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Steve Aschburner

Dwyane Wade, LeBron James
LeBron James and the Heat say there will be no lingering effects to the meltdown in Game 2.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/GettyIimages

Finals now settles into best-of-five affair

Posted Jun 5 2011 1:52PM

DALLAS -- In the 24/7 news cycle propensity to predict events rather than merely wait, witness and report on them, and with two long days to fill between Games 2 and 3 of The Finals, correspondents of all sorts turned to a variety of tools to anticipate what will happen when the best-of-seven NBA championship resumes Sunday night at American Airlines Center.

There were statistics: Since The Finals went to its current 2-3-2 format, the teams have split the first two games 12 times now. The first 11 times, the club that won Game 3 went on to win the series. So surely that intensifies the focus and pressure on ...

"That's not even a big enough sample," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, pretty much stopping that trend analysis in its tracks. "I think both teams have bucked a lot of those numbers and odds up to this point already. We're a non-traditional team."

OK, so there was geography: The Mavericks are at home now for the longest stretch any team ever gets in a postseason series. Truth be told, having the middle three games is not some great edge; the home team has swept them only twice in 22 tries (allowing for the four Finals sweeps that never reached Game 5).

But let's face it, any team would rather be at home than on the road, and having their fans behind them will ...

"We've lost at home this year in the playoffs," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said Saturday after his team's practice. "The venue has significance, but it never guarantees anyone anything."


Hmm, well, that left psychology: Surely Miami has been beating itself up since squandering that 15-point lead over the final seven minutes Thursday night in south Florida. With Dallas picking itself up off the floor like that to gain the desired split on the road, and with Miami aware that so much of its damage in the 95-93 defeat was self-inflicted, that had to shift much of the confidence and momentum ... Uh oh. Here it comes.

"In the playoffs, it's a win or a loss," Heat forward LeBron James said. "However it comes by, it's a win or a loss."

In other words, there is no such thing in Heatland as a bad loss. No hangovers. No lingering effects. No losses with legs. Spoelstra clearly had made that a point of emphasis prior to meeting the press Saturday, because he, James and Wade made the same unprompted observation.

Miami might have gone through a spell or two of that in the regular season -- three in a row in November, five in a row in misty-eyed March -- but that was then. In the postseason, Miami is 13-4, with no more than one defeat in any round so far. Zero hangovers. Nothing lingering.

The attempts to fabricate angles and lean on history, then, got no traction as The Finals settles now into a best-of-five affair. Traction for anyone, from this point, is going to come in basketball terms. In Xs and Os.

It will come in how well the Mavericks are able to turn much of Game 2 and especially those magnificent seven minutes into their new normal. It will come, too, in how effectively the Heat can clean up some defensive possessions down the stretch -- Spoelstra cited 10 bad ones in Miami's final 11, with Dallas needing each of them -- to seal off what could have been theirs.

Momentum, mood and math are find for what Spoelstra called "storylines." But storylines are for spectators and sports journalists. They rarely leak inside the sidelines or cross over the baselines this deep into a championship round.

"It's two good teams that are well prepared and generally do well the things they do well," Carlisle said. "And so, you know, as the series goes on, historically it gets tougher because the familiarity increases. ... I don't think Miami has played a fantastic game yet, and I know we haven't. And both teams have played well in a lot of stretches."

Miami has an obvious area for improvement: Through two games, the Heat have shot more 3-pointers (54) than free throws (50). That's out of whack with their regular-season ratio of about three free throws to every two attempts from the arc. So even if their trips to the line aren't down significantly -- Miami averaged about 56 every two games during the season -- it does suggest a reliance on long distance. The Heat averaged 36 3-pointers every two games, not 54.

Two things have caused this: Dallas' zone defense has pushed the Heat deeper into the shot clock, putting them in position to hoist 3-pointers just to avoid 24-second violations. And James, with only six free-throw attempts, hasn't attacked the rim the way he's capable of doing.

"Six free throws in two games -- I do that in my sleep in one game. So that's not me," James said. "So I'm going to make a concerted effort to be more aggressive to try to get to the rim, create some more opportunities for myself and my teammates.

"But ... they did some things defensively that they hadn't done throughout the first two games all the way. They started to blitz me, D-Wade's pick-and-rolls, a lot of our sets kept us on the perimeter. We didn't get into our sets early enough to give us more time. So we had to take contested, long-range threes."

If Miami can unpack Dallas' defense and get it moving, James and Wade, in particular, can find seams to attack.

For Dallas, the top priority is to play the way it did in those last seven minutes for a full 48. Not that anyone is expecting a 22-5 run multiplied six or seven times, but taking better care of the basketball and claiming rebounds (12-8 in the fourth quarter of Game 2 vs. 48-46 through the series' first seven quarters) has to be done consistently.

Clutch shooting throughout by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry -- a combined 7-of-12 in the fourth quarter Thursday -- would be nice, too. But the Mavericks don't want to get greedy about the how, they just want to stay greedy about the what. That is, the winning.

"I think we just can't let up," Nowitzki said. "We're not good enough to just relax. We need to play with an edge at all times in every game. So hopefully with the crowd behind us, we're going to have a great game. Just looking at this one game. ... We know they're going to throw everything at us."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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