The Real Time Finals Blog

Welcome to NBA.com's The Finals Blog, the first and last word on The Finals. This is your space to interact with hoopsters and entertainers, as well as get a real feel for what's happening in Dallas and Miami.

X-Factor: Experience
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 21, 2006, 3:00 a.m. ET


Wade, Shaq win their first title in only their second year together. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty)

The Heat doesn't have the Coach of the Year. It wasn't chasing its conference's best record. Heck, it didn't even look like it would survive the first round vs. Chicago because it just couldn't seem to get along.

But the team has a battle-tested coach. It stormed through the Atlantic Division champion Nets and then the Pistons, the team with the league's best record. It, then, overcame long odds after falling behind 0-2 to the Mavs.

And, now, it has its first Larry O'Brien Trophy.

So, while the Heat celebrate tonight and hold a victory parade in the near future, much will be said about how the Dallas Mavericks lost the championship as much as the Heat won it. And that's true to an extent, but give credit where credit is due.

"Miami deserved to win," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said after his team's season ended in disappointing fashion. "They had an incredible year. So take your hats off to them."

In the end, we're taking our hats off to a group of crafty veterans, who came together and knew how to execute and get it done when it mattered most. Despite falling behind, they kept clawing their way back. When they held a lead, they weathered Mavs runs. They executed down the stretch to come out on top in three games decided by three or fewer points. In short, they earned it.

Guiding the team's incredible run to the title was Pat Riley, a man with nearly three decades of coaching experience. Riley made the adjustments necessary after two series-opening losses. Finding a solution to the double-teams the Mavs threw at Shaq and an answer for how to spring Dwyane Wade, Riley showed his coaching genius was still sharp despite being away from the sidelines since 2002.

The tactician's magic was on display right up until the final horn sounded. With 2:05 to play in Game 6 and the Mavericks' willingness to send Shaquille O'Neal to the free throw line fresh in his mind, Riley yanked his three-time Finals MVP so Dallas couldn't close the deficit. He re-inserted him into the lineup 18 seconds later, when intentional fouling results in free throws and the ball.

Riley's counterpart, Avery Johnson, with a mere 15 months' coaching experience but a wealth of fire and brimstone, gave it his best shot. It wasn't long ago Johnson was on the winning side of the ball as a player on the 1999 Spurs team. It took him 10 years to reach that point. It might not take him that long to win his first as a coach, but the wait goes on for the young coach.

Until then, he will have to learn from this experience and try to put that knowledge to use when -- if? -- he makes a return trip to the game's biggest stage.

One of the key things Avery could have learned in this series is to have his best player on the floor, taking the final shot at a win. In Game 3, Dirk Nowitzki threw an inbounds, lob pass to Josh Howard. The two failed to connect and the Heat walked with its first win of the series. Many -- me included -- wondered why the team's best player wasn't in position to catch and shoot.

Tonight, Johnson had Dirk on the floor for the last play.

"Well, we tried to get him the ball," Johnson explained. "You know, in that last play there, we really didn't want Shaq in the play, but he got in the play."

So, instead, it was Jason Terry getting a look at the bucket. Again, the team lost at the buzzer. For all the criticism players like LeBron James take for deferring to their teammates with the game on the line, Dirk has to be the guy to take that shot. And his coach has to be the guy drawing up that play. Given a few more years' experience, Avery probably would have found a way to free Dirk for that shot.

Just like on the sidelines, there was a major experience gap on the floor leading to the Heat's win. Counting the games that led to Shaq's fourth championship ring, O'Neal has played in 194 Playoffs games. The Mavs starting five in for the tip of Game 6 have a combined 205 games experience.

One of those inexperienced Mavs, Josh Howard, who has now played in 41 postseason contests, may have youth to blame for one of the largest errors in recent Finals memory. It's plausible that missing two free throws which could have put the Mavs up three with less than a minute to go in Game 5 could have clouded Howard's mind and caused him to inadvertently call a timeout between Wade's free throw attempts. A tested pro shakes off the misses and keeps cool under the pressure.

Wade, a member of the 2003 Draft class along with Howard, played like a seasoned veteran. Learning by watching his boyhood idol Michael Jordan, Wade went through the same growing pains as M.J. -- finding a way to get past the Detroit Pistons. Once past, he, like Jordan, carried his team to the title.

"I remember when the Bulls won their first championship," Wade said, seated beside his Finals MVP trophy, "sitting at home on my floor watching the games. And then Jordan did his shot, famous shot, I went right in the backyard, turned the lights on and couldn't do it myself. I had no athletic ability, I was young."

While Wade is still young, he certainly has that athletic ability -- no question. In his first three years in the league, Wade has scored 1,272 postseason points -- more than any other player in NBA history scored in his first three seasons. Elgin Baylor scored 1,089; Jerry West, 1,046; and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1,040.

Wade collected 208 of those in The Finals. He was simply unstoppable once the series shifted to Miami. After struggling in Dallas in Games 1 and 2, Wade figured out the Mavs defense and learned he couldn't be stopped. Finding success at getting to the rim, Wade continually took over everytime his team needed a bucket.

Wade didn't do it alone, however, as he looked to his teammates -- the same ones who were accustomed to having the ball earlier in their own careers. But ultimately, those veterans put their championship aspirations in the hands of their young star.

"They trusted that he was all about winning," Riley said, "and that a team of veterans can turn over something to him that's valuable to them because they know he's going to deliver."

One player who's delivered his entire career, struggled in this series. But Shaq knew better than to force anything and, instead, deferred to his younger "sidekick" and outside shooting mates, who weren't always so hot.

"Shaq told us, 'Don't settle for jump shots,'" Wade said after the Heat made an improbable comeback in Game 3. "'Take the ball to the basket strong.'"

O'Neal's wisdom, more than his statistical contributions, helped the Heat players swing the series in their favor as they got shots to drop while the Mavericks continued to misfire from outside.

We still haven't mentioned the contributions from veterans like Antoine Walker, Alonzo Mourning and Gary Payton. Payton had experienced the ups and downs of playing -- and losing -- in The Finals; Mourning in the Eastern Conference Finals. This time, they wanted it more than the Mavericks -- perhaps none more so than Mourning. In 11 1/2 minutes, 'Zo tallied eight points, six boards and five blocks. That, folks, is desire, the kind created by having been thisclose to winning it all. The kind the Mavs know after tonight.

But tonight, it's all that experience on the Heat side of the ball that led to the ultimate experience: kissing that golden sphere while champagne rains down.

***

That's a wrap. We're out. Dallas and Miami, you've been gracious hosts and we thank you. We also thank you for following along throughout The Finals. We've enjoyed having you along for the ride. Please join us again as we come live to you from the 2006 NBA Draft on June 28.

Shop 'Til You Drop
Posted by Rob Peterson and Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 12:09 p.m. ET

Just after the final buzzer, the Heat started its celebration by donning championship caps and tees. Log on to NBAStore.com now and get the same cap and tee worn by Wade, Shaq, Walker, Haslem, Williams and the other Heat players. Other great championship gear, like the Heat championship basketball and DVD are available as well. Check it all out now at NBAStore.com.

As for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and the Finals MVP trophy, no amount of money can buy them.

You need to earn those.

As for Armani suits, my apologies, Mr. Riley. Seems you were right after all.

Congratulations, Miami Heat ... 2006 NBA Champions
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 12:06 p.m. ET

After getting 36 points from the man they call Flash, the Heat mounts the stage set up at center court to receive the Larry O'Brien Trophy -- the first for the organization in its 18-year existence. Very few in Dallas will watch as the fans stream out of this building. Only a handful are hanging around, with most casting boos in the direction of the celebration. It certainly doesn't matter to the Heat players, embracing at center court.

Any guesses who will be named MVP?

Door Is Ajar
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:58 p.m. ET

Wade just missed the first of two freebies. He backrimmed the second but Udonis Haslem got the board. He promptly travelled. Dallas ball.

That Should Do It
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:56 p.m. ET

At a crucial moment, the Mavs made another miscue. Really, how do you dump the ball inside to Erick Dampier when you need a score? No, really? Damp is 0-1 in the game and has scored one point. At the other end D-Wade hit two to stretch the lead to five with 17.7 to play. Believe it or not, fans are headed for the exits. No, really.

Champagne On Ice
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:52 p.m. ET

As is the case when a game draws near the end like this, celebratory preparations are in place. That means champagne is ready, as is the trophy for presentation. The Mavs have 26.2 seconds to close that three-point gap and put the party on hold.

Hack-A-Shaq Derailed
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:47 p.m. ET

Hack-A-Shack isn't allowed in the final two minutes of the game, but, with 2:05 left, it is. With the Heat in possession of the ball, Riley called timeout to get Shaq out of the lineup for the play to avoid sending the big fella to the stripe. Shaq came back at the next whistle -- the 1:47 mark.

Down 0-2
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:41 p.m. ET

Historically speaking, only two teams have ever come back to win The Finals after dropping the first two: The 1969 Celtics and the 1977 Blazers. Soon to be added: the 2006 Heat. There's only 3:41 on the clock here and the Heat has a six-point edge.

Small Ball
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:38 p.m. ET

Ever think you'd see a the final minutes of a decisive Finals game with Shaquille O'Neal on the bench? That's the case with five minutes remaining here in Game 6. The teams both have small lineups in. For the Mavs: Howard, Nowitzki, Terry, Harris and Stackhouse. For the Heat: Walker, Haslem, Wade, Williams, Posey.

O'Neal has five fouls, so we probably won't see him for another minute or two of game time. Wait, here he comes now. The Mavs would be wise to drive right at him on this next possession. He's not a guy you want on the floor with the game on the line.

Shooting From Here On Out
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:31 p.m. ET

At the 7:06 mark of the fourth quarter, the Mavs have zero team fouls, while the Heat has five. That means Dallas is shooting on every foul here on out.

Again, Strike That
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:27 p.m. ET

Thank you Mr. Stackhouse for telling me otherwise with that triple. Play on.

No Threes
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:23 p.m. ET

Usually, you hear a team shouting that on the playground when up by two. Here, I'm issuing a cease-fire to both teams. Enough already. You can't hit them tonight. The Mavs are 3-for-13 on the night; the Heat, 1-for-14. Take a step closer, gents, you'll find a little better success.

M-V-P ... M-V-P
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:17 p.m. ET

With the Heat up three heading into the final period of Game 6, you have to start thinking the team could clinch its first NBA title. The fans back in Miami believe. They're assembled at the AmericanAirlines Arena in South Florida to watch -- and, they hope, celebrate. The Mavs fans here believe, too. Twelve minutes remain between a long, painful summer and a decisive Game 7. Which will it be?

Another question: If the Heat wins, who will be named MVP? You still have a chance to cast your vote. Hurry, time's running out.

Strike That
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:09 p.m. ET

That last post ... yeah, go ahead and forget that. The crowd still didn't like 'Zo much, but Marquis Daniels sparked a Mavs run that's closed the gap to two. And for the record, the kid has two mean stuffs on the night. He really can explode off the ground when attacking the hoop.

Not Pleasing To The Home Crowd
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 11:06 p.m. ET

Alonzo Mourning's two blocks on back-to-back Mavs possessions were certainly music to Pat Riley's ears, but the hometown crowd was none too thrilled. The Heat has opened a nine-point lead and unless Dallas does something quick, this city's going to witness a championship celebration -- just not the one it had hoped.

One And Done
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:58 p.m. ET

Notice a change in the Mavs game here in the third quarter as the Heat has opened up its largest lead of the game at seven points? They've completely stopped sharing the ball -- not that they ever do much of that anyway -- and they're not active on the offensive glass. Basically, they're one and done each time down the court. If they can't find a way to spark some life into their offense and find the bottom of the net, they really will be done.

Foul Trouble
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:51 p.m. ET

Booing that blocking call on Jerry Stackhouse, like the fans here at the AAC? It clearly was a block, however, as Stack planted his right foot well within the circle. That's four on the reserve, to go with four for Josh Howard. DeSagana Diop and Devin Harris each have three. For the Heat, Udonis Haslem has three.

J-Ho Is So Cold
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:44 p.m. ET

The misery continues for Josh Howard, the goat of Game 5. Howard has connected on only three of his 12 attempts tonight, picked up an offensive foul in the second half -- his third personal of the game -- and has hit the deck hard twice on Alonzo Mourning screens. The good news is that he has five boards, but at what cost?

At The Half
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:29 p.m. ET

We mentioned the first-quarter-lead stat shared by Fred Carter last night, which tells us that the Mavs have about a 65 percent chance of winning because they claimed the first quarter. What, then, do we make of the fact that the Heat has won its last 25 Playoffs and Finals contests when it leads at halftime, as it does 49-48 tonight? We have no idea. As they say, "That's why they play the game." Some thoughts to chew on for the next 10 minutes before play resumes:

-- Somebody explain to me exactly when Dwyane Wade scored those 19 points. It's been a quiet, but successful, outing for him tonight. He's hit all seven free throw attempts and is 6-of-10 from the floor in 21 minutes of action.
-- Nowitzki is coming through when his team most needs him. He's 8-of-12 and leads the team with 17 points.
-- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. The Heat has 12 of them already, resulting in 14 points.
-- The Mavs have 28 points in the paint compared to the Heat's 16. Dirk has 10 of those 28; Shaq six of those 16.
-- The Heat is getting to the stripe again, taking 15 free throws compared to Dallas' two.

First Lead Change Of The Night
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:19 p.m. ET

A Posey free throw gives the Heat a 47-46 lead, the team's first of the night. That 'Zo slam extends the Heat's lead to three.

Haslem Has Left The Court
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:17 p.m. ET

With 1:00 left in the half, Udonis Haslem was led back to the locker room. Not sure the reason, but we'll try to find out.

Point-Blank Assassin
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:10 p.m. ET

If you're a Mavs fan, you have to love the fact that Dirk is 4-of-5 at the rim. It means he's aggressive, he's running the floor and getting rewarded, he's driving hard to the goal and he's finishing. It also means he's shooting 50 percent from everywhere else -- shooting 7-of-11 for the game.

Trailing The Play
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:04 p.m. ET

That last bucket by Josh Howard shouldn't have happened. Well, not in a sense. You see, Howard had missed at the other end and just stood around shaking his head never really making it down the court. So, the Heat players completely forgot about him as he was taking thee play off. When the Heat passed the ball back out to the top, Howard had just so happened to sneak in to swipe it.

Thinking MVP
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 10:02 p.m. ET

With the Heat only five points back of the Mavs, 36-31, a new NBA Champion could be crowned tonight. That means two trophies would be presented: the Larry O'Brien trophy to Micky Arison, owner of the Heat, and the Finals MVP trophy. Act now and you can help select the MVP. Click here to cast your vote on NBA.com.

Blowout No More
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:56 p.m. ET

A cold spell settled over North Texas. The Mavs have gone 1-for-6 in the second quarter. Make that 2-for-7 with that Terry breakaway slam. The team needed an easy bucket, because it couldn't buy one in the face of the Heat defense.

Every Little Bit Counts
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:51 p.m. ET

I mentioned earlier in The Finals that the Mavs organization is quite clever with the big screen. One of the funny things they do is have Mavs man waving his arms and body in front of a Heat free throw shooter. While Wade and Co. never actually see Mavs man, it can't hurt to try, right?

That's Gotta Hurt
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:47 p.m. ET

That's the second time Josh Howard has run into a Mourning screen at the top of the three-point arc and landed on the floor. This time he appeared to plead his case to the officials but they were having none of it. And neither are we. Mourning was a wall.

End Of One
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:43 p.m. ET

One quarter in the books and the Mavs hold a 30-23 lead. If you're just checking in, take a look at what Fred Carter told us last night at dinner. If that's indeed the case, there's only about a 20-35 percent chance of champagne being uncorked tonight.

Stats to note at the end of one quarter:
-- The team are tied on the boards at 11 apiece.
-- The Heat have four turnovers leading to four points. The Mavs are two for two. -- Wade is only two-of-four from the field for seven points.
-- Dirk is five-of-seven from the field and leads all scorers with 11.

In Spurts
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:39 p.m. ET

Zo's not going to give you a solid 48 minutes these days, but he can bring life to a struggling team in short bursts. Witness his two minute run here in the first. He's been everywhere: Swatting away a Josh Howard dunk attempt, setting a wicked screen up top on Howard, grabbing a board and throwing down a dunk.

One Sided Affair At The Moment
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:34 p.m. ET

If you've noticed a Dallas slant to this blog since 9:00 p.m. ET, there's a good reason: The Mavs are blowing out the Heat at this point 26-12. Mr. Riley, give NBA.com's John Schuhmann a call. He can show you a good warehouse-type place you can pick up another suit for Thursday's game. Not sure they carry Armani though.

