Posted Jun 10 2011 1:29AM
DALLAS -- Five years ago the franchise whooped it up inside the American Airlines Center after cinching the championship and they exited the building with a strut. This time, they left in a rut.
You didn't need to see the slumped shoulders, the pained grimaces or feel the somber mood Thursday to know the Heat's trip to Big D was just shy of a Big D-zaster. Unmitigated. Unquestioned. And unfulfilled.
Sure, they took a game, one out of three. And yet: They blew leads, gagged on golden opportunities, failed to jump on a Dirk Nowitzki illness and couldn't seize control of an NBA Finals that all but begged for a Miami takeover. Now they go home after losing Game 5 wondering about injuries to Dwyane Wade's hip, LeBron James' reputation and their own collective mental state.
"The good thing about life and this game," Wade said, "is we get another opportunity."
It is Mavericks three games, Heat two, although the series scoreboard doesn't go far enough to describe the dire situation the Heat find themselves in. No, you must delve deeper than that and examine the symptoms that are working against the Heat as they attempt to win two straight on their home floor.
Wade needs to borrow someone's healthy hip (Shakira's?) over the next 48 hours. After being body-checked in the first quarter by Mavericks sub Brian Cardinal, who cemented his biggest contribution to the series, Wade left the game and upon returning was never the same down the finish as he was the previous two games. Once again, the durability of Wade's body has become an issue, and you wonder if he can hold up through the intensity of two more fourth quarters, which Miami will need to win.
"I'll be fine Sunday," he vowed. "I'll be good for Game 6."
In "the biggest game of my life," James notched a Game 5 triple-double although once again his fourth quarter was uneventful. He had two badly missed shots, was called for charging and played poor defense against Jason Terry on a play that led to a Jason Kidd killer 3-pointer. Plus, he has missed 10 of his last 11 shots from 3-point range and his confidence from long distance seems shot.
Finally, the Heat's defense showed signs of wearing down for the first time all postseason. The Mavericks shot 56 percent Thursday, broke 100 easily and had almost six players in double-figures.
"We protect home court, we win the series," said Chris Bosh, and true enough, the Heat's only home loss in the postseason came when they gift-wrapped Game 2 to Dallas. But they must beat the Mavericks two straight, and based on what we've seen the last week, that won't be a layup.
|LeBron James is the fifth player in last 25 years to record a triple-double in a Finals game ... and have his team lose the game, too.|
|* = Only Bird went on to win the series|
What must change for Miami? Well, apparently there's nothing the Heat can do against Nowitzki, who scored 29 points Thursday and hasn't let a bad finger, a sinus infection or any defense thrown his way affect him. So it's a matter of silencing Terry, who has his swagger back with 38 points the last two games after scoring zero fourth-quarter points in the two Miami wins. And making sure J.J. Barea (17 points) was a one-hit wonder in the Finals.
It's also too bad the Heat need James (10 assists) to assume a chunk of the point guard duties. Neither Mike Bibby nor Mario Chalmers are trustworthy enough with the ball, and so James is forced to play more on the perimeter and away from the basket. The post-up is the weakest part of his game, although being closer to the rim puts him closer to the action. Too often, James is caught standing in the corner or above the key.
And obviously, Wade must have more in his tank. He's the most important player on the floor after Nowitzki, and in this series he's been the Heat's heart and soul in the fourth quarter. Like James, Wade exerts so much energy on both ends of the floor and can't really afford to have a poor game or sit on the bench for long spells. By the time the fourth quarter arrives, you wonder how fresh Wade will be for Game 6 (and if necessary, Game 7), given his hip issue, which he insists won't be an issue.
"We'll be coming into (Game 6) understanding it's a (last) possession game," Wade said. "We'll be doing whatever it takes to win the ballgame. So we're confident."
The most curious sight Thursday night was the way Wade left the court. It was a complete reversal from 2006, when he almost single-handedly punished the Mavericks and denied Nowitzki in his house. The Heat won that championship and Wade was officially anointed one of the game's greatest players. It was a moment to savor, whereas this return trip to Dallas was a moment for forget.
"It's unfortunate," Wade said.
The Heat have two games to figure it out. They celebrated last summer in their building before they played a game when the Big Three was officially welcomed to Miami with a party that rubbed the basketball world the wrong way.
They can still give themselves a reason to hold a show filled with smoke and lasers. But what James tweeted before Game 5 is ever so prophetic today:
It's now or never.
"At this point," James said, "we have no choice."
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