On Sunday, the Dallas Mavericks will be faced with their toughest task yet this postseason. They’ll be up against a hard-hitting Miami Heat team with their backs against the wall. Miami has not faced an elimination game all playoffs. You can bet Miami will come out with intensity in front of their home crowd.
Lately, the headlines have been focused on LeBron James’ poor play late in Games 4 and 5, and how Dywane Wade and James jokingly mocked Dirk Nowitzki’s flu. But there has been an even bigger story that has little to do with LeBron or Wade.
The whole Mavericks squad has been playing better, especially in Game 5. Dallas got crucial scoring from Jason Terry in the last two games, and Tyson Chandler has consistently played great on both ends of the floor.
Nowitzki, who has led the team all playoffs, pushed through a 100 degree-plus fever in Game 4 to hit the winning layup. He came back on Thursday to guide the team to victory with 28 points. And there was even a J.J Barea sighting. Barea has struggled all series but put up 17 points Thursday in his best performance so far.
Dallas has proven to have a deeper rotation as well. Whether coach Rick Carlisle has called on DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion or to my surprise, Brian Cardinal, they have all been ready to contribute.
The one player who has yet to get hot is Peja Stojakovic who seems to have fallen out of Carlisle’s favor. While Jason Kidd has not scored a ton of points, he has hit timely threes and been the team’s floor general.
Eric Spoelstra, on the other hand, has sparingly given time to role players. Eddie House’s only shots of the series came in the Game 5 loss on Thursday.
And where has James Jones been? Jones hit clutch shots the whole playoffs for the Heat until the Finals. Now Jones is perfectly healthy sitting the bench. I guess Spoelstra wants to keep the rotation short, maybe too short.
He let veteran Juwan Howard creep back into the lineup, but there’s no better time to bring in a spark like James Jones. Just a few minutes of Jones’ deadly shooting could enliven the team and spread the floor.
Mike Miller and Mike Bibby have yet to find their consistency on the court; time is running out.
But LeBron was right when he said it’s not about how much the Heat score or who does the scoring. Defense is how teams win championships. The only player to shoot over 50 percent in the Heat’s Game 1 victory was LeBron James. Their other win had only Wade and Chalmers over 50 percent, Chalmers scoring 12 points.
If the Heat want a chance at the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they will have to try to slow down the scorching Nowitzki. LeBron’s speed and athleticism could be the answer. A much smaller Steven Jackson stopped Nowitzki in the Warrior’s 2007 upset in round one.
But Nowitzki’s play has improved since. He drives more often, is no longer timid at the end of games, and he could always shoot over just about anyone.
Miami also needs to stop Jason Terry in the fourth quarter, and stay in front of J.J. Barea. Maybe Wade can slow one of the two down. Or will Thursday’s injury limit his mobility?
The Mavericks are poised to win in a hostile American Airlines Arena. If they can get the same production they did in Game 5, this series should be over Sunday. But every game has been close, and the bounce of a ball could have easily given the Heat a 3-2 advantage.
If the Heat can play solid defense, and manage to get scoring from players other than the LeBron, Wade and Bosh, they could take the series to seven games.