Throw It Down Big Man
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:31 p.m. ET

Note: that dunk by Dirk ... yes, it was with power while going lefty.

Speaking of power, see that block by Shaq? Good thing he didn't catch Devin Harris with that right meat hook.

Briq
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:28 p.m. ET

That's what a clever sign read, held aloft by a fan sitting behind the basket when Shaq shot those two freebies.

We Are All Nowitznesses
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:23 p.m. ET

As NBA.com's Rob Peterson has been saying for a few days now, Dirk's been in the the 'Nowitzness Protection Program' ... he was nowhere to be found through five games. He's come out of hiding here in this do-or-die game, hitting three of his four tries including a wide-open trey to give the Mavs an 18-10 lead midway through the first.

Yes, tonight, we are all Nowitznesses.

Scoring Fast, Furious
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:19 p.m. ET

With eight points in the first 180 seconds, the Mavs already bested their fourth quarter performance in Game 4 in Miami. Yes, good to be home. Meanwhile, a quick glance in the shooting column: Dirk is 2-for-2; Howard, Terry and Harris have all hit their only attempt.

The Team That Scores First
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:15 p.m. ET

The tip and Dirk's basket to start Game 6 got us thinking back to what Fred Carter was telling us last night. In addition to winning the first quarter, usually the team that scores first in overtime wins the game, which is why winning the tip in the extra session is so critical. Just a thought. Back to the action. The Mavs have a quick 4-2 lead with Jason Terry hitting a bit of a circus shot we thought had no chance of going in. He got a friendly roll, however, that you can only find at home. Ah, the Mavs look happy to be home.

ABC Me
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 9:04 p.m. ET

I still can't get enough of that ABC intro to The Finals. More please ... Click on that link there to watch for yourself.

Stack Is Back
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 8:59 p.m. ET

Jerry Stackhouse is in the building after serving his one-game suspension for his hit on Shaquille O'Neal. Looks like that extra rest he got laying around his Fourt Lauderdale hotel watching Game 5 has translated to a little extra spring in his legs. During the team's warmups just now, Stack got the ball in the layup line, drove baseline and threw down a 360o jam.

Speaking of warmups, Dirk's always the last one shooting before the game. As the teams line up along the free throw line for the national anthem, Dirk continues hoisting jumpers from the left wing until right before the performer starts. Then, immediately when the performance is over, Dirk breaks line for a few extra shots.

Riley: Tonight's The Night
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 8:45 p.m. ET

Welcome back to the American Airlines Center in Dallas for Game 6. If Pat Riley has anything to say about it -- well, he does -- The Finals end here tonight. How confident is Riley in a building where his team hasn't won in four years? Read for yourself:

"I'm not even thinking about (losing). I packed one suit, one shirt and one tie."

Of course, such bold talk is nothing new with Riley. He made a guarantee of a repeat after his Lakers won the title in 1987, one which almost didn't pan out when his team headed home, down 3-2 against the Pistons. Detroit was in the same position as Riley's current team, the Heat, but couldn't muster a single victory in two tries.

Six years later, Riley was on the other end, dropping Games 6 and 7 on the road when his team was up 3-2. The backup shooting guard on that team was none other than current Mavs assistant coach Rolando Blackman. Blackman never got off the bench in that Finals series.

It all makes for a few exciting sub-plots as play gets underway in less than 20 minutes. Stay tuned for more.

First Things First
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 20, 2006, 1:00 p.m. ET

Last night, the NBA.com staff had the pleasure of dining with NBA TV's Fred Carter. Fred, on assignment at The Finals with ESPN Radio, averaged 15.2 points per game over his eight NBA seasons as a player before a short stint as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in the early 1990s. So, it was good to get a little insight from Fred on these Finals.

One of the key stats you've heard tossed around is the Heat's record when leading or trailing at halftime. Currently, the Heat has won 25 straight Playoffs and Finals games when it's up at the break, but is 1-7 when down. That's a significant trend, but Fred told us we could predict the winner even earlier in a contest. He said that about 60-65 percent of the time, the team that wins the first quarter wins the game.

Thinking back, we agreed. In fact, based on what we recalled from this year's Playoffs alone, it almost seemed a rule with the Heat. So, we dug through the boxscores to see how it held up. In the Heat's three Playoffs series before The Finals, the team that won the first quarter won 14 of 16 games. That's 87.5 percent of the time.

So, how do games involving Dallas turn out? In the three series vs. Memphis, San Antonio and Phoenix, the team that won the first quarter went on to win 10 of 16 games -- 62.5 percent. Looks like Fred was spot-on.

But, what happens when Dallas and Miami meet? As you'll recall, the Mavericks have been getting off to a slow start often in this series, only leading after one once -- 18-17 in Game 2. Take a look at the chart below and you'll see that, with their title hopes in the balance, the Mavs need to get out to an early lead.

GAMEEND OF ONERESULT
1Miami 31, Dallas 23Dallas 90, Miami 80
2Dallas 18, Miami 17Dallas 99, Miami 85
3Miami 29, Dallas 21Miami 98, Dallas 96
4Miami 30, Dallas 25Miami 98, Dallas 74
5Miami 24, Dallas 21Miami 101, Dallas 100

In four of the five Finals games played, the team that won the first quarter won the game. The one time it didn't was in Game 1 when Miami jumped out to an eight point lead early, but Dallas held the Heat to only 13 second-quarter points to take the advantage into the locker room. So tonight, when 12 minutes pass, you'll know the team with the lead has a pretty good chance of holding it.

The only question remaining: Will it lead to a Game 7 or a Championship?

On TOs and OTs
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 4:00 p.m. ET

Greetings from Dallas, site of tomorrow's Game 6 -- an elimination game. Not ready for that yet? Understandable, given last night's thriller.

After the game last night, we were sitting around the office wondering why Dallas didn't call a timeout after Dwyane Wade's second free throw. Nope, we're not completely forgetting they called their final one in between freebies -- much like Avery Johnson was hoping would happen. We were thinking like Westphal in 1976, in what was perhaps the greatest game ever played.

I mentioned yesterday that we had watched a re-airing of that game on NBA TV, so the scenario was fresh in our minds. Wondering why Avery and Co. didn't try it? A look at the current rule book (PDF file) shows the result would have been a free throw and possession for the Heat. See page 92. So, strike that idea.

Even so, that one gaffe by Josh Howard got a lot of ink today. Some are even saying it may replace Chris Webber's error at the University of Michigan.

Avery says it never should have happened.

Of course, blame for the loss can't be placed entirely on that one mental miscue. Some are thinking had Dirk showed up for the entire game -- a first in this series -- Howard wouldn't have been in such a positiion.

Just call the big German a big bust.

Howard, though, could still have been the goat, missing key free throws late in the game.

Had none of the above occurred, the Heat still likely would have won. Did you see the sheer determination by Dwyane Wade? He was nothing short of wonderful. He was simply too dominant.

Now the scene shifts to Dallas, where the Heat seeks its first win in four years, the one that will award it its first NBA Championship.

The Mavs, meanwhile, are trying to forget the nightmarish last week and hoping they can extend this to a seventh game.

But first, they have to survive Game 6, tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET, on their own floor.

This Isn't Your Grandfather's Game, Is It?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 3:30 a.m. ET


Wade hit two from the stripe to ice the Heat's third straight home win in The Finals. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty)

There's an old adage that states: A series doesn't really start until a team wins a road game.

I guess, then, The Finals don't tip off until Tuesday -- at the earliest.

Right. Try telling that to Avery Johnson or Pat Riley.

Their teams have gone head-to-head five nights now, looking to steal away homecourt advantage. So far, both sides have only been successful at "holding serve" in their own gyms.

But, before you look down at either the Heat or Mavs for their road failures, consider their home successes.

Tonight marks the first time in 30 years that The Finals has gone five games without a road team claiming a victory. Thirty years! Eight Mavericks and nine Heat players weren't yet born. It was so long ago that the Heat's head coach Pat Riley was in his final season as a player; Riley was on the 1976 Phoenix team that lost at Boston in Game 5 and then The Finals at home in the next contest.

Before that, the 1969 Celtics and Lakers needed a seventh game to get the series started -- and ended. While the teams matched home wins through the first six contests, an aging Boston team, led by player-coach Bill Russell, upset the West's top team on its home court.

The 2006 NBA Finals -- most certainly started, with a conclusion yet to be written -- closely mirrors that of the 1955 Finals between the Syracuse Nationals and Fort Wayne Pistons.

Back then, the format of The Finals from 1953-1955 was 2-3-2. Syracuse captured the first two games at home; Fort Wayne the next three despite staging its "home" contests on the road in not-so-nearby Indianapolis because their arena was unavailable.

With the scene shifting back to Syracuse, the Pistons needed only one victory. No easy task considering the team was winless there in six years.

Tuesday, the scene shifts back to Dallas, where the Heat is winless the past four years. Miami's last win in north Texas came on a 109-95 decision on March 2, 2002.

Back to those Pistons ... they didn't get the win they needed to capture their first championship. Syracuse used every bit of its homecourt advantage, winning Games 6 and 7 at home and making it the first, and only, time the home team has won every game in a Finals series.

But that was more than 50 years ago. The same can't be true two generations later, can it? The Heat is thinking no, confident it can take one game before Dallas gets two.

"I'd much rather go down there this way," Riley said after his team took Game 5, "one game away from the championship, instead of having to win two in a row."

History, however, isn't on the side of the Heat. In the modern era -- the NBA went back to a 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985 -- only two other teams have taken a 3-2 lead on the road looking for that one win. The 1988 Detroit Pistons and the 1994 New York Knicks went home empty handed.

Avery Johnson and his Mavericks, meanwhile, are hoping to channel the spirit of the '88 Lakers and '94 Rockets.

"It will be good to get a little home cooking," Johnson said Sunday night. "We play pretty good basketball at home. We've got homecourt advantage. So we know we have to play well and win Game 6. There's no tomorrow, and I like that 'no tomorrow' feeling for our team."

Technically, Avery, tomorrow's a travel day and Continental says my flight is 'on time.' The day after tomorrow is still on the calendar, too, just like the day after the day after tomorrow.

The latter will be a somber one in Dallas if the Mavericks can't find a way to regroup at home.

But, with two more wins, they'll party like it's 1955.

*****

Middle Three: The above mentioned 1955 Fort Wayne Pistons were the first to take the middle three home games of The Finals. The only other team, aside from them and the 2006 Heat, was the 2004 Detroit Pistons.

Halftime Deficit: Sunday's win marked the Heat's first of these Playoffs when they trailed at halftime. Miami had lost its previous seven such contests.

Heat Storm Back, Take 3-2 Lead
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:45 a.m. ET

Final score: Heat 101, Mavs 100. Wade, despite all the talk about poor free throw shooting by the Miami Heat, stepped up and swished two crucial free throws to seal the game for Miami. The Heat become only the third team ever to capture the three middle games on its own floor. The others were the 1955 and 2004 Pistons teams. We'll be back to recap the night in a short while. Until then, enjoy the post-game press conferences streamed live here on NBA.com and watch the video highlights, which should be available soon.

What A Colossal Blunder
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:30 a.m. ET

The Mavs just called their final timeout. Right about the time they were realizing it was their last, they wanted it back. Too late. Problem is, Wade's on the stripe for one more freebie, game tied. If Wade misses, the Mavs can't stop the clock and advance the ball. There's only 1.9 seconds remaining, so we'd likely go to double-overtime. If Wade sinks it, the Mavs have to go the length of the floor. Not a smart play on the part of the Mavs.

First Team To 100
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:27 a.m. ET

There's an old saying in hoops circles: The first team to 100 wins. It holds a little less weight when your opponent is sitting on 99 and has the ball for the final shot with 9.1 seconds on the clock, but still... On that last play to hit 100, the Mavs really had no business finding the basket. Josh Howard looked lost. Dirk Nowitzki threw up a prayer. And yet, the ball trickled through the net.

Heat By One
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:25 a.m. ET

Okay, those last comments ... I amend those. The only time anybody else should be taking a shot is when there's a highway paved to the basket as was the case on that go-ahead scoop by Gary Payton. Getting Wade would clearly have been the wrong play, as he was pinned in the corner by Josh Howard.

Why Does Anybody But Wade Touch The Ball?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:21 a.m. ET

The Heat had found success giving the ball to Wade and getting out of his way. So why did Gary Payton and Antoine Walker just combine to give the ball back to the Mavs? See? Give the ball to Wade and move out of his way.

You Will Double-Team!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:15 a.m. ET

With Dwyane Wade dribbling the ball at the top of the three-point arc, we couldn't help but notice Avery Johnson jumping around like the soles of his shoes were on fire. He was waving and motioning for Adrian Griffin to get up on Wade and pressure him before he could attack. Dallas is intent on making somebody other than Wade burn them in this extra period.

OT
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:06 a.m. ET

The Heat survived one last heave by Jason Terry to get to extra innings. The Mavs withstood a furious finish by Dwyane Wade to get five extra minutes to seal their first win of the trip to Miami. The fans here, well, they get one more reason to stay up late on a school night. Here's just a guess that nobody in the building minds seeing these teams battle for a few more minutes.

Big Bucket, Big Man
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 19, 2006, 12:02 a.m. ET

Wow, way to silence the crowd, Erick Dampier. The Heat sent three men to stop Dirk Nowitzki. The team should have kept an eye on the Mavs center, Dampier, camping out all alone under the basket. That puts the Mavs up two with 10.1 seconds to go.

Record Books
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:58 p.m. ET

With one more attempt from the free throw line, Dwyane Wade will tie Bob Pettit for the second-most attempted (24) in a single Finals game. The record holder? Shaq. He tried 39(!) vs. Indiana on June 9, 2000.

Aggressive
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:54 p.m. ET

Think the Heat wants this win? They just sent four defenders to follow Dirk Nowitzki's drive on the last trip down the floor. The Mavs weren't able to get a clean look at anything and the result was a shot-clock violation. The Heat, meanwhile, are riding Dwyane Wade into the sunset. He struggled much of the game to find his shot, but has drained the last two looks. Wade leads all scorers with 35 points and has the Heat ahead by two with 1:40 to go.

Buh-Bye
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:50 p.m. ET

Diop wrapped up Shaq on that trip down the floor, wrapping up his sixth foul and a ticket to the bench. Shaq says he hits the freebies when they matter most ... well, how's now, Mr. O'Neal? Down two with 2:44 to go, Shaq clanked both, but there was a lane violation on the Mavs on the second. The result: a third brick. Guess we'll have to re-think that hitting-them-when-they-matter theory.
Another Second Chance
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:43 p.m. ET

The Heat just gave up another offensive board which led to that Jason Terry floater. See how crucial those are now? That last Heat bucket would have given the Heat the lead. As it is, the team was still down one. Another Jet bucket at the other end and a free throw keeps the Heat down four. Every time the Heat manages to close the gap, Dallas answers.

Hidden Surprise
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:37 p.m. ET

You've seen how fans tussle over the t-shirts tossed into the stands like it's a milestone home-run ball? Here's more incentive for fans here in Miami to jump extra high to snag one of the cotton tees Burnie is firing into the crowd: One contains two tickets to an Eric Clapton show. Not a bad haul.

History Says ...
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:33 p.m. ET

Just a historical note: Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for The Finals in 1985, only the 2004 Pistons have ever been able to take the middle three contests on its own floor. The Heat are six minutes and four points away from accomplishing the feat.

Two Many Chances
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:26 p.m. ET

If the Heat has any hopes of winning this game, it has to attack the defensive glass in addition to the good work it's doing in defending Mavericks shooters. On that last possession, the Mavs got two offensive boards, which ultimately led to a Jason Terry triple. This late in the game, you can't be giving up those second-chance opportunities.

Ugh-ly
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:22 p.m. ET

Josh Howard's been on, for the most part here tonight, but that last shot he tossed up, which hit the board and pegged the rim was the very definition of ugly. At the other end, D-Wade's used a pretty J to give the Heat the lead once again.

Make Some Noise
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:15 p.m. ET

After that triple by James Posey, this place erupted. It was so loud inside the AmericanAirlines Arena that the players standing only a few feet from Joey Crawford couldn't hear him blow the whistle to stop play because of a James Posey foul. As we believed, this game is going down to the wire. He head cut the Mavs' lead to a single point at the end of three quarters.

74
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:11 p.m. ET

In the Game 4 loss, the Mavs managed to post only 74 points. They're at 71 right now, with 1:30 left in the third quarter. Dirk is still stinking up the joint, hitting only five of his 13 attempts, but Josh Howard and Jason Terry are having big nights to keep the Mavs on top.

Penalty
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 11:03 p.m. ET

The Heat has been getting to the free throw line with regularity tonight, and it's only going to increase from here until the end of the quarter. Picking up three quick personals, the Mavs are now in the penalty, which means the Heat are shooting the rest of the quarter. The lead is down to five.

