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Dirk Nowitzki and Mavs' coach Rick Carlisle have a history of being excellent playoff closers.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

StatsCube: How the Mavs and Heat handle close-out situations

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Jun 12 2011 10:55AM

MIAMI -- After 1,310 games in the regular season and playoffs, we've finally come to the point when the 2010-11 season may be over after another 48 minutes of basketball.

The Dallas Mavericks would love to see the season come to a close on Sunday. The Miami Heat want to see the 18th Game 7 in NBA Finals history. To get there, the Heat will have to buck some personal trends.

Here's the history of some of The Finals' key characters when they have a chance to close out a series, or when they're facing elimination.

Dirk Nowitzki in close-out situations

This is Dirk Nowitzki's 23rd playoff series, and he's won 12 of the previous 22. Nowitzki's team is just 12-7 when they have a chance to close out a series, but they've never lost any of those series in which they failed to close out the first chance they got.

Three of the seven losses came against Portland in 2003, when the Mavs went up 3-0, then needed a seventh game to finish off the Blazers. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7s, and also won a deciding Game 5 in his first playoff series in 2001, when the first round was still a best-of-five format. That one (in Utah) and one of his Game 7 victories (in San Antonio in 2006) came on the road.

Nowitzki's scoring average in close-out games isn't much different than in other playoff games, but he's rebounded better and been more efficient.

Dirk Nowitzki's playoff history
Situation W L FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% Reb A Pts eFG% TS%
Close-out games 12 7 8.8 17.3 0.508 1.0 2.4 0.413 7.2 7.7 0.925 11.1 2.3 25.7 0.536 0.621
Other 52 55 8.2 17.9 0.458 1.1 2.9 0.385 7.8 8.8 0.887 10.0 2.6 25.3 0.489 0.581
Rick Carlisle in close-out situations

This is Rick Carlisle's 18th playoff series as a head coach, and he's won 10 of the previous 17. Carlisle's teams are 10-3 in close-out situations and have never lost any of those series. Two of the losses came in Carlisle's first playoff series with Detroit in 2002, when the Pistons went up 2-0, but needed a deciding Game 5 to beat the Raptors.

Carlisle's teams are 3-0 in deciding Game 5s or Game 7s overall, including one win on the road. That came with the Pacers in Game 7 of the 2005 first round in Boston.

So neither Nowitzki nor Carlisle has ever lost a playoff series in which they were one win away.

LeBron James facing elimination

This is LeBron James' 17th playoff series, and he's won 11 of the previous 16. But James' teams are just 2-5 when facing elimination, and have never been able to come back and win any of those series.

The two wins came in Game 6 (at home) against Boston in 2008 and in Game 5 (at home) against Orlando in 2009. James is 0-2 in Game 7s, but both were played on the road (at Detroit in 2006 and at Boston in '08).

James' raw numbers have been better when facing elimination, but he's scored less efficiently in those situations.

LeBron James' playoff history
Situation W L FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% Reb A Pts EFG% TS%
Facing elimination 2 5 10.1 24.4 0.415 1.4 5.6 0.256 9.3 12.9 0.722 10.1 7.6 31.0 0.444 0.515
Other 54 30 9.3 20.1 0.464 1.5 4.5 0.329 7.7 10.3 0.751 8.3 7.0 27.9 0.501 0.565
Dwyane Wade facing elimination

This is Dwyane Wade's 16th playoff series, and he's won 10 of the previous 15. Wade has fought off elimination three times, including a Game 7 victory in his first playoff series (vs. the New Orleans Hornets) as a rookie. He's 1-2 overall in Game 7s, including a loss at home to Detroit in 2005.

Like James, Wade's scoring has been up, but his shooting percentage has been down when facing elimination.

