Posted Jun 2 2011 9:49AM
MIAMI -- We've arrived at the first crossroad of the NBA Finals to find the visiting team from Texas very much in a Lone Star State of mind.
Meaning: How will the lone star for Dallas shoot in Game 2 and beyond?
And do the Mavericks suddenly see themselves in a No-win-ski situation over this untimely and freakish injury?
Dirk Nowitzki has a torn tendon in the middle finger of his non-shooting hand. He ripped it while doing something very un-Dirk-like: Trying to strip Chris Bosh (shooters should leave defense well enough alone, the way pitchers treat line drives). Of course, this happening in the championship round with the Mavs down a game, it's being distorted a bit in Dallas and treated as the biggest injury since Mark Cuban's bruised ego in the 2006 Finals.
Truthfully, it's an issue only because Dirk's offense will largely dictate whether Dallas stands a chance against the Heat. Maybe that's the real problem, the emphasis on Dirk. Maybe if Dirk can get a hand, so to speak, from certain teammates, there'd be no need for the code-red alert after one measly game, all because of one measly boo-boo.
So what will it be, Jason "Three Baskets In Game 1" Terry?
"We're just going to be a lot more active looking for opportunities in transition. I don't want to give away all my secrets."
And J.J. "One For Nine" Barea, what say you?
"Just make shots and play with the same confidence I had all year."
And Tyson "Four Rebounds In 33 Minutes" Chandler, what be the deal?
"A lot of things we talked about doing, we just didn't accomplish. I know I need to get myself going and do what I know I can do."
The Mavericks can be a funny bunch. When it's going well for them, and shots are falling, and Cuban is cheering, they conjure up the image of a perfect jigsaw puzzle as all the necessary pieces orbit perfectly around Nowitzki, the most accomplished import ever. Jason Kidd, 38, has turned back the hands of time! Barea, the backup, could start for dozens of other teams! Chandler, stolen from Charlotte for a plate of refried beans, made Michael Jordan look foolish!
And when it's not working, when Cuban is sitting behind the bench resting his chin in his palm, they're a team with one star and a bunch of generic parts that many folks thought would flop once again in the first round. Kidd is too old. Barea too limited. Chandler too one-dimensional. And so on. Strange how that works.
The truth is both depictions have a ring of reality. Taken individually, the Mavs are nothing special, Dirk excepted. Therefore, if they aren't humming like Ella Fitzgerald, they have no shot. Not against a Miami team with a three-stars-to-one advantage, which the Heat fully exploited in the closing moments of Game 1.
Should the Mavericks rally and wind up winning this thing, a case could be made for them being the least likely champion since Rick Barry pouted the Warriors to a title 25 years ago. Most of the Mavs' key guys spent their money years elsewhere. Kidd with the Nets, Marion with the Suns, Chandler with the Hornets, DeShawn Stevenson with the Wizards, Peja Stojakovic with the Kings, Brendan Haywood with the ... um, well, we'll get back to you on that.
Could it be the Mavericks, as a unit, simply caught fire for five weeks and overachieved and only now are parachuting back to Earth? Did they peak in a sweep of the Lakers and a tweak of Tomorrow's Team, the Thunder?
Are they finally starting the slide that many predict is coming next season, whether they win the trophy or not?
This bunch of mostly clever, experienced and proud players who are starved for a championship would admit this is their best -- if not last -- chance, should you place their hand on a Bible. There's a sense of desperation with the Mavericks that you don't see with the Heat, who are building a potential dynasty. Chandler is a free agent, same for Barea, and Kidd will be nearing 40 while playing a young (and quicker) man's position. The franchise passed out t-shirts at home playoff games that say "The Time Is Now," which frighteningly sounds very code-red-alert-ish.
So you understand why folks are freaking out over a finger wrap. That's what Dirk will wear Thursday and for the remainder of the series.
Mike Miller, a shooter who's carrying around a pair of bum wrists, knows Dirk's pain.
"When you're a shooter, any injury to your hand is difficult to overcome," said Maimi's Miller. "Not so much with the shooting, but with the catching. The catching is just as important as anything else."
Also, there's the possibility of aggravating the injury, should one of the Heat players just happen to, you know, accidently grab Dirk's finger and attempt to slam it in the car door.
"If you get hit on it once or twice it can affect you," said Chris Bosh, who quickly and slyly responded "of course not, never, ever" when asked if he might bump into the finger. Accidently, of course.
Something's got to give for the Mavericks, and they hope it isn't Dirk's finger. Better for them if Dirk's supporting cast does its best to turn the finger into a non-story and the NBA Finals into deep, dark suspense.
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