Earn It From The Line
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:55 p.m. ET

The Mavs' big men are just wrapping up Shaq every time he gets the ball deep on them. With the extra six fouls provided by Mbenga being back in the lineup, the Mavs could open a lead here if Shaq can't connect from the free throw line. He's 1-for-8 on the game. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki is looking like he might be about to shake that slump. He's drained his last two jumpers, after opening the contest 3-of-10.

Fit To Be Teed
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:50 p.m. ET

Avery Johnson certainly disagreed with that last call, earning him a tech. The Heat -- and Jason Williams, namely -- couldn't capitalize, however. From the stripe, the Heat is 65.2 percent for the game. D-Wade has hit eight of his 10.

The End Of One
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:30 p.m. ET

One half down, one half to go here in Miami. Jason Williams canned a triple with under 30 seconds remaining in the half to cut the Mavs lead to eight. A few key stats to chew on before we get underway in the third quarter:

-- Points off turnovers: The Heat has given up 15 points on its eight turnovers. The Mavs, however, have only allowed five off its nine turns.
-- FG percentage: The Mavs are knocking down jumpers tonight, something they couldn't do Thursday night. The Mavs are shooting 50 percent, with Josh Howard hitting six of his 12 attempts and all seven of his freebies. The Heat are only connecting on 37.1 percent of its tries. Dwyane Wade, in particular, is struggling, hitting only three of his 13. Wade's been good from the stripe, however, hitting seven of eight.
-- Five deep: The Mavs have used five bench players not named Stackhouse: Dampier, Daniels, Griffin, Van Horn, Mbenga.
-- Mavs Rebounding: Dallas again is controlling the boards. They have 23 caroms to the Heat's 14.

We'll be back to start the second half in a few moments.

Sharp Shooting
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:20 p.m. ET

The Mavs have now made 10 of their last 11 shots, leading to a 21-12 run.

Make that 11 of the last 12 for a 24-12 run as Howard got the bucket and the foul. Remember that last post about double-digit deficit? It's now 11. Heat ball.

Lead Change
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:13 p.m. ET

We'll keep pointing it out, because it's somewhat significant. In each of the Mavs wins, they made a strong surge at the end of the halves to stretch a lead. They've taken the lead here late in the first half, but the Heat are matching them bucket-for-bucket so far. Okay, so as I type this the lead's been stretched to five thanks to a Jason Terry triple. The Heat has to get this under control in a hurry or it could be down by double-digit points heading into the locker room.

In Memory of Stack
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:07 p.m. ET

You didn't think the Mavs would leave Jerry Stackhouse back at the hotel, did you? Okay, well, they didn't bring him to the game physically, but in spirit he's here with the squad. Mavs owner Mark Cuban is decked out in Stack's No. 42 jersey. In case you're wondering, Cuban isn't eligible to check into the game...

Oops
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 10:05 p.m. ET

Looks like the Mavs forgot Wade when he ended up on photographer row. Wade -- who only fell down once and picked himself up once -- casually walked back onto the court where everybody paid him no mind there in the paint. Easy two points for Mr. Wade.

First Quarter Returns
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:48 p.m. ET

Get the feeling this game's going to be a tight one? The Heat take a 24-21 lead after 12 minutes of action. I, for one, am pulling for a thriller; I spent a good chunk of a beautiful Sunday afternoon watching one of the best Finals games of all time, re-played on NBA TV. In case you don't click on that little link there, the 1976 Game 5 between the Suns and Celtics went three extra periods. The C's won that and the next game to take the title, but there was some good strategy by then-Suns coach McLeod and a huge bucket by Gar Heard. Now, back to action with the second quarter.

DJ
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:41 p.m. ET

We have our first Mbenga sighting of these Finals. The Mavs big man gives Avery Johnson a little extra bulk -- and six extra fouls -- to throw at Shaq. Mbenga, as you'll recall, served a six-game suspension for going into the stands in Phoenix.

Oh So Close
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:39 p.m. ET

Maybe the Matrix is just doing a little research for next season. The Suns fell short of a trip to The Finals, losing to the Mavs in the Conference Semifinals. That didn't stop Shawn Marion from making the trip the Finals. He's here in Miami tonight. No word on who he wants to see win. I have a guess it might not be the team directly responsible for him holding an actual ticket.

Giving It Up
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:34 p.m. ET

The Heat just gave up their fifth turnover. The Mavs were unable to score on that extra opportunity, but still have nine points off turnovers already. And we still have three minutes to go in the first quarter.

Early Foul Trouble
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:29 p.m. ET

An early look at foul trouble shhows three players with two apiece. For the Heat, Haslem and Walker are strapped early, while Diop has picked up two trying to hold off O'Neal. The Heat's woes has afforded Shandon Anderson an early run again.

Stopping Shaq
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:23 p.m. ET

The Mavs are evidently planning on stopping Shaq in this outing. While Diop is assigned to the Big Fella, Josh Howard completely left Antoine Walker alone on the wing to stick with O'Neal.

Mavs Get Early Jump
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:20 p.m. ET

The Heat's two field goal attempts have been nowhere near close as Udonis Haslem and Dwyane Wade badly misfired. On the other end, Josh Howard has the team's first four points -- two coming at the stripe.

Walker's triple-try just now was just a big closer ... he found nothing but net to get the Heat on the board.That confidence, though, caused him to immediately jack another shot. Not wise, Mr. Walker. Share with the others.

Game 5 Tips
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 9:17 p.m. ET

After a couple last-minute chin ups by Dwyane Wade on his team's rim, we're underway. The Heat controlled the opening tap, but turned over the ball without a shot attempt.

Practice Makes (Picture) Perfect
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 8:59 p.m. ET

Maybe Dwyane Wade was just getting ready to posterize a Mavs player tonight. In pre-game layup lines, Wade took off from the left side and threw one down over teammate Michael Doleac. Guess that knee isn't an issue, much like it wasn't in Game 4. Maybe the Mavs took note that he has a little extra spring in the legs tonight.

We're ready for the tip and have to stand for the anthem now. We're in for a treat as the E Street Band's Clarence Clemmons stands at the ready with his sax.

Roommates
Posted by John Schuhmann (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 8:44 p.m. ET

Before the game in the Mavs locker room, Jason Terry was asked if relocating to Fort Lauderdale and rooming together has allowed the team to focus more on the task at hand.

"If you roll over and you land on another man next to you, that's kind of tough," Terry said. "You have no choice but to focus."

For the record, Terry roomed with Erick Dampier. Other pairings were Dirk Nowitzki and Darrell Armstrong, Josh Howard and Adrian Griffin, and Devin Harris and D.J. Mbenga.

Moon Over Miami
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 18, 2006, 6:30 p.m. ET

When the sun sets here in Miami tonight, the Heat is hoping its title aspirations don't go with it. Tonight's Game 5 could be the most important contest in the series. The winner needs only one more, while the loser has to win its way out. No easy task for either team, but the Heat should ride the momentum it's built at home.

Leaving Miami tomorrow morning will be no easy task for me. Being it's our last day and all here in South Florida, I get a bit weepy. It's a feeling maybe Dwyane Wade experiences every time he hears the home crowd chant "Da-vid Hassel-hoff" as Dirk Nowitzki takes target on another free throw attempt. You see, Wade's a fan of Hasselhoff, too. Listed on his official website is his favorite television show when he was growing up: Knight Rider. No word on if Wade has collected one of those Hasselhoff-heads-on-a-stick items they're handing out here at the arena.

On Lockdown
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 17, 2006, 3:00 p.m. ET


Avery is not happy with two losses in Miami. (Isaac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty)

Just back in from practice and things have gotten interesting. Remember we were telling you the team had moved out of the Four Seasons in Miami for an undisclosed location in Fort Lauderdale? It doesn't just stop at the new hotel. The players now have roommates -- each other.

"I got a roommate now," Josh Howard remarked, comparing the experience to being back in college.

The change may not be so hard for a youngster like Howard or Devin Harris to adjust to, but how about a guy like Dirk Nowitzki? He made no mention of sharing a room when asked how were the new digs, but only responded, "It's really nice."

It had better be, because that's all the players are allowed to see on a Friday and Saturday night in South Florida.

"We don't really have anything to do," Harris said when asked about Fort Lauderdale. "(There's) no leaving the hotel."

Wow, Avery Johnson must really have been mad. On a scale of 1-10, where would the Little General's anger rank?

"I don't think that scale will hold his anger," Harris said to laughter from the assembled media. Harris, however, wasn't laughing. Neither was any other Mavericks player or their coach.

Just what was it that caused that vacation mentality, that caused Avery to pack up and move?

"It feels like we're not focused in the first two games. Maybe there's too many distractions at the hotel with the family and stuff and whatnot. The change in scenery, hopefully that will do us justice and allow us to focus in on the next game."

Avery's anger didn't stop at his team's lack of focus, he was unhappy he has to play Game 5 without his top reserve.

"Everybody's so amazed that I disagree with the decision," Johnson said. "I mean, what am I supposed to do, go out and have a parade and have a party? Because the league comes down with a certain ruling, what are we supposed to do as coaches? Say, Amen? I disagree with the ruling, all right."

So, how will the team make up for the absence of Stack?

"We've been adjusting all year," Johnson continued. "We've been injured all year. We've had more players suspended in the playoffs than any team, right. Anybody else had three guys suspended? Who else? Who else?"

Okay, so maybe they know how to play with a man down. But one final question, how long is the bus ride now, Mr. Johnson?

"Longer than it was three days ago."

Miami Meltdown
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 17, 2006, 11:45 a.m. ET

Yesterday was a quiet one in Miami, right? Yeah, right. Despite the players having the day off from facing the media members -- probably a good thing for the Mavs who were trounced in Game 4 -- the coaches had their say, Stu Jackson had his, and Avery Johnson made more noise when he moved his team.

No, not "moved" as in a motivational type of speech. "Moved" as in get the hell out of dodge. After meeting with the media at the AmericanAirlines Arena and saying his team was on vacation, Johnson apparently had it pack up and move to Fort Lauderdale, some 45 minutes away from Miami.

It was uncertain what Johnson might to do end the "vacation mentality" he mentioned in Friday's media session. When asked later how to end that, Johnson simply answered, "Next question."

Guess we know now. Anybody up for a rousing game of Bingo Saturday night?

That now brings the question, what is Johnson going to have his team do in practice today? We're heading over to the arena in a short while and will let you know what we find out, as well as what the players and coaches are saying.

Until then, let's look at what some writers are saying this morning:

Avery aired his frustrations over Jerry Stackhouse's suspension.

Some Dallas writers don't like it, either.

Neither do some as far away as the Rocky Mountains.

Meanwhile, in Miami, some fully support a one-game shut down. Shocking.

And while Shaq likened the hit to one lighter than his daughters deliver, Miami's other bruiser was longing for days of yore when he could "touch someone".

But like the suspension or not, Stack's presence means little to the Mavs title hopes if Dirk's nowhere to be found.

Or the team's youngsters don't recover from growing pains.

Speaking of Dirk, he's nowhere to be found in the German papers. Maybe they don't want to claim him given his play and the fact the German team is 2-0 in the World Cup.

Speaking of Zo, he does yoga? Taught to him by the Chief?

Shandon Anderson is no stranger to playing time, but it has come less often for the Heat in the Playoffs.

Time for practice, we'll be back shortly.

Back To The Boat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 16, 2006, 11:45 a.m. ET

The party continues through Sunday for a group from Texas that rented the yacht docked near the AmericanAirlines Arena. That's right, as Mark Cuban said, it's not his boat. But that doesn't mean he hasn't had a hand in the whole shakeup. Read on ...

"People down here did not like it one bit," said NBC 5's Brian Curtis, in town from Dallas to report on the Mavs, "especially since they assumed it was Mark Cuban's boat."

Among those whose feathers were ruffled the most: Miami City Manager Joe Arriola.

"I was ready to go with Chief (John) Timoney to tear it down myself," Arriola said on camera. "I figured I'd send my inspectors out first and they took it down. Then they came back -- I got another call that he put it back on on the other side of the boat. So we went out there and told him, 'Listen, take it down or he's going to lose his permit.' And he finally took it down. But there's no way he's going to come to our town with that 'Go Mavs' baloney."

Apparently, the Heat shares that sentiment as it looks to be a completely different team when playing on home soil. The Mavs, however, hope to crash the city's party when it tries to take a victory in Game 5 on Sunday. Despite two straight Dallas losses, this group of Mavs fans will be on the waterfront again, cheering on their team.

As for Cuban's role in the situation, his father was among those celebrating prior to Game 4 and that giant banner that had to be taken down was provided to the fans by none other than Cuban himself.

See Also, 2005 Finals
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 16, 2006, 3:00 a.m. ET


In Miami, the Mavs haven't been able to keep Wade from getting to the rim. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty)

Two wins by the home team. Two more by the current home team. Series tied, 2-2. Each team won big once on its own floor. Each team eeked out another. Now it's a best-of-three series with Dallas still holding home court advantage.

Given that the Mavs appeared on their way to a sweep less than a week ago but now looks to be on their way to four straight losses, let's commence with a collection of the words you're likely to read in tomorrow's column inches:

Rejuvenated. Momentum. Rebounded. Rhythm. Swagger. Disappointment. Hold serve. Wallop. Road kill.

Want more? Well, let's pen a few lines for the writers around the country. Help me out here: Fill in the blanks on the following sentences, a la Mad Libs:

"In Game 4, the visitors were timid, sloppy and played with no apparent sense of urgency," the Washington Post's Michael Wilbon wrote. "And (their opponent), darting and bouncing around like a 6-year-old on a sugar high, were happy to wear their butts out."

"(Losing team's coach) knows how I felt after the first two games and I know how he felt," read a quote from the winning coach printed in the Houston Chronicle.

"It's not that (losing team's All-Star) didn't dominate last night. He didn't even show up," Mitch Lawrence wrote in the New York Daily News.

"While (the home team) hit every shot imaginable, guards for (the road team) missed driving layups," a Washington Post scribe stated.

"It's not that the (home team) won Game 4 and it's not that the (road team) lost, it's how completely helpless the (road team) looked in the process," the L.A. Times J.A. Adande wrote.

Actually, none of the above lines will be written verbatim in tomorrow's fishwraps. They've been taken from stories written a year ago when the Pistons blew the Spurs out of The Palace to even the series after looking dead in the water in the first two games in San Antonio.

That series went the distance; We know this one is headed for six, if not seven, games.

Last year's Finals really didn't start until Game 5, as the home team won in blowout fashion in each of the first four games.

This year, we haven't truly seen both teams play their best games -- or even good games -- at the same time. Sure, we've gotten flashes from both, but that's been paired with what can only be described as the other team's worst.

Much like we witnessed through the first four games a short 12 months ago.

Now the pressure's on both teams to be on top of their games. There's very little time for error. For Miami, the pressure might be slightly greater; it must to win one, if not two, games on the road if it is to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

Meanwhile, history is working against Dallas if it loses Game 5 in Miami. Only the 1955 Syracuse Nationals have ever won The Finals without taking a single game on the road. That was back when the series was in a 2-3-2 format, as it is now. The final score of Game 7: 92-91, Syracuse.

Of course, why think ahead to Game 7? Some didn't think we'd ever see a Game 6.

Not even a week ago, some were mapping parade routes and scheduling sick days.

That same writer may be feeling sick after watching the Mavs so completely fall apart over the last five quarters.

Another writer believed the Heat could turn it around and get back in the series, despite being routed.

Think those tables will be turned when the two file columns for tomorrow's papers?

The point of all this is, we're back where we were when this series got underway. After leaning heavily one way, then shifting back the other, come game time on Sunday nobody will really have any idea what to expect as the teams take the floor.

Series Tied, 2-2
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 16, 2006, 12:01 a.m. ET

That's it, the Heat has tied the series at two games apiece by winning Game 4, 98-74. Dwyane Wade was pretty much outstanding again. Shaquille O'Neal turned in a solid performance, scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 boards. On the Mavs side of the ball, nobody did much of anything. We'll be back in a short bit to recap the evening. Be sure to check NBA.com for complete coverage of Game 4 and The Finals.

It's Over
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:57 p.m. ET

With three minutes to play, the Mavs five on the floor are: Darrell Armstrong, Marquis Daniels, Josh Powell, Adrian Griffin and Keith Van Horn. On the other side it's Gary Payton, Shandon Anderson, Antoine Walker, James Posey and Alonzo Mourning. If the Mavs reserves can't find a way to score four points in the next 2:20, the team will go down in history with the fewest points in any quarter in Finals history. The record in nine by Utah vs. Chicago in 1998. The Mavs have five in the fourth.