Dwyane Wade's playoff history
Situation W L FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% Reb A Pts EFG% TS%
Facing elimination 3 5 9.6 21.5 0.448 1.5 4.3 0.353 7.9 9.0 0.875 4.1 5.5 28.6 0.483 0.562
Other 48 30 9.0 18.5 0.488 0.7 2.1 0.329 6.9 8.9 0.781 5.9 5.6 25.7 0.506 0.573
Erik Spoelstra facing elimination

Erik Spoelstra is in just his third year and his sixth playoff series as a head coach. He lost in the first round in each of his first two seasons, but fought off elimination once in each of those two series, beating the Hawks in Game 6 in 2009 and beating the Celtics in Game 4 last year.

Finals history: Trying to close out on the road

Since the NBA changed to the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, seven Finals have gone to Game 6 with the road team ahead 3-2. Here's how they played out...

1985 -- Lakers close in Boston

After the Memorial Day Massacre, the Lakers recovered and won Game 2 in Boston. Then they took Games 3 and 5 at home. Game 6, back at the Boston Garden, was tied at halftime, but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 18 of his 29 points in the second half to lead the Lakers to a 111-100 victory and their ninth championship.

1988 -- Lakers win two at home to beat the Pistons

The Lakers dropped Game 1 at home, but were able to win Game 2 and then Game 3 in Detroit to get back home-court advantage. The Pistons then won Games 4 and 5 to take a 3-2 lead with the series heading back to L.A.

Isiah Thomas suffered a severely sprained ankle in Game 6, but still managed to rack up 43 points and eight assists to help the Pistons go up by three with a minute left. At that point, the championship trophy was brought into the Detroit locker room. But a Byron Scott jumper and two Abdul-Jabbar free throws gave the Lakers a one-point victory. In Game 7, the Pistons came back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter, but failed to tie it in the final minute, and the Lakers won 108-105, with James Worthy recording a triple-double.

1993 -- Bulls win in Phoenix

The Bulls were seemingly in control of the 1993 Finals when they won the first two games in Phoenix, but the Suns managed to win Games 3 and 5 in Chicago. Phoenix had a four-point lead in the final minute of Game 6, but Michael Jordan got the Bulls within two points with a layup and John Paxson hit the game-winning three with 3.9 seconds left. The road team won five of the six games in the series.

1994 -- Rockets win two at home to beat the Knicks

Like this year's Heat, the Rockets dropped Game 2 at home, but quickly got home-court advantage back with a win in Game 3. The Knicks then won Games 4 and 5 in New York to take a 3-2 lead. The Rockets took Game 6 at home 86-84, with Hakeem Olajuwon blocking a John Starks three in the final seconds. Starks then shot 2-for-18 in Game 7, a 90-84 Houston win.

1998 -- Bulls claim crown in Utah

The Bulls won Game 1 in Utah, but dropped Game 3 at home. With wins in Games 4 and 5 in Chicago, they had a 3-2 series lead. And if you're any kind of an NBA fan, you know the ending to Game 6. Jordan lay-up. Jordan steal. Jordan jumper. Bulls win 87-86.

2006 -- Heat close in Dallas

After dropping Games 1 and 2 in Dallas, the Heat trailed by 13 with 6 minutes left in Game 3. Then came a wild comeback and three straight wins on their home floor. Dirk Nowitzki scored 29 points in Game 6, but missed all four of his field goal attempts in the fourth quarter and a Jason Terry three to tie rimmed out in the final seconds, giving Dwyane Wade and the Heat a 95-92 victory and their first championship.

2010 -- Lakers win two at home to beat the Celtics

The 2010 Finals followed the same script as '94, with the road team winning Games 2 and 3. The Celtics recovered from their Game 3 loss to win Games 4 and 5 in Boston, but needed a second win in L.A. to get banner No. 18. It was not to be, as they shot just 37 percent over the final two games and lost Kendrick Perkins to a knee injury, and the Lakers picked up their second straight title.

No road team has won Game 7 in the Finals since the Washington Bullets won in Seattle in 1978. But in the 2-3-2 format, the road team has managed to win four of the seven Finals in which they led 3-2.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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