% Top 10
2.6% Outside of the top 10
Should Dwyane Wade be named NBA Finals MVP even if the Heat lose the series?
72.7% Yes, because he's been so much better than any other player in the Finals
27.3% No, because there will be a player from Dallas who is deserving if they come back to win the series
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Allan Hu (Las Vegas, NV): Miami is trying to do what your Chicago Bulls did in 1993 -- going to the opponent's home court and close out a series up, 3-2. Will you please talk about what type of mental preparation the Heat need and also the atmosphere in a game like that?
B.J. Armstrong: Mentally, the Miami Heat have done a great job of not beating themselves. They found a way in Games 3, 4, 5 to find a way to win. That is a very good sign. On the other hand, the Mavs really defeated themselves in Game 3 and 5. They had mental lapses that really cost them these ball games. The Heat, if they're going to win, need to mentally shore up their ability to close out games. That means they have to go in there playing to win, not playing not to lose. I think it's a very difficult task because the Mavs are a much better home team than road team. I think the Heat are very capable of doing it, but it's easier said than done.
Mark (Fort Lauderdale, FL): Do you expect the Mavs to dominate or at least win Games 6 and 7 at home similar to the first two games of the series?
B.J. Armstrong: In Game 6, look for the Mavs to really feed off the energy of the crowd. They're going back home. This Dallas team really needs the home cooking. Look for them to come out with great energy. That will be hard for the Heat to overcome. Right now Dallas can't lose another game. It's going to be a very, very difficult game. The physical demands and the emotional aspects will be hard on the Heat. They have players with a lot of experience, if they can absorb the initial rush of the Mavs, that will help them later in the game. The Mavs will come out and lay it all on the line in Game 6.
That was a bogus foul call on Dirk Nowitzki that put Dwyane Wade on the line at the end of Game 5, Stephen A. Smith declares. The Finals have been tarnished by poor officiating. And the Stackhouse suspension? "Damn near criminal."