Desperation Time
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:53 p.m. ET

Either Avery Johnson has waved the white flag or he's desperate for anybody to hit a bucket. Marquis Daniels and Keith Van Horn are getting their first run of the night. It didn't change much as Van Horn promptly left his first shot short. This just isn't Dallas' night. On the bright side for the Mavs, they'll either celebrate a championship on their own court or have a short drive home if the Heat pull off a victory in North Texas.

Heat Closing In On 2-2
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:47 p.m. ET

Time's running out on the Mavs. In Game 3, the tables were turned and the Heat had just begun its big comeback -- 13 points down at the 6:34 mark. The big difference in this game is that the Mavs have no business winning this contest. Howard's 1-for-8 with four fouls. Nowitzki is 2-for-14 with a twisted ankle and tweaked wrist. Jerry Stackhouse is only 6-of-18. It would take a monumental collapse on the part of the Heat for them to lose this game.

No-way-zki
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:39 p.m. ET

You had to assume Dirk wasn't going to spend too much time on the bench because of a little ankle injury. The seven-footer's already back out there on the floor banging with Shandon Anderson.

Walk It Off
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:33 p.m. ET

On that last trip down the court, Dirk Nowitzki twisted his left ankle when he came down on the left wing. He immediately took a seat on the bench and was clutching at it. Nobody paid him any attention, however, so it appears he may be determined to play through the injury.

The Bank Is Open
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:30 p.m. ET

Notice D-Wade using the glass more often? Who does he think he is, Tim Duncan? Right, that's not a bad thing. There really isn't much Wade can't do, including knocking down the catch-and-shoot bankshot with only one tick remaining on the shot clock. Mavs, take note. They could have used that play at the end of Game 3.

Not Over Yet
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:26 p.m. ET

Despite the Heat leading big much of this game and the Mavs having trouble throwing it in the Atlantic much less the small red cylinder, this game isn't yet over. The Mavs are down only 11 and the Heat is coming off it's worst quarter of this game. Miami gave the ball up six times and there were a few ill-advised shots taken with far too much time left on the clock near the end of the quarter. Miami went the final 3:39 without scoring. Even so, the Heat has its home crowd at its back heading iinto this final stanza.

Ball Control
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:18 p.m. ET

The Heat has done a much better job tonight in protecting the ball. The team only has eight turnovers in the game resulting in 11 points. Four of those, however, have come here in the third period.

Why Can't We Be Friends?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:02 p.m. ET

Because, there's a ring on the line, that's why. After that flagrant foul by Jerry Stackhouse on Shaquille O'Neal the staff here played War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

Maybe Stack was just getting even for getting split open in the first game in Dallas. Whatever the case, Stack gets the flagrant, Antoine Walker picked up a technical for protecting his big man, and the Mavs are still down 18 points.

Dirk Hurt?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 10:57 p.m. ET

After shooting his two free throws, the result of that hard foul by Shaquille O'Neal, Dirk Nowitzki came back up court holding his right wrist. Something to watch as the game goes on.

Turn On The Jet
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 10:53 p.m. ET

Avery Johnson was just motioning for his team to run. As Jason Terry tracked down a long board off a Dwyane Wade miss from three-point range, he brought the ball up along the sideline in front of his coach, where the Little General was making wide sweeping motions for Terry to push the ball.

At The Half
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 10:39 p.m. ET

At the break, the Heat lead 54-44. Based on the fact that the Heat has won its last 24 games -- including Tuesday's Game 3 -- when it's led after two quarters, one could reasonably predict the Heat is on its way to evening the series. The Heat has shot 58.3 percent from the field (21-of-36), but is only 47.1 percent from the line. The Mavs, meanwhile, are 34.1 percent from the field and 73.7 percent from the line. You have to figure the shooting percentages will even out, otherwise the Heat is on the way to a rout. Other notes of interest at the break:

- Dirk Nowitzki is only two-of-nine from the field, but has hit eight of his nine free throw attempts despite the incessant chants of "Da-vid Hassel-hoff".
- Shandon Anderson played almost the entire second quarter after averaging only six minutes in 10 games in this year's Playoffs.
- Chris Maliko has watched the Glove do very little in his eight minutes of action. Payton has hit his only shot to go with an assist and a personal foul.
- Udonis Haslem and Josh Howard are the only players who can be considered in foul trouble, as each have three. It's looking like a long night for Howard, who's only 1-of-7 from the field.
- Wade is looking all-world. But I didn't really have to tell you that, did I?

We'll be back with more in the second half.

Every Point Counts
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 10:20 p.m. ET

Given we've had so many close ballgames in these Playoffs and Game 3 was decided by only two points, you just can't be giving up any freebies. The Heat have given up three unnecessary points -- two on defensive three-seconds calls and one on a technical foul on Shaquille O'Neal. Of course, the Heat had the chance to get one back when Josh Howard picked up a T of his own, but true to form in this series, the Heat missed the gimme. Then again, with an 11-point Heat lead, this whole post could be rendered moot.

M-V-P
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 10:12 p.m. ET

The chants of "M-V-P!" are ringing out in the AmericanAirlines Arena here in the second quarter as Wade took the free throw stripe. The voting media said otherwise during the regular season, but if the Heat win a title, Wade could be adding a Finals MVP award to his trophy cabinet. Don't forget, your vote counts. It's never too early to start thinking about who you'll give your vote to.

Big Game James
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 10:04 p.m. ET

Not Worthy, but Posey, who's worthy of the title in the first half here in Miami. In 12 minutes of action, Posey is three-of-four from the field for eight points, to go along with four boards.

Let's Go Heat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:49 p.m. ET

As the first quarter wound down and the Heat opened up a 30-22 lead, the building was as loud as it was in the final moments of Game 3. As the fans chanted 'Let's Go Heat!', Jerry Stackhouse calmly stepped up and canned a three-pointer to silence the home fans. After one, it's the Heat by five. D-Wade is on his way to an even better outing than Tuesday. He played the entire first quarter and has 14 points.

As a team, the Heat looks to be off to a better start than Tuesday. They seem to be playing more loose, are moving the ball and are preventing easy buckets at the other end.

If At First You Don't Succeed
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:42 p.m. ET

The Mavs just hauled down four offensive boards on one possession ... and still didn't score! Missed in that trip was a Jerry Stackhouse wide-open triple, a Jason Terry contested drive and a Jet jumper from close range that richocheted off the backboard a little strong. You have to love the hustle on the glass, but you've gotta take the lid off the bucket.

Walker Workin'
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:37 p.m. ET

Okay, so I take that back. Had Walker jacked a trey, I'd rally for him to be relieved. As it is, he got a layup -- a much higher-percentage shot than those threes he loves to shoot. Play on, Mr. Walker. Play on.

En Fuego
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:33 p.m. ET

That, kids, is what we call the hot hand. Seriously, if any other Heat player hoists a shot until Wade misses two or three, they should immediately be benched. Wade is now 6-of-8, including a triple.

Pine Time
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:24 p.m. ET

Only four-plus minutes into the game and already Shaq is on the bench with two fouls. Also, we're watching that all-important turnover number and the team already has two for four points.

Pushing The Ball
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:22 p.m. ET

In the early moments, the Mavs are getting boards and pushing the ball up the court to create transition opportunities -- one of the keys Charles Klask pointed to. On two straight plays, Josh Howard coralled the ball and dribbled out to midcourt, once finding Jason Terry for the breakaway dunk. The Heat, however, are looking lively in the early moments, getting at the rim and to the free throw line.

Heat Win ...
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 9:17 p.m. ET

... the tip, that is. But just like in Game 3, Shaq got the Heat on the board first, in the first 20 seconds. A few seconds later, however, O'Neal picked up his first personal foul when he put Dirk on his butt in the paint.

Da-Vid Hassel-Hoff
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 8:55 p.m. ET

Just minutes until game time and the Heat staff is going through last minute preparations ... like teaching the fans how to chant Da-Vid Hassel-Hoff when Dirk Nowitzki is shooting free throws. For those not aware, a while back Dirk made the comment that he sings the Baywatch star's songs to himself when he's at the stripe. Bad news for Heat fans is that Dirk knocked down a jumper from the elbow just as the fans were practicing their chant.

Planes, Trains and Yachts
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 8:35 p.m. ET

Okay, so the yacht with the Mavs banner turned out to have nothing to do with Mark Cuban. But there was indeed a boat anchored alongside the AmericanAirlines Arena with Mavs flags blowing in the wind when we arrived this afternoon. Now we're getting wind of a new stunt. This time it's that a plane will be circling the area with some sort of Mavericks messaging. We'll let you know if we hear more.

How's Your Forehand?
Posted by Eric Weinstein (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 8:20 p.m. ET

Dallas assistant coach Del Harris spent a few minutes with tennis great Boris Becker as the Mavs warmed up for Game 4. Harris semed to be getting some tips on his forehand as he discussed finer points with Becker courtside

Becker is back at Game 4, joining the broadcast team of Premiere in Germany. You can listen to Becker and the German audio feed by clicking on the listen live button on NBA.com when the game starts.

'Toine For Three
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 8:15 p.m. ET

Bad news, Heat fans. Antoine Walker is practicing three pointers. Make or miss is irrelevant; Walker was most effective in Game 3 when he was taking the ball at the rim. He was 0-for-5 from deep. If you're a Heat fan, you don't want to see him out on the wing waving his arms for the ball. Getting a few to fall in shootaround can only make him confident from outside.

Crazy For The Glove
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 7:30 p.m. ET

Think the Heat fans are a little crazy over their team that's playing for the NBA title? Then you haven't met Chris Maliko, who's taken craziness to a whole new level.

Maliko, who now lives in Melbourne, Australia, took two weeks of vacation time and flew "20,000 K's" just to be here to see his favorite player, Gary Payton, try to win a championship, which he believes will come Tuesday in Dallas.

"I love him; He's just my favorite player for 12-13 years now," Maliko says. "I've always wanted to see him play and he's going to retire soon, so hopefully I can see him win a championship and be happy."

Getting to Miami, however, wasn't as easy as getting on an airplane. First, there was a matter of money. Then, there was mother.

"In L.A., I thought about (attending) but I just didn't have the money," Chris explained. "This time it wasn't much easier. I didn't have the money but I just sort of found it. Mom wasn't too happy, but she understands. She said, 'You can't afford it.' But she understands he's my favorite player and I'll never get to see him play again."

So, how does an Australian teenager become a fan of Gary Payton, of all players, when Michael Jordan was still winning championships along with Maliko's countryman, Luc Longley?

"I saw him play on local TV 12-13 years ago," he said. "I was 13 back then and just liked the way he played, liked Seattle. I had a friend living in Seattle as well and he sent some merchandise over to me, so I became a big Gary Payton fan. I just basically knew everything about him. My friends at home call me the Glove as well."

Being such a fan of the Glove, the other Glove has tried to pattern his game after the seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medal winner -- right on down to the extra-curriculars.

"I'm big at talking trash," said Maliko. "I don't know if I can back it up on the court though."

Tuesday, Maliko nearly watched his boyhood hero turn in a quiet night on the court -- a much different Payton than the player he idolized in Seattle. But Maliko didn't travel 20,000 kilometers to go home feeling empty.

"I went off," he said about Payton's game-winning jumper in Game 3. "I nearly fell off the balcony. There was a guy beside me and he was just bagging Payton. I really wanted to hit him. As soon as he hit that shot, I leant over, was waving the t-shirt, giving high-fives."

A big high-five from the NBA.com crew to Chris for taking time before tonight's game to share his story. And to his friends back home, yes, he really is here decked out in a Payton jersey ready to cheer him and the Heat on to the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Game (4) Day
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 15, 2006, 11:30 a.m. ET

Another game day. Another must-win situation for the Heat. Miami realistically doesn't want to face the prospect of needing three straight wins to capture its first NBA title -- especially when the final two would have to come on the road. So tonight's game is as much of the must-win variety as was Tuesday's.

But getting a win tonight will require Miami's A-game.

So, wondering what to expect in Game 4? Charles Klask, Advance Scout for the Orlando Magic, has been breaking down games for us during the Conference Finals and Finals and says the Heat have to cut down on the turnovers. Miami had 11 unforced errors in Game 3. That's not going to get it done in June.

If you're heading to the arena today, be on the lookout for a yacht with a 'Go Mavs' banner. We'd heard rumors there would be one docked near the AmericanAirlines Arena and the Heat showed one on the big screen inside the arena during Game 3 -- Bernie was firing t-shirts at it. Our initial thought was Mark Cuban must be behind this -- and he didn't say otherwise when we spoke with him Tuesday -- but now he's saying he doesn't even own a boat.

Speaking of Cuban, he made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman last night. Donning a Ben Roethlisberger jersey, Cuban took a shot at Pat Riley.

He's not the only one doing so.

Nobody's taking shots at Dwyane Wade. Instead, the Mavs have to try to find a way of preventing Wade from taking his own.

But, as Chris Mannix says in the article above, you can't really stop Wade, you can only hope to slow him. But, even a knee injury doesn't seem to be enough to hold him up. Wade says he's playing, despite it being sore and stiff.

Regardless, these Finals and Game 4 aren't to be missed for anything. Just ask Jason Terry's mother.

We'll see you at the arena this evening.

Chat Session
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 14, 2006, 4:00 p.m. ET

Media day could have had an entirely different feel today had the Heat not made its improbable comeback last night. There's a certain reluctance to stand for a half-hour answering questions about your shortcomings when one more loss can send you on a heartbreaking vacation.

Fortunately for the media -- which seemed to outnumber that assembled in Dallas -- the Heat was in a much better mood given that the team is only one game down in the series.

"First of all, this is never enjoyable, this process right here," Heat guard Jason Williams said of the question-and-answer period, "but it's part of the job. It's great to get a win. Yes, I guess it does make things a little easier."

As for secrets to success, adjustments, x's and o's, there was very little new that wasn't written at the conclusion of last night's game. Some of the startling revelations included just how good Dwyane Wade really is, that the Mavs need to grab more rebounds so they can get transition opportunities, and that Dallas is not disappointed that Dirk missed a freebie that could have tied the game.

Nope, neither team was interested in giving away too much. After all, there's a lot at stake.

"Well, we're not going to divulge anything like that," Mavs assistant Del Harris replied when asked if Avery Johnson might shake up his starting lineup. "But, I say that Dirk will start. I give you that much."

Okay then, with that out of the way, we turn to some of the 'softball' variety:

Shaq, what's your favorite color?

In fairness, that question was offered up only because Shaq was harrasing the Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan in the interview room. He picked her out of the crowd and coerced her to ask a question. When that was answered, he demanded a second. For the record, Shaq prefers burgundy.

"My favorite color is burgundy. Yeah, burgundy," O'Neal offered up. "I'm wearing burgundy underwear right now, too."

Sure the room laughed, but Jackie's only response was, "That's more than I wanted to know."

Us, too. Fortunately, Shaq was the only player offering up details on his undergarments. Others, like the Heat's Alonzo Mourning, were talking on more serious matters, comparing past opponents to the Mavs.

"It's kind of baffling to us," Mourning said, "that we'll make the adjustments that we had to against New Jersey -- a great perimeter offensive team; an incredible perimeter offensive team -- and we don't make the adjustments against Dallas. I'll tell you the truth, I think New Jersey has better perimeter players overall with Vince, and obviously J. Kidd and Richard Jefferson. They are a handful on the perimeter. I think they're better perimeter forces than what we're seeing in Dallas."

Based on 'Zo's comment, one scribe posed a slightly different question to the Mavericks' Devin Harris and Jason Terry:

"Alonzo Mourning was saying he thought they faced a better jump shooting team in these playoffs than you guys, in New Jersey ... " one reporter asked.

"Wow, Jersey?," Terry said, sounding almost insulted. "I thought Chicago may have been a better shooting team than Jersey, but I don't know ..."

Later, it was Harris' turn and he made it known that this team can shoot.

"Obviously, we're a team that likes to attack the basket," Harris said, "but we shoot jumpshots with the best of them. We got pretty much the best four-man jumpshooter, I think, ever. If they're open, yeah, we tend to hit them more."

Perhaps a misinterpretation of the word, "perimeter", but even so, Dallas didn't really get its two wins by spotting up out on the wings. The Mavs got points in transition, in the paint, short jumpers, on penetration, something they weren't able to do as much of in Game 3. A big reason for that was the play of Udonis Haslem, who, despite a banged-up left shoulder, controlled the offensive glass and limited Dallas' second-chance opportunities.

Haslem's secret, other than taking a few Advil? His college coach at Florida, Billy Donovan:

"I told him he needs to come back the next game and even Sunday," Haslem joked. "I'll even sponsor the trip to Dallas if he wants to (come)."

He Said What?

Below is a random assortment of quotes from today's media session:

Dwyane Wade, on being uncomfortable with the comparisons to Michael Jordan:

"Very much so. Like I always say, no one should be compared to M.J., man, and there will only ever be one M.J. That's it. I'm not him. Only thing I can do is try to be the best player that I am and hopefully it's good enough."

Dirk Nowitzki, on the difficulty of putting the Game 3 loss behind him:

"Obviously last night wasn't easy to sleep on. We didn't really get lots of rest, or I didn't, at least, because we feel like we were right there. We were up, whatever, 10 points with a couple minutes left and I had a chance to put it in overtime and I didn't. So, it was a tough night.

Shaquille O'Neal, joking when asked about being heavily scrutinized in this series:

"I've been scrutinized every day of my life. So, you know, it's nothing new. You know, nothing, anything that a person writes is not going to make me cry or go drink rat poison or nothing. I'm more hard on myself than any one of you can ever be on me. I can't read anyway, so it doesn't matter what you write."

Pat Riley, on the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rivalry of the 1980s:

"I do know that Larry and Magic were barking at one another in the early '80s. Magic said, I was was the first -- no, he was -- yeah, he was the first to get one I think in '79, '80. It wasn't until they did that Converse commercial in French Lick where they got out of the limousines where I thought actually brought the relationship down. I liked it when they didn't like each other."

Gary Payton, on whether his game-winning shot was one of the most meaningful of his career:

"Itís not yet! If we win the series then it will be meaningful, but itís not meaningful yet. It just means that we just won a basketball game. If it goes down to us needing this game to win the series, then ok."

Late Nights And Letterman
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 14, 2006, 11:45 a.m. ET

Good "morning" from Miami. Did you show up to work all bleary-eyed this morning like us after staying up to watch the Heat come back and pull within a game of the Mavs? Well then, you might not get to bed super early tonight if you're a Mavericks fan. Owner Mark Cuban is making an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. This could be fun tv watching because you just never know what Dave's going to ask. Likewise, you never know what Mr. Cuban will say himself.

Five Reasons We're Going Back To Dallas
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 14, 2006, 2:40 a.m. ET

After a Game 1 win in Texas, Mavs owner Mark Cuban commented to local media members in the team's training room, "Weren't pretty, but it's a win. Whew!"

You're not likely to hear Heat owner Micky Arison say as much publicly, but one can reasonably surmise he has similar thoughts tonight after his club got a Finals win of its own.


A loud home crowd helped Wade and the Heat pull within a game of the Mavericks. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty)
About the only thing 'pretty' in Game 3 was Dwyane Wade's stat line, highlighted by 42 points and 13 boards in 43 minutes of work. Wade finally shook free of Mavericks defenders, was able to attack the rim and made frequent trips to the free-throw line, where he capitalized unlike in Game 1.

The Mavs, as a whole, were anything but pretty with the exception of the third quarter, when the team turned an 18-point swing and headed toward a 3-0 series lead. But it was not to be, as the Heat players, led by Wade, again became energized on the defensive end -- something that hadn't happened since the first half -- and capitalized on a Mavs' ill-timed cold streak.

So, did the Heat learn anything by what they were able to do in Game 3 or gain the confidence necessary to take another game -- or more? Maybe. Here are five reasons this series is bound to return to Dallas for Game 6:

1) The Heat is yet to play a good game. Tonight the team was much improved in many of the areas that plagued it in the Games 1 and 2 losses -- Shaq's touches, free-throw shooting, shot selection, rebounding. The team, however, had far, far too many turnovers and is lucky to have escaped with the W. Rare is the day a team can walk away with a victory late in the Playoffs when it gives the ball away 20 times, good for 28 points.

2) The Heat got to the rim more often and settled for fewer long shots. It's easiest to point at Antoine Walker as an example of this point. In Game 1, he attempted nine triples. In Game 2, that number was down to seven. Tonight, only five of Walker's 17 shots came from beyond the arc. Instead, after catching the ball, Walker was putting it on the floor and taking his man off the dribble and getting to the rim. With Shaq and Wade already commanding so much attention, the Mavs have a tough time stopping a player of Walker's size and ability. When he's willing to put the ball on the floor, defenders have to respect his skills and not just play him for the three-pointer. That, in turn, will give him more open -- and better -- looks from the outside.

3) The Heat was aggressive on the glass. The Heat has now out-rebounded the Mavs in two of the three contests. Game 1 marked the first time in 18 games that the Mavs won despite losing the battle of the boards. Tonight, no Mavericks player hauled down double-digit caroms, while Wade (13), Udonis Haslem (11, eight on the offensive glass) and Shaquille O'Neal (11) all reached that tally. If the Heat are to take another game from the Mavs, look for them to do it by limiting Dallas' second-chance opportunities by cleaning the glass.

4) The Heat still hasn't gotten much from Shaq. Yes, he turned in 16 points and 11 boards in 37 minutes tonight, but this is a guy who averaged 25.8 points and 12.2 rebounds in 190 career playoff games heading into tonight. Despite all the talk the entire series about getting O'Neal more touches, he still got only single-digit shot attempts and went to the line only six times. The Mavs defensive scheme of doubling even before O'Neal gets the ball and keeping him from getting the ball in the low post has limited his effectiveness. At some point, you have to believe his teammates are going to be knocking down shots and that O'Neal will have one of those monster 30-point, 20-rebound type games. Okay, that may be asking a bit much, but anything more that 16 and 11 isn't.

5) The Heat has a loud crowd at its back. Sure, the Mavs' fans paint themselves in varying styles with blue and green and have adopted the slogan 'Rowdy, Loud and Proud', but the Heat audience is louder -- when it wants to be. There were stretches you could hear crickets inside the AmericanAirlines Arena. Other times you couldn't hear yourself think. The latter times seemed reserved for the final few moments, as the outcome hung on a Nowitzki miss from the stripe. You can only believe the crowd will be a bit more vocal with its team back in the series.

Those factors combined, it seems plausible the Heat can take one more game on its home court; capturing all three seems highly unlikely since only Detroit in 2004 has been able to accomplish the feat since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. Even taking two probably isn't enough, but it sure beats getting swept or going out quietly in five games.

***

Game 4 is Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET and will again be televised on ABC. Be sure to tune in and log on to NBA.com for complete coverage. Before then, however, we'll be back at practice tomorrow and will be turning in a complete report of what transpires. Check back here for the latest from Miami.

Goin' Home Happy
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 14, 2006, 12:10 a.m. ET

The fans, that is. But not before the tore off the white seat coverings carefully placed on every seat in the arena. After all, they do make for some good confetti.

There were a number of reasons the Heat should have lost this game. There were also a number of ways the Mavericks could have stolen the first on the road. But alas, neither happened. The Heat get on the board and help Riley avoid getting swept for a third straight time when his team has fallen behind 0-2 in The Finals. We'll be back in a short while to look at just how the Heat got the win and pulled within the Mavs.

No Better Time Than Now
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 14, 2006, 12:02 a.m. ET

Gary Payton's been as quiet as a church mouse this game. In 19 minutes, he didn't take a shot, had two boards, two assists and a foul. But, with the shot clock winding down and the score tied, the veteran point guard stepped up, shot faked his defender and dropped a two-pointer to send this crowd into a frenzy. They can taste the victory.

Add Haslem To That List
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:56 p.m. ET

Before those last two Udonis Haslem free throw attempts, he was 0-for-4 from the stipe. He just drained two to give the Heat it's first lead since the second half began. Who would have thought the Heat would win a game at the free throw line?

Can't Argue With That
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:53 p.m. ET

This entire series, we've criticized the free throw shooting of the biggest player in the game. His response is always the same, that he hits them when the matter most. Guess we can all stop picking apart his lone weakness. Shaq just hit two of the biggest attempts of his career.

Let's Go Heat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:51 p.m. ET

Remember what I was saying about this home crowd? It's in full force, chanting, "Let's Go Heat" and giving some much needed energy on both ends. How else can you explain Udonis Haslem and Shaquille O'Neal hitting the deck for the same loose ball?

A Late Run
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:44 p.m. ET

Don't count the Heat out of this yet. Behind a three-point play and a jumer by Dwyane Wade and a James Posey triple, the gap has been closed to only five points.

Shout, But Shout What?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:35 p.m. ET

In the arena, they're showing clips from Animal House, among other films, set to "Shout". The fans here are clapping and keeping beat, but there's no shouting to be done with the Heat down 12. The only real sounds you're getting in unison are boos. How will they, and the Heat players, respond over the next 8:34.

The next song they played was more appropriate: The Monkees' "I'm A Believer"

Energy From The Home Crowd
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:30 p.m. ET

This is why you want the home crowd on your side. With the Heat down eight going into the fourth quarter, they can hope to draw a little energy from the masses decked out in white. During the third when Miami scored only 16 points, it looked a little lethargic on the defensive end. The players will need to step it up in this quarter.

They might have to do it without Dwyane Wade. The young star just picked up his fifth personal foul.

Hack-A-Shaq
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:21 p.m. ET

Another defensive tactic to try -- along with the two seven-footer approach -- is to just foul Shaq when he gets the ball in low. With the Mavs turning an 18-point swing to take a sizable lead, Devin Harris wrapped up the Big Fella when he caught the ball in the low post. It remains to be seen if this is a tactic Avery Johnson will employ down the stretch of this game.

Just What The Doctor Ordered
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:11 p.m. ET

Seriously, why doesn't the Heat just give the ball to Wade every time it starts struggling? Only good things can happen. Like that last trip when he got the and-one. The crowd exploded, the team re-took the lead, albeit briefly, and the team got another chance at the stripe. Now, if only they can convert once there. The team is 13-for-23 from the line on the night. Haslem has missed four of those -- his only tries.

No. 8
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 11:06 p.m. ET

Who's that man donning No. 8 tonight? It certainly can't be the man NBA TV's Rick Kamla called "The Chucker". After all, on those last two drives, he's looking much more like another famous No. 8 rather than the guy heaving triples most of his career.

Lead, No More
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 10:57 p.m. ET

How quickly a lead can disappear, eh? The Mavs have come out red-hot from the field and are hitting the boards. Plus, the Heat is still coughing up the ball at an alarming rate. The Mavs have taken a 55-54 lead, causing Pat Riley to burn another timeout at the 8:42 mark.

47 Seconds
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 10:52 p.m. ET

Yikes. That was quick. Pat Riley just called a 20-second timeout, only 47 seconds into the second half. Why? A Josh Howard triple, a Jason Williams turnover and a Dirk Nowitzki jumper from the top of the key closed the gap down to four. Before that shot, Nowitzki was only 2-of-9 from the field, but had hit 7-of-8 from the stripe for 11 points.

At The Half
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 10:33 p.m. ET

The Heat takes a 52-43 lead into the locker rooms at the break. A few things we've seen through the first half that have the Heat out front:
- The Heat players are taking care of the glass, holding a 30-16 edge on the glass.
- They're hitting their shots, mainly because they're not flinging so many from afar.
- Dwyane Wade is getting to the free-throw line. Wade has taken 14 shots already; the Mavs team has attempted only 16.

One point of concern, if you're a Heat fan, is the team has 12 turnovers leading to 16 Mavs points. That has to be tightened up in the second half if the Heat wants to hold on to the lead and win its first game. It's likely the Mavs could tighten the D in the second half, limiting the Heat to less than the 51.4 percent shooting the team enjoyed in the first 24 minutes, which means those extra points will be precious as time winds down.

Freebies
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 10:24 p.m. ET

It's bad enough free throws are, well, basically, free. But when you get two misses from Dirk Nowitzki -- a rarity -- you can't commit a lane violation as the Heat just did to give him another chance.

Also, while Dirk was shooting, the fans behind the basket were being prompted to chant Dav-id Hassel-hoff. You may recall, Dirk said he likes to sing Hasselhoff songs to himself when he's concentrating at the line.

Key Stretch
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 10:15 p.m. ET

Now's a critical time for the Heat to remain aggressive and keep attacking the Mavs. In each of the last two games, the Mavs closed out the half on 10-0 runs, and kept the lead for good. The Heat hasn't won a playoff game this season when trailing at the half. On the other hand, it hasn't lost a game when leading, either.

Not A Fair Fight
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 10:05 p.m. ET

Ah, it's good to be in control of the big screens finally. The Heat is making fun of its opponent at every opportunity. The organization just compared its dance team to the portly gentlemen's squad, the Mavs ManiAACs. Hardly a fiar fight. See for yourself: Heat Dancers | Mavs ManiAACs

One Quarter Down
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:53 p.m. ET

With 12 minutes in the books, the Heat hold an eight-point edge on the Mavs. Shaq is three for three from the field and has drained his only two free-throw attempts. Wade, meanwhile, is taking this game over quickly. He's four-for-six and has hit five-of-six from the stripe for 13 points. He also has four boards. Turnovers are a bit high for both teams, but we're thinking that will turn around as the game goes on.

What Shoulder?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:42 p.m. ET

If you were in the Heat locker room Sunday night watching Udonis Haslem cradle his left arm, there's no way you'd think he was going to be ready to play tonight. You'd say it was impossible to do what he's been doing thus far. On the defensive end, he anticipated a pass to a Mav cutting back door and swiped it left handed. On the other end, he threw down a powerful two-handed jam. Any other day, they'd be good plays. Tonight, they're magnificent given he has to still be hurting.

Premature Celebration
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:31 p.m. ET

It's hard not to get excited when you see that Shaquille O'Neal already has six points, three assists and two boards, but the Heat might want to hold off on any early celebrating. Not that the lone streamer that just fell from the ceiling can be called celebrating, but still... The Heat have a six point edge on the Mavs and are looking active on both ends early.

Take A Seat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:24 p.m. ET

In case you were wondering, Udonis Haslem did indeed start fo the Heat tonight. He grabbed an early board, too.

On the other end, DeSagana Diop grabbed three rebounds in three minutes, but too an early seat after picking up his first foul.

That's More Like It
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:19 p.m. ET

The Heat gets on the board first. How? Dumping the ball in to Shaq in the post before the help defender came for the double. Result: two points. On the other end, the Mavs missed their first two shots -- a long Dirk Nowitzki jumper and a mid-ranger Josh Howard attempt.

Fireworks
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:15 p.m. ET

With a nickname like the Heat, you'd expect the team to bring a little fire. It's evident from the starting lineup introduction. The team has two Weber-grill looking contraption on the court, launching fire bolts and sparks. Makes me think of the last time I tried to cook a steak.

Let's Go Crazy
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 9:11 p.m. ET

NBA.com's own Rob Peterson has often said, during the Playoffs, that the Heat's fans all decked out in white look like extras from the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". A fitting comparison, it is, given that the fans at the AmericanAirlines Arena are going nuts in support of their team. And we've only gotten to the introductions.

Stacked
Posted by John Schuhmann (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 8:53 p.m. ET

In the Mavs locker room before the game, NBA TV's Rick Kamla asked Jerry Stackhouse if he's ever played better than when he scored 10 straight points at the end of the first half of Game 2.

"I scored 57 once," Stackhouse responded.

Good answer.

For the record, Stackhouse's career high was 57 points on April 3, 2001 in Chicago when he was playing for Detroit.

Hey, You There, In The Blue
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 8:35 p.m. ET

Wonder how they get so many people decked out in white here at the Heat games? Simple. It's a case of public shaming. The P.A. announcer, armed with a camera and spotlight, scours the crowd pre-game to coerce those not wearing white to put on the tees they were given free upon entering the building. Some do; some don't. That doesn't stop the Heat from trying. So far we've watched as they've had people put down food, and even phone calls, to slip on the tee.

Think they'll have any success getting Mark Cuban to swap out his blue Mavs shirt?

A Tale Of Two Jerseys
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 8:26 p.m. ET

Hanging courtside before the game -- seeking autographs -- were best friends Dan and Matt. Dan had a Dwyane Wade jersey draped over his shoulder. Matt was proudly wearing a Dirk Nowitzki jersey. In Miami? Yep. Originally from New York, Matt is still a hard-core Knicks fan and can't stand to see the Heat win. "I root for anybody but the Heat," Matt said.

"He calls me at 5 a.m. saying, 'the Heat are getting swept. Get out the broom," Dan told me.

Amazingly, the two are still friends after the last two games, but their friendship will really be tested tonight.

Not Yacht
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 8:15 p.m. ET

An update to the situation below: No boat ... yet. We caught Mark Cuban courtside as his team went through it's initial warmups. He told us, "You'll just have to wait and see."

When asked about a possible tow, the grin said more than his words: "I have no idea."

Okay, we'll wait.

Not In Our Town
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 7:00 p.m. ET

Remember the boat-and-banner bit we were telling you about this morning? Well, no sign of a yacht in the water around Miami's arena when we arrived a short bit ago. The reason? We heard on the radio on the quick ride in that the authorities here told the owner such a stunt was out of the question. There was talk about a boat being towed if it was tried again. We'll see if we can get the scoop.

Put Me In Coach, I'm Ready To Play
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 3:45 p.m. ET

A special guest just dropped by to deliver an inspirational speech during NBA Entertainment's routine game-day logistical meeting: Bill Walton. The Hall of Famer talked about the difficulities facing the Heat tonight as they try to get their first-ever Finals win. Walton would know a thing or two about being down 2-0 in the Finals returning home; his 1977 Portland Trail Blazers were in such a position vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, becoming only the second team to ever win The Finals after losing the first two.

During his speech, we were treated to a story about that Game 3 when Daryl Dawkins had been roughing up the Blazers. Walton's brother, Bruce, then a backup lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, requested eight seats behing the Sixers bench -- all occupied by Cowboys linemen. "Dawkins turned into the biggest pussycat," Walton told the NBA Entertainment crew.

The Big Redhead didn't really talk all that long -- he wrapped up after 35 minutes! -- but during that time he managed to work in stories about John Wooden and UCLA, Jack Ramsay, Larry Bird and the 1986 Celtics, among many others. In the end, Walton's message was that we can only do our jobs to make sure we put on an excellent production; the rest is on the shoulders of the Miami Heat, just as Wooden used to tell Walton and his UCLA teammates.

"He'd say, 'Don't look over at me (on the sidelines). I've done my job.'" Walton said.

Now the Heat have to do theirs.

Game Day
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 13, 2006, 1:30 p.m. ET

Ready to count out the Heat? Not so fast. We're on the scene down here in Miami Beach and we're thinking the Heat has what it takes to make this a series.

History has us a little worried, though. The two previous times a Pat Riley-led team has been down 2-0 in The Finals, both teams -- the 1983 and 1989 Lakers -- were swept.

So, how does the Heat avoid a similar fate?

Get Shaq more than five shots. And, no, 11 isn't enough, either.

Then again, the Mavs will probably take Shaq out with their double-teams, so you could just forget him and get out of Dwyane Wade's way.

More reasons you might not want to count on Shaq to get it done:

- He's running on fumes.

- Some say he's shrinking.

- He's going up against an inspired Erick Dampier.

- His teammates can't throw it in the ocean.

- This isn't practice.

Then again, all those stories -- well, except for that last one about his free-throw shooting; that's not changing -- could be wasted ink if Shaq gets a little home cooking and re-charges his batteries.

Back to the double-teaming aspect for a second, Chris Ramsay has a solid piece in the Daily Dime, taking a look at how the Mavs defended with two seven-footers.

As for those Mavs, even if they don't win they could leave the South Florida fans with a sour taste in their mouths. We're hearing rumors that a yacht will be anchored near the arena with a giant Mavs banner affixed to it. We'll let you know if that turns out to be true when we make our way to the arena a little later today. Join us then as we give you a live look at what's happening from the AmericanAirlines Center. And remember, game time is 9 ET. Be sure to tune to ABC.

Welcome to Miami!
Posted by Rob Peterson (NBA.com) on June 12, 2006, 7:45 p.m. ET

Welcome to Miami, where the weather is hot and humid (it is, after all, June in Florida) and the locals are more worried about their favorite team ("Last night, I was nervous," one person said, "then I was just mad.") than they are about Alberto.

If I were a Heat fan, I would be too, seeing that their beloved Black and Red have dug themselves a historically big hole.
-- [Palm Beach Post]

As for TS Alberto seeing that I'm a Midwesterner first and a Northeasterner now, I've never been this close to a tropical storm. What does one do? Buy a stronger umbrella? Curse it by name? "Damn you, Alberto! Damn you!"

I'm not sure. And I'm not sure I want to find out.

Anyway, we're here in Miami and Game 3 is Tuesday, 9 p.m. on ABC and their coverage begins one-half hour before tip off. Neither team practiced today (the Heat were scheduled to, but cancelled), and the only news coming out of The Finals was the Heat's Udonis Haslem should be ready for Game 3.

Truly, we can't wait for it to get started, much like the Mavericks, who seem eager to keep the pedal to the metal, while the Heat just want to wash that nasty 0-2 taste out of their mouth.
-- [Dallas Morning News, Miami Herald]

Come back to the blog tomorrow when we have more links, then stay for NBA.com's 2006 NBA Draft site, which we'll launch tomorrow.

Until then, good night from Miami.

Heat Get History Lesson
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 12, 2006, 2:45 a.m. ET


With the Heat down big, O'Neal spent the final 15 minutes on the bench. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty)

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

As much as the Heat may have wanted to forget their Game 1 loss and try to even the score Sunday night in Dallas, they would have been best served addressing the issues that led to them being down in the series in the first place.

Heat head coach Pat Riley said as much, himself, when he spoke with NBA TV's Rick Kamla before the game.

"You go back to the drawing board," Riley said on what his team needed to do. "I don't think you correct anything other than those things that caused you to lose (Game 1)."

Then, why is it that Shaq got only five shots -- six fewer than in Game 1?

The answer may lie with a comment Antoine Walker made during media interviews at Friday's practice:

"We're not going to make no adjustments," Walker remarked. "We're going to come play basketball, Miami Heat basketball, the way we've been playing and the way we played yesterday."

Walker proved especially prophetic. His team did play the same as it had in Game 1, with the same end result.

In both games, the team was unable to get Shaq good looks at point-blank range, due mainly to the defense Dallas has played on the Big Fella. The Mavericks are keeping him out of the low post before he gets the ball, rendering him almost useless when he does catch the pass.

"If you watched the game," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said postgame, "you know we were really trying to double-team him quite a bit, even before he got the ball. So, we're just trying to make them go other places sometimes, and sometimes it works and sometimes it don't."

Tonight was one of those times it didn't for the Heat. The few times Shaq did receive the ball, he was forced to either put up a shot out of his range -- and, really, anything further out than a dunk is a reach for Shaq -- or to pass out to an open teammate.

"They doubled him every single time he caught the ball," Heat coach Pat Riley commented. "He made the pass that he was supposed to make and the other times they would front him. Any time he tried to throw the ball over the top, we didn't get out of it what we want."

There lies a second problem; The Heat shooters have been ice cold when it matters most. By the time Antoine Walker began knocking down 25-footers late in the third quarter, the Heat was down almost 30 points.

"The first half, I shot three or four times," Walker said. "I had a couple looks that I missed. I just wanted to stay aggressive. The way they defend us, they are going to make Jason and other guys make the shots."

Until the "other guys" make them pay, the Mavs will continue to throw two defenders at Shaq and continue to take the team out of its offense.

One positive -- and trust me, this might be the only positive -- the Heat can take from their two games in Dallas is the team can't possibly play any worse than it has. Can it?

With the next three games being held on the Heat's home floor, you have to believe it can pull together and steal at least one game, if not turn it around completely to get back in this series.

If the Heat doesn't do that in Game 3, however, it's cooked. No team in NBA history has ever overcome a three-games-to-none deficit in a best-of-seven series -- not to mention in The Finals.

Being up 2-0, however, doesn't mean the Mavs are on East Street. They, too, must learn from the past if they wish to be crowned champs.

"We've just got to be ready to play," Dirk Nowitzki said of his team, looking to take a commanding 3-0 lead, "that's the bottom line. Hopefully we'll learn from the Phoenix series where we won the third game on the road and, I thought, we relaxed a little bit. Next thing you know, we get drilled in Game 4. So, I think we learned in the Playoffs, the teams are too good. You can never relax. You can never take a breath."

Dallas would be wise to look back to their in-state rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, after they routed the Detroit Pistons in Games 1 and 2 of The Finals a year ago. The Spurs went on the road and took a beating of their own in the next two games, falling to a 2-2 tie before eventually closing out the series in seven games at home.

So, one can reasonably expect the Heat to do as Detroit did and put up a better fight on its own turf. Otherwise, the city of Miami might witness a championship celebration, but those celebrating won't wear red and black.

***

That's all for us here in Dallas. We're packing up and looking for the best path around tropical storm Alberto. We'll see you from Miami tomorrow.

Zeroes
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:58 p.m. ET

Time's expired. And so have the Heat's chances of stealing away homecourt advantage in this series. That doesn't mean all is lost, Heat fans. This has us thinking all the way back to a year ago, when Detroit was chased out of San Antonio after two serious butt whippings. The Pistons rebounded at home, almost took all three games for a second straight year and forced a Game 7. But, that Game 7 was on the Spurs home court. The same would be true for the Heat, who would have to come back here and win one if they're to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy.

We'll be back in a short bit to wrap up the evening. For now, it's downstairs to get the lowdown on the win/loss from those involved.

Goodnight Sweetheart, It's Time To Go
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:50 p.m. ET

You just can't stop that shot. I'm talking about that fade-away, turn-around jumper Dirk just hit over 'Toine. Not a chance you're getting a hand on that ball. With that swish, there's a next-to-nothing chance the Heat are closing this 14 point gap over the next 120 seconds. The Mavs fans are starting to feel it with everybody in the place on their feet.

Not Over Yet
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:45 p.m. ET

This game isn't over just yet, but it's getting close. The Heat have close the gap -- as large as 27 at one point -- to only 12 in recent moments. They could use a stop or two and a couple big buckets in the next few trips down the floor.

Bored
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:40 p.m. ET

The time is drawing near where Pat Riley has to realistically think his team's chances of getting back in this game are slim. It's also about the time when the team's bench just zone's out. You know what I mean, those long faces that seem to say, "I'd rather be fishing." Okay, fishing might not be such a good example, given Kenny uses it to mean you're on summer vacation, but you know what I'm saying, right?

Speaking of bored, I mean, boards, check out the rebounding differential: Dallas 42, Miami 28. That's a sizable gap, folks. We said earlier that the Mavs were getting second chance opportunities because both Diop and Dampier were active on the glass. Dampier has 13 boards. Nowitzki has hauled down 14 of his own. Diop, well, for some reason he's only logged 12 minutes. Oh, right, it might have something to do with those five fouls.

All that said, can I see Jason Kapono out there heaving from way, way beyond the three-point arc like Antoine Walker just did?

An Extra Nine Feet Is Nothing
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:23 p.m. ET

NBA.com's own Rob Peterson just pointed out that the Mavs are shooting 53.3 percent (8-of-15) from three-point range, while the Heat are only 54.2 percent (13-of-24) from the free-throw line.

Will Shaq Sit It Out?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:13 p.m. ET

With the third quarter dwindling and the Mavs lead growing, Shaq is over on the bench. We posed the question earlier: Is he tired? Now we're asking: Think he'll call it a night? If this deficit stays in the high-20's, he could shut it down and catch the extra rest before Game 3. Just a thought.

Nothing Right For Heat
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:08 p.m. ET

The Heat just can't catch a break. After Jason Terry knocked down that last triple for the Mavs, it was so loud in here that nobody heard the whistle for a defensive-three-seconds call on the Mavs. That whistle negated a triple of their own -- at the hands of Antoine Walker. Meanwhile, over on the Heat bench, Udonis Haslem has his left shoulder wrapped up. We noticed a little earlier in the game he seemed to be holding it funny as if he was hurt. That would spell some serious trouble for Miami because, really, who else is going to check Dirk?

Shaq Stays Back
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:02 p.m. ET

In one of the strangest things I've seen in a long time, Shaq didn't even line up on the free throw line when Dwyane Wade took his last two attempts. He was back down the floor standing at the top of the three-point arc. Is he tired?

Throw It Down Big Man!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 10:57 p.m. ET

Erick Dampier, running the floor and finishing on the break? Say what?! Yep, and it's good for a 19-point lead -- the Mavs' biggest of the game.

J-Ho To The Floor
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 10:48 p.m. ET

Josh Howard's four-point play -- Antoine Walker's second foul in the first three minutes of the second half, by the way -- was the team's second. Jerry Stackhouse converted at the end of the first half. But, Howard's didn't come without a price. He hit the deck on that shot. Then on the next trip back up the court, he was tossed to the floor by Shaq after trying to tip his own miss. No foul on the play, which didn't please the home fans much.

Update: The Mavs just flashed a fact on the big screen that I was unaware of ... in the history of The Finals, there have only been eight four-point plays. Two of those, as I said, came tonight.

Noise!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 10:24 p.m. ET

So, that Jerry Stackhouse fellow looks like he could be okay in this league, huh? It should come as no surprise that he can blow up in a hurry when he gets going. After all, he once was a 30 ppg scorer -- fine, 29.8 ppg technically. The point is, Stack just outscored the Heat 10-0 by himself to close the half. Needless to say, the American Airlines Center went bonkers.

Despite the Mavs' sixth man just knocking down three circus-like triples, there are bigger problems for Riley's bunch than locking down on Stack on the perimeter ... like getting some of his guys to knock down a few of their own. Dallas is going to keep double-teaming Shaq until Miami's shooters can prove their aim is true. Shaq has only three shot attempts thus far. That's not going to cut it. Especially not when Antione Walker is 1-for-4, Dwyane Wade is 2-for-7 and Jason Williams is 1-for-6.

We'll be back with more from the second half in just a few minutes.

Heat, Not So Hot
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 10:10 p.m. ET

After Miami built it's biggest lead of the first half, 28-23, the Mavs rattled off 11 straight points to re-gain the lead. It was about this time in Game 1 that the wheels fell off the Heat and the team went scoreless for a three minute stretch to end the half. It'll be interesting to note if they can close the gap now or take a lead into the break. Miami has won its last 23 straight games that it's led at the half, but has dropped all six in this postseason that it's trailed after 24 minutes.

Do These Mavs Make By Butt Look Big?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 10:01 p.m. ET

The Mavs staff really is clever. You should see some of these little video clips they show in the arena during breaks in the action. The last was an edited version of Ghost Busters, with Shaq playing the part of the giant Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. Hmmmm, do you want to anger a man that large?

Flight No. 3
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:55 p.m. ET


Like Mike: Shall we add a '2' in front of that '3', Mr. Wade? (Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty)
Flight No. 3, you're clear for landing. No, seriously, would you please come down from up there?

Maybe it was the flashbulbs in here, but did Dwyane Wade just sort of hang there for a little while on that breakaway dunk? Whew!

Slow Start
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:49 p.m. ET

So, maybe the teams aren't as loose as we might have been thinking earlier. At the end of one, the Mavs have a one-point edge on the Heat, 18-17. Not exactly a high-scoring affair, but it's about what you'd expect as the players have focused on getting stops.

A quick glance at the free-throw shooting category shows signs of improvement for the Heat. They started the game 1-for-6 from the line, but are now up to a "respectable" 8-of-14. That's not good by most standards, but when compared with Game 1 on Thursday, it is. It's also good that Jason Williams and Alonzo Mourning have visited the stripe already.

Slowing Nowitzki
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:38 p.m. ET

It's rare when Dirk Nowitzki has two off-games in a row, but that could be the case here tonight. He's been saddled with two personal fouls and there's still 3:27 remaining in the first quarter.

Working the Refs
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:34 p.m. ET

Say what you want about Jason Williams' defense, he just earned his team an extra point by chirping in Bob Delaney's ear until he called the defensive-three seconds violation on the Mavs. See, J-Will and defense, used in the same sentence.

More Cowbell!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:28 p.m. ET

Only in Texas ... The Dallas Mavericks drumline just took the floor during a timeout, meshing all types of drums with trash cans and five gallon buckets. No sign of a cowbell, however, much to my disappointment.

Two Easy
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:22 p.m. ET

The Heat are giving up second-chance points to the Mavs early. Both Diop and Dampier have grabbed an offensive board thus far. The Heat, meanwhile, are having trouble on the glass at both ends, being out-rebounded 10 to three.

Too Easy
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:16 p.m. ET

There might be something to this whole, "Get Shaq the ball" notion. Twenty-three seconds in and he's got two points in the paint, drawn a foul on DeSagana Diop and missed two freebies -- only one will go in the boxscore though, as the first was a lane violation.

Know Your ABCD's
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 9:04 p.m. ET

Watching at home and catching this super cool ABC intro? I can't get enough of it. I'm going to watch it again.

Dirk must've seen it a couple times, because as both teams were lined up along the free throw line-extended, Dirk was taking a few last minute shots -- the only player to do so.

Riles Is Loose
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 8:29 p.m. ET

Usually, when the coaches go through pre-game press conferences with the media, it's a mere formality with them not revealing too much and basically reciting old answers. One could forgive them, after all they do have more important business on the horizon.

So, we were a little surprised to see how loose Pat Riley was before the game. Check out a few priceless quotes from Riles:

Q: You had only two players attempt free throws in Game 1. Does that necessarily mean that you didn't attack the basket enough and, if so, is that going to be a point of emphasis for you tonight?

Riley: "Oh, I think we should blame the officials, what the hell."

Q: I don't mean to age you here, Pat, but as someone who has been in the league longer than the Mavericks, can you give me your insight into their 26-year journey too The Finals?

Riley: "You mean my botox isn't working? My lines ...?

So, you see, if his team is anywhere near as relaxed as him, the Mavs could be in trouble tonight -- at least in the early going.

'Zo Trash Talks the Media
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 8:15 p.m. ET

Greetings, again, from the American Airlines Center, where Game 2 is less than one hour away. A little while ago, we ventured down to each team's locker room to get a sense of what the players are experiencing before tonight's game. For the most part, the Heat locker room was empty. That could be because the Mavs put them in a broom closet and the Miami players are claustrophobic. Or, it could be because Alonzo Mourning was sprawled on his back on the floor, taking up every inch of usable space while having his legs thoroughly stretched.

With nothing to do while getting limber, 'Zo playfully took shots at the media standing around.

"What's funny about y'all," Mourning cracked, "is y'all staring at that board and y'all don't understand a damned thing that's on that board! Y'all trying to decode that like it's the DaVinci code."

What was on that dry-erase board? Beats me?! 'Zo was right. Do you know what "1 Up Punch" means? No, well how about "Floppy Down 45 Strong"? Or "Slice Thumb Down Punch"? Those were just a few of the plays diagrammed.

I could, however, decipher the keys written out in the center of the board. Among the defensive points Riley is calling for his teammates to focus on were:

  • Limit them in transition = under 10 FB Pts
  • Protect the paint
  • Choke their air space ! =
    • Contest w/o fouling = Don't bail them out.
    • Stay down on shot fakes = no fly bys.

Fire, Meet Fuel
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 1:30 p.m. ET

So, think the Heat players liked this piece when they picked up their complimentary copies of the Dallas Morning News outside their hotel rooms this morning?

Not likely.

They also might not like to read that Miami is Jerry Stackhouse's favorite NBA city. Any little level of discomfort always helps the home team. So, fellas, don't pick up the New York Times if you're out at a Starbucks today.

As for today, it's our last one here in Dallas unless one of these squads pushes the series to six or seven games. Last year's went the distance and I'm thinking this year's won't ... The previous two times The Finals went the full seven games, we had a sweep the following year; In 1995, Shaq's Orlando Magic were swept by Houston and the 1989 Lakers were ousted in four by Detroit.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not calling for a sweep or anything, but it's a possibility if the Heat players are already hanging their heads.

But, rest assured, Heat fans, Shaq is strong enough to get this series evened at a game apiece.

So, commence with the superstitious rituals ...

... check the forecast ...

... and get in front of a television by 9 ET tonight. The game's live on ABC. We'll be live here on NBA.com.

Go(al) Dirk!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 11, 2006, 11:30 a.m. ET

When the Mavs host the Heat tonight in Game 2 of The Finals, fans around the globe will tune in to cheer on Dirk Nowitzki. But the German soccer team will have to catch the highlights the next day, as most will be long asleep so they can be prepared for their next match Wednesday vs. Poland.

"I always check the results in the teletext," Philipp Lahm, who scored the first goal in this year's World Cup, told our German friend Johannes Berendt. "Unfortunately I can not watch (live) since the games are late at night. But I am very happy to have a German playing in The Finals."

Lahm found a unique source of inspiration before Germany's 4-2 win over Costa Rica:

"I watched a DVD of Michael Jordan," Lahm said. "And my friend (third keeper Timo Hildeband) said it would be a good time to score a goal."

We can't help but wonder what Miroslav Klose -- who Johannes caught up with earlier this week -- watched before scoring two goals in the opening game ...

Talk The Talk, Take Two
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 10, 2006, 4:30 p.m. ET


Harris, the Mavs and Heat are eager to stop talking and start playing. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty)

Can't wait for Game 2 to start? You're not alone, as the players, coaching staffs and media members went through another round of practices and question-and-answer sessions on Saturday.

"Get the game going, already!" you might be thinking. But, not so fast. Not all are in agreement of that thought.

"It's an anxious (time)," Jerry Stackhouse said at today's practice. "You're ready to get going. You like it when you play a game, you've got a day to think about it and then you can come right back and play again. In this situation, we've got two days in between. We've been at home and hopefully we can lock in and make some adjustments to help us in Game 2 as opposed to just have one day to do it. Hopefully it will work in our favor."

The Heat, too, are hoping to gain a little advantage by getting the extra day's break.

"Obviously it's good," Antoine Walker agreed. "Sometimes you get a little extra rest. But, for a team that loses, you always want to get back on the court. But, this gives us an opportunity to break down film and study a lot more and to prepare. After tomorrow, the games are every other day -- Tuesday and Thursday -- so the next three games will come real quick."

The extra day between games not only affects the players but also forces the media covering The Finals to take a new angle on stories they'll file for tomorrow's morning editions. Gone was the line of questioning about strategy, adjustments and X's & O's. Instead, we heard reporters working on player-specific stories. Keep an eye out tomorrow for an in-depth piece on Jerry Stackhouse. There also could be one written on Keith Van Horn's Finals experiences with New Jersey and Dallas.

That's not to say there weren't any questions about what the teams need to do different.

"We got away from what go us here," Alonzo Mourning assessed, "trowing the ball inside, punishing people. Punishing people in the paint. I like the way that sounds."

But, for the most part, the players were enjoying a loose, laid back day in Dallas before the series picks up.

"It's Tuesday and Thursday (when we get to) Miami," Stackhouse said. "So, that's more like a regular Playoff series. (Then) I think, Thursday to Sunday -- if necessary ..."

DIOP DROPS 'EM

Yesterday we learned about big men and their free throw shooting troubles. So, I was particularly interested in watching DeSagana Diop taking a few practice shots with assistant coach Brad Davis rebounding for him.

Diop confidently told Davis to, "Just stand under the net," and proceeded to knock down a few arrow-straight attempts with remarkably good form and rotation. And, yes, he had some arc on his shots.

Davis mentioned something to the effect of Diop missing, to which the seven-footer replied, "Maybe you (would). I don't know how your name got up there."

"There," would be the rafters, from which Davis' number 22 hangs.

Practice Makes ... Better?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 9, 2006, 6:53 p.m. ET

Today we hit up the Mavs and Heat practice sessions and media availability sessions to get an idea how they were dealing with the emotions of a first win and loss.

One of the things we learned was that the Heat aren't necessarily going to go make a ton of changes just because they dropped one game. They didn't play well and got very little bench production, yet still were hanging tight until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The general feeling was they just needed to play a little better and they could steal away Game 2 here in Dallas.

That's not to say there won't be adjustments made. Both teams held film sessions to see where they can make required tweaks. Dallas saw ways they can get more production out of Dirk Nowitzki.

A tweak the Heat might be best served by making is in the free throw form of their dominant center. During the Q&A period, many of the media members were eager to know why Shaq struggles so badly from the line. Dallas' free throw coach, Gary Boren, and Nowizki believe Shaq could shoot a higher percentage, but they're not eager to share any advice.

The teams have one more day to watch film and run through any implemented changes before Game 2 is staged Sunday evening. We'll be back at tomorrow's practice sessions and will file a report on any interesting developments or notable quotes from this year's finalists. But for now, it's time for us to get out and explore Dallas a little more while we have the chance. Don't be shy, say hi if you see us.

Know Your ABCs
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 9, 2006, 5:30 p.m. ET

Did you catch the opening to last night's game on ABC? I have to admit, I'm completely a traditionalist who favors images actually filmed versus those manufactured in post-production, but not even I can make a case to take away any of the coolness from the network's Legacy of Champions intro. The opening features players of yesteryear cut out and meshed together to highlight some of the truly remarkable moments during the 60 years of The Finals.

I actually missed it at the arena when it aired last night, but Commission Stern, in his press conference with the media today reminded us all that it was available here on NBA.com. If you haven't had a chance to see it, why not watch it now? If you have, go ahead, you can watch it again.

Score One For The Germans
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 9, 2006, 12:30 p.m. ET

This morning, the world woke up to the World Cup, which is sure to capture its collective attention over the next 30 days. The first game features Germany, jumping out to an early 2-1 lead (in progress) over Costa Rica in a match held in Bavaria. And while the team has business of its own to take care of, striker Miroslav Klose will probably split time keeping his mind on another German athlete, Dirk Nowitzki, capturing the world's attention in The Finals.

"I think we will watch a few (Finals) games," Klose told our German friend, Johannes Berendt, this week. "We have seen some of his matches in the past. We have enough TV screens in our hotel where we can follow the action. Especially the younger players love to watch his games and they also love to follow the other games."

Terry, Mavs Jet to 1-0 Lead
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 9, 2006, 2:31 a.m. ET

Aggression (ag∑gres∑sion) noun:

"The practice or habit of launching attacks."


Terry found the rim often, giving the Mavs a big lift in Game 1.
(Ronald Martinez/NBAE/Getty)
That's an accurate definition for Jason Terry in his first-ever Finals game. It also is an inadequate description for any Heat player not named Dwyane Wade.

"Well, I just wanted to stay aggressive," Terry said after his 32-point night, "and just be assertive. I'm going to keep repeating that. That's what (Avery Johnson) wants me to do. For my team to be successful, I have to be out there in attack mode at all times and that's what I was able to do tonight."

Terry almost single-handedly kept the Mavericks within striking distance in the first half as the Heat opened up a double-digit lead. While Nowitzki and Josh Howard struggled to find twine, it was Terry who routinely attacked the rim and Heat interior defenders, going three-of-four at the rim and six-of-eight from 15 feet or closer.

The Mavs ballhandler was nearly as good from behind the three-point arc, hitting four of his seven triple tries.

"This Jason Terry," Johnson surmised during his postgame press conference, "makes us a pretty special basketball team because on a night like tonight, when Josh and Dirk go seven-for-28, you need to get some offense from somewhere, which are not many nights. Josh and Dirk normally don't have nights like this."

By "this," Johnson refers to the duo's limited offensive production. Nowitzki had only one game during the team's postseason run in which he scored fewer than tonight's 16; Howard's 10 was seven below his 2006 Playoffs average and a full nine fewer than what he put up nightly against Phoenix in the Conference Finals.

But the pair wasn't without their contributions as both turned in double-doubles by grabbing 10-plus rebounds. Howard, in addition, was one of the many defensive looks thrown at Wade throughout the game in an attempt to slow him.

Slowing him was about all the Mavericks could hope for and yet Wade still managed 28, six and six.

"He burned us bad early," Johnson said. "It seemed like he had 20 points in the first quarter. But, again, we knew all along coming into this series that multiple guys were going to take him. We've seen some other situations where a team has only used like two guys on him. We'd like to have a minimum of four guys guarding him, because we think he's that good."

Tonight, he was the only guy on his team that was any good, and it wasn't enough for the Heat to stick with the Mavs.

The most notable aberration in the boxscore was everything to the right of the name Shaquille O'Neal. Woe is the day Shaq gets a mere 11 shots. Jason Williams took as many. Antoine Walker took nearly that many from three-point territory alone.

Contributing to Shaq's low shot total was the double teams the Mavs threw at him. Routinely in the first quarter, when Shaq got the ball in the post, a help defender collapsed, forcing Miami's center to find an open shooter. Through the first 12 minutes, Miami, as a team, hit 70 percent of its shots. That wasn't the case over the following 36 minutes.

As Miami struggled from outside, only Wade and O'Neal went to the basket aggressively and made trips to the free throw line. And when they got there, they couldn't convert, hitting only five of 20 attempts. No Heat player other than the pair of All-Stars took a single attempt from the charity stripe.

The reason? They spent far too much time jacking up shots too far from the rim.

Udonis Haslem took only one of his four shots from inside 15 feet. Likewise, Jason Williams took only four of his 11 from the same range. The farther out you fire from, the less likely you are to draw contact. You're not going to get freebies.

So, what changes can we expect to see for Game 2?

Start with Shaquille O'Neal getting more touches. Expect the ball to be forced into the pivot early and often. O'Neal will still probably be double-teamed and have to kick the ball out at times to open shooters, but when those shots aren't falling, look for Miami to attack the basket more.

If Shaq is a more involved in the offense, also expect Dampier and Diop to get in early foul trouble. Each picked up two in the first quarter of Game 1. Diop only played 16 minutes, but Dampier was able to stay out of foul trouble enough to log 27 minutes.

One thing we can be certain of seeing is that Dirk Nowitzki won't struggle with his shot as he did tonight. The Mavs definitely want to win Game 2 as well, maintaining homecourt advantage and moving to Miami with a 2-0 series lead. To do so, they'll need their international superstar to rebound and perform well.

As for us, we'll be back tomorrow, checking in from the teams' practices to see how each is rebounding after the dust has settled on Game 1. Check back for updates, quotes and more from Dallas.

One Down
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:55 p.m. ET

Well, folks, that does it. The Mavs capture Game 1 of the 2006 NBA Finals, 90-80. They held the Heat to two points over the final 5:00, much as they limited their opponent's scoring to end the first half. We'll be back to wrap up the night in a short bit, for now we're heading downstairs to hear what the participants have to say about the win/loss.

Strike That
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:51 p.m. ET

Uh, yeah, go ahead and disregard that last post. Dallas has this thing sealed. They're up by nine with less than 60 seconds to go. Not a fan is in his/her seat except Mark Cuban?! You'd think that's a mistake, but nope, he's seated along the baseline near the Mavs bench, seemingly taking it all in.

Two Minutes, Just Two Minutes
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:46 p.m. ET

Entering the final two minutes, one team is headed for it's first-ever Finals win. The other ... it's first-ever Finals loss. Which will it be? The Mavs have the seven point lead and a "rowdy, loud & proud" crowd behind it. But you can't count out the Heat just yet. Not with Shaq and Wade on the floor.

The Avery Family
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:34 p.m. ET

The Mavs have a morbid twist on Kenny's Gone Fishin' bit. On the big screen here at the arena, they played an Addams Family parody, using cut-out heads on the original show opening, set to a re-worded tune ... The Avery Family. Clever, if twisted.

Nothing In Life Is Free
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:27 p.m. ET

A look at the stats of this game and the teams nearly mirror each other in every category but free-throw shooting. Dallas is 29-of-62 from the field; Miami is 31-of-62. Dallas has 33 boards to Miami's 34. The Mavs have 15 fouls to Miami's 19. The home team has 11 points off 13 Heat turnovers, while only giving up 12 on their own 10 giveaways. The big difference, as I said, is at the stripe. The Mavericks have hit 14-of-18 from the stripe. The Heat are a dismal 5-of-15. That folks, is 33.3 percent. Had they even made 50 percent of those they missed, they'd be right in this game. As it is, they've fallen behind by 10 as I type this. To make matters even worse, only O'Neal and Dwyane Wade have even attempted a free throw for the Heat tonight.

Hack-A-Shaq
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:11 p.m. ET

Avery's not employing such gimmicks yet, but with only a point separating the teams right now, 64-63, it might not be such a bad idea in the fourth quarter. O'Neal is O-fer, missing all seven tries from the stripe tonight.

Stack For More
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 11:07 p.m. ET

Maybe he didn't learn his lesson in the first half. After being opened up by the Diesel in the second quarter, Jerry Stackhouse again was on a collision course with Shaquille O'Neal late in the third -- this time on the defensive end. As Shaq caught the ball deep in the post and had an apparent easy dunk, Stack rose to try for the block. But Shaq hesitated, catching Jerry in the air for the foul. Stackhouse stayed seated on the floor for a short bit while a couple teammates and a trainer came to check on him.

That Just Ain't Right
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:57 p.m. ET

During a break in the action, a young boy decked out in a Heat jersey tormented an inflatable referee on the court. But score one for the zebra. After the kid ran circles around him, the ref caught him and ate him! As if that wasn't enough, he them proceeded to spit out the offending garment. No word on the safety of the fan. As they say, don't mess with Texas.

More Of The Same
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:45 p.m. ET

Whatever Pat Riley said to his team at halftime, it's not working. The team has come out in the first two minutes here of the second half, with Wade committing two fouls to go with two points and a misfire.

Tonight's Word: Tight
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:38 p.m. ET

NBA TV's Rick Kamla checked in with us at the half to say what he's seen through two quarters of play:

First Quarter: "The Mavs were tight and tentative. Josh howard was settling for jumpers and barely drew iron. The end of the first was rock bottom for the Mavs as Dirk and Terry had miscommunication leading to a Walker three that stretched the lead from five to eight. The crowd was as tight and nervous as the players."

Second Quarter: "Jason Terry brought his team, and the crowd, to life with a vicious and malicious dunk that spearheaded a 15-8 run to end the half and give the Mavs the 46-44 lead at the break. That bodes very well for a Mavs win because the Heat are 12-0 in these Playoffs when they lead at the half and 0-5 when they trail at intermission."

After tonight's game, we'll have Rick weigh in on key plays, stats and difference makers in the game. Be sure to check back on NBA.com for Kamla's insight.

Stepping Back
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:30 p.m. ET

Thirteen go in the books for the Heat. The Mavs notch 23 after Dirk stepped back and drained the long jumper over Antoine Walker at the horn to give the Mavs a two-point advantage, 46-44, heading into the break. Nowitzki's deuce capped a 10-0 run over the final 3:59.

Despite getting Diop and Dampier in a little early foul trouble, Shaq has been relatively quiet tonight. He's only three-for-four in 17 minutes, but does have four boards and four assists. Triple-double watch? Probably not, given that Shaq's only had two his entire career. But, it'll be difficult for the Heat to steal a game on the road if O'Neal doesn't turn it on in the second half.

Settling In
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:21 p.m. ET

After burning off an initial load of excess energy brought on by playing in their first Finals, the teams seem to have slowed it up and settled into the game. The Heat put up 31 first-quarter points, but so far have only mustered 13 in the second. That's not enough, as the Mavs have erased the deficit behind 21 in this stanza.

Prize Fighter
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:17 p.m. ET

At this point in the season, you play through knicks and cuts. Jerry Stackhouse -- a guy with more marks on his brow than a heavyweight boxer -- just might have to find a way to play with a broken nose. On a drive to the bucket, Stack ran into an immovable object -- Shaq -- or, more appropriate, Shaq's elbow. Play was stopped while the team's staff stopped the bleeding long enough so he could shoot the resulting free throws. Stack immediately left the floor for the locker room. We'll let you know more on his condition as we hear.

The Jet
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 10:10 p.m. ET

The Jet is taking off in this game, almost single-handedly keeping his team in this contest. While Dirk struggles, shooting only one-of-six from the field, Terry's hit on seven-of-nine, including a crowd-pleasing dunk in traffic, to lead all scorers with 16 points. A free tip for Dirk: When you're struggling from outside, try a couple at closer range. Then again, maybe that won't help today, either.

Walker Texas Ranger
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:54 p.m. ET

It's good to see Antoine Walker still knows his way around the three-point arc here in Dallas. Three of Walker's six attempts have come from downtown -- including one at the end of the first that he hit from the American Airlines Center.

T.O-uch!
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:50 p.m. ET

Terrell Owens hasn't caught a pass in a Cowboys uniform yet, and this is no way to win over the hometown fans. T.O. was flashed on the screen moments ago donning a Heat jersey, of all things. For the record, it was Shaq's, says Rob Peterson.

Damp Gets A Deuce
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:46 p.m. ET

Joining Diop with two fouls is pivot mate, Erick Dampier. Stopping Shaq in this series is going to be no easy contest and Avery just might have to throw Keith Van Horn on the Big Aristotle. Meanwhile, the Heat aren't doing much at the stripe, as a team they're only one of four.

Dallas County Diop-ers
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:41 p.m. ET

DeSagana Diop (pronounced Jop) is in the game, trying to keep the dominating Shaquille O'Neal as far from the post as possible. So far, he's logged six minutes, grabbing a single board and two fouls. More of the same might make the two guys wearing "Dallas County Diop-ers" tees wish they'd brought a change of clothes. By the way, the back reads: We specialize in custom paint jobs. Right now, the Heat are painting the town red, taking a 27-22 edge with just over a minute to play in the first.

Perspiration is Key?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:30 p.m. ET

For the Mavs it is. Cuban did a little sweating of his own before the game, as he got in a workout, a few interviews and even some blogging. Seems he's lightened his load a little now that there's more important business to attend to.

Wade a Minute
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:19 p.m. ET

With numbers on a break, Dirk decided to go it alone and attack the rim. Can't really fault that logic too much except that Dwyane Wade was back on 'D'. Wade rejected the layup try, but the Mavs took in the loose ball for a triple. At the other end, Wade was around the hoop again, this time for plus-two. Back at the other end, Wade picked up his first foul of the game. Guess that's one strategy for stopping Wade.

Who?
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:15 p.m. ET

An observation by NBA.commer Rob Peterson during intros: The Mavs like The Who. Who? That's right. First there was "Won't Get Fooled Again", then "Eminence Front".

Welcome Back 'Toine
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 9:10 p.m. ET

Remember us saying some media members hadn't forgotten Walker's time in Dallas? Seems the fans haven't either. Walker received the loudest boos of any Heat player during introductions.

With the lights dimmed in the building finally, we were able to get a good look at all the flashing blue lights. Wondering where it's coming from? These somewhat high-tech pom pons that were draped over every seat in the arena appears to have a glow stick embedded in them. Alright, maybe that's not so high-tech after all.

Short-Changed
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 8:48 p.m. ET

Theoretically, the closer you are to the hoop, the better chance you have of connecting on a shot. Why then did Dirk Nowitzki, Marquis Daniels and Darrell Armstrong all miss point-blank tries when they took the court a moment ago? I'll chalk it up to nerves ... that and the fact is they're still worth zero points -- at least, for the next 12 minutes. We'll see if nerves play any factor for either team when the ball's put in the air for real.

Quick Keys
Posted by John Schuhmann (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 8:43 p.m. ET

As we get ready for Game 1, here are a few things we'll be looking for in order for the Mavs to win tonight:

1. Don't let Shaq get position down low - The Diesel becomes increasingly less effective when you force him to operate further away from the basket. DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier need to use their strength to keep him from establishing position near the basket. Of course, they need to stay out of foul trouble, as well, but they should use their share whenever he has a good look down low.

2. Keep Wade out of the paint - Josh Howard will be guarding Wade most of the game and, to start, he should make Wade beat him with the jumper. His teammates must be ready to help, too. The Heat supporting cast has been playing well, but you must make them prove they can step it up in the pressure of the Finals.

3. Push the Ball - The Heat would rather not run, so the Mavs should try to get out on the break early and often. Even if they can't get buckets on the primary break, the secondary break can still provide mismatches and open looks.

From the Mavs Locker Room
Posted by John Schuhmann (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 8:36 p.m. ET

The luxurious Mavs locker room was pretty quiet during media availability time. DeSagana Diop was sitting in Rawle Marshall's locker, listening to music, while Devin Harris fielded a few questions from reporters a few feet away. A crowd gathered around Jason Terry as he put on his five pairs of socks and Josh Howard removed his headphones to chat with Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Art Garcia. Heat-Pistons Game 6 played on the large screen TV, but nobody was watching.

Brace Yourself
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 8:31 p.m. ET

Game time is only 30 minutes away, and the fans are starting pour in. Maybe some of them will pause at a cardboard cutout of youngsters Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels tacked up on the concourse. Offered up is a chance to win free braces from Apple Orthodontix. In addition, the winner gets a basketball clinic with the pair. Recommendation to the lucky winner: Buy a mouthguard. You won't be able to take up the offer for free braces if you get your teeth knocked out ...

Stretch ...
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 8:17 p.m. ET


Sure he's talented, but can Stretch make the skull? (David Sherman/NBAE/Getty)

The Heat players who remained shooting around have just cleared the floor, back to the locker rooms for some final preparation before taking the court for a quick warmup and stretch prior to the tip of Game 1. Meanwhile, out on the concourse, Wendell Clendennen is doing a little stretching of his own -- not muscles, but latex.

Wendell, better known as Stretch the Balloon Dude, has a position on the 100 level concourse of the American Airlines Center where he, obviously, stretches balloons. But, we're not talking dogs and snakes and such. No, no, no. Stretch has his sights set on the very thing the Mavs do: the Larry O'Brien trophy.

"It took me about 30-35 minutes, give or take," Stretch said of the copper-colored, nearly weightless replica -- complete with clutching fingers -- atop his head.

You'd have to believe there aren't many Mavs fans willing to miss that significant a chunk of action for something that's bound to deflate anyway, but what are the fans lining up for?

"Mavs Man. At games, everybody loves Mavs Man. He Rocks."

Another favorite is the what Stretch calls the "Rowdy Fan," the same as Mavs Man, except with a blue face like those colorful fans who get a little carried away with the body paint pre-game.

At The AA Center
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 7:00 p.m. ET

Welcome to the American Airlines Center, which I must say is an extraordinary building. Having spent some time in arenas around the league, this is already becoming one of my favorites. Starting with the aesthetics of the outside, it looks inviting and invokes thoughts of an Indiana fieldhouse. Then you step inside and continue to be amazed.

One of the remarkable parts is how the seats seem to go more "up" than "out" ... So, while you might be a considerable distance in the sky if you have a seat in the last row, your're still not too far from the court. While you're up there near the ceiling, make sure to check out the arched, green rafters holding up the roof. Where they anchor in the corners, it reminds me of flying buttresses. Then again, I'm no architect. Still, the curved ceiling lends a distinctly different feeling.

Speaking of those rafters ... The Dallas Stars banners hanging in front of the press box far exceed the number of Mavs banners along the opposite wall. I'll tell you, the most recent year on any of the three Mavs banners is 1992 -- the final season listed for both Brad Davis (1980-1992) and Rolando Blackman (1981-1992), whose numbers are retired. Joining the pair is a Midwest Champion banner from 1986-87. The team will be adding to those a Western Conference Championship banner at the conclusion of the season, but hopes to raise one with a few less letters (Not for cost saving measures, but rather reading "NBA Champions").

The court is bustling with activity already as camera crews set up portable lights to do standups for the evening news. Hopefully they're watching for any errant balls, as Mark Cuban, sporting a sleeveless tee and shorts, is the first to pound the ball on the court. Ah, such is the life of an energetic, youthful NBA owner. While Jason Terry's job is in no danger, Cuban was quite capable of dribbling behind his back while having a headset on along the scorers table.

We're off for a few minutes to visit the locker rooms and get a feeling for the building before fans arrive. Be sure to check back and hit refresh (top right of the page) soon.

Game Day
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 8, 2006, 2:00 p.m. ET

We're a mere seven hours from tip time and did yesterday's little chat session with the players and coaches give us, or you, any better idea on how the series might go? Not a chance. In fact, the waters are so murky on this one that not even the homers are claiming their team's going to win it all. The national experts, however, are leaning Dallas' way.

The only thing we did learn yesterday was there are plenty of matchups -- both on and off the court -- to keep an eye on as indicators of how this series will progress. One of the more interesting pairings we've kept an eye turned to is the stark contrast between the teams' ownership -- Miami's Micky Arison is reserved and keeps out of the spotlight while Dallas' Mark Cuban "anything but camera-shy".

While Arison remained inconspicuous, Cuban, as we said yesterday, remained on the court for nearly an hour, giving rise to plenty of stories in today's papers. Here's a glance at some column inches from around the country:

- New York Daily News: Cuban's Revolution.
- True Maverick: Washington Post | Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- Memphis Commercial Appeal: Cuban's Mega-Buck Makeover Will Result in Championship
- AP's Tim Dahlberg: Cuban: Nerdy, proud and loud

The teams' respective coaches, meanwhile, are being measured up as well:

- New York Times: The Odd Couple of Coaching Guides the Mavs
- Washington Post: Avery vs. Riley
- Boston Globe: Riley Has Come Full Circle
- Salt Lake Tribune: Riley Deserving of Another Title

Now for the on-court matchups:

- Dallas Morning News: How They Match Up
- Miami Herald: 15 Strong
- Washington Post's position-by-position: PG | SG | SF | PF | C | Bench

But, as is the case on the game's biggest stage, most of the ink is reserved for the stars:

On Dirk:

- Philadelphia Inquirer: Nowitzki Quietly Assumes Star Role
- Dallas Morning News: Always a Keeper
- Indianapolis Star: This is Dirk's World
- Rocky Mountain News: Stopping Nowitzki A Tall Order

On D-Wade:

- Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Ahead of His Class
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel: No Stopping Wade
- Miami Herald: 20 Questions
- Indianapolis Star: Wade Says He's Ready
- Arizona Republic: Wade Recovering
- ESPN.com's Daily Dime: Howard Joins Wade Watchers

On Shaq:

- New Jersey Star-Ledger: Shaq Out To Prove He's Greates Ever
- Toronto Star: It's Serious Fun For Shaq
- Minneapolis Star Tribune: It's Shaq's Time Again
- Las Vegas Review-Journal: O'Neal Looms Large

Others who could be a big factor tonight:

- Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Josh Howard, who's becoming a formidable sidekick
- Miami Herald: Alonzo Mourning, who's passion trumps adversity
- Rocky Mountain News: Posey Finds Winning Time With Heat

No Time For Trash Talk
Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 7, 2006, 6:00 p.m. ET


Howard: "Look at me now." (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty)

Much as we expected, the players taking part in today's media session were in a light mood, eager for the games to begin. Most of the talk surrounded how the players and teams were assembled just to arrive at this point, rather than any discussion on what might happen or what the teams need to do in this series.

And while there were a few jokes tossed about, don't expect much in the way of trash talk in this series -- even with Gary Payton on the floor for the Heat.

"We don't need (any of that). That's over with. That's way over with. You don't talk trash in any way or you're going to pay money. You're going to get fined now, so it don't matter. You don't need to talk to nobody, so just play."

When prompted further that he had a lot to work with, like Dirk Nowitzki's hair, Payton responded, "That ain't going to make him miss shots."

Payton's teammates apparently got the message, too, avoiding any controversial statements that could create any added tension between the two teams.

Antoine Walker, as you'll recall, spent some time in Dallas before requesting a trade. Some Dallas media members apparently are still hung up on that fact, circing the Heat interview session to repeat the same question: Walker wasn't happy here, so what is it about Miami that he likes?

The players weren't biting:

"Is that what he said?" Alonzo Mourning asked the interviewer. "I heard he had a great time here, that's what he told me. Mark Cuban treated him well. The franchise was great and this was a great place to play. I didn't hear that he wasn't happy."

"Why do you think he wasn't happy when he was here?" Gary Payton responded when asked the same question.

Walker wasn't interested, either, when presented the chance.

"My motivation is to get a ring," Walker said of the coming series. "It's not to be playing Dallas or anything like that. I thought I had a great time here in Dallas. I thought this was one of my better years, individually, as a pro player, here."

With that situation de-fused, I searched out the place I knew I could find a juicy soundbite: the huddle of reporters surrounding Mavs owner Mark Cuban. A man who loves the spotlight, whether in Hollywood or on the hardwood, Cuban didn't disappoint as he tried ever so slightly to get inside the heads of the Heat players.

"Shaq obviously has been an icon in the NBA," Cuban said. "He's just a little bit of a bigger icon than he used to be, but that's a whole other ... "

Okay, so after joking, Cuban professed his respect for the playful, good-natured big man and then proceeded to try to add pressure to Shaq's All-Star teammate nicknamed Flash:

"Shaq is going to be Shaq; he's going to be phenomenal. Dwyane Wade is going to be the next Jordan. We'll just pluck along and plod along and do our best against those guys."

It probably goes without saying Cuban had a facetious smile splashed across his mug when uttering the above remarks.

As for Hollywood, how does being on hoops' biggest stage compare with being up for an Oscar -- or, more appropriate, seven -- as Cuban was a mere three months ago?

"Oh, this is far better. Far, far, far, far, far, far better. There are, what, 59 winners in the history of the NBA? There's more than 59 winners of Oscars on one long, long, long night of having a tux on -- and with a cash bar, too, that's really not right."

"LOOK AT ME NOW"

Josh Howard has been almost completely overshadowed from the draft class of 2003. He's not LeBron. He's not Wade. He's not 'Melo. Heck, he was the last pick in the first round, behind the likes of Travis Outlaw, Ndudi Ebi and Kendrick Perkins. But, he could be the first 2003 draftee to play a key role on a championship-winning squad.

Get a feeling the Mavs are happy so many others downgraded Howard's stock on Draft night? Here's Del Harris' take from today:

"The last guy that came out of Wake Forest after four years turned out to be pretty good," Harris said to laughter when the assembled media realized he was talking about three-time MVP and two-time Finals MVP Tim Duncan. That's some lofty company.

So, did being passed over by 28 others bother Howard very much? For sure, says Devin Harris:

"It definitely motivates him. He talks about it all the time. A lot of people passed him over and didn't think he'd be good enough. He's definitely proven those people wrong and I think, each and every day, he wakes up and thinks about that."

Today, Howard was thinking about it all over again. Well, mainly because we kept asking him about it.

"They kind of downplayed my college career," said Howard. "I had a great college career. For me to go as low as I did, it hurt my feelings, but I was alright. How many ACC Players of the Year do you know that dropped all the way to the 29th pick? Even before me, I've watched many ACC Players of the Year -- Juan Dixon, Battier, all of them -- go in the top 10. For me not to go in the top 10, it hurt my feelings but it made stronger."

Now, Howard's getting the last laugh. "Look at me now," he says, in reference to how far he's come. The other 28 teams -- on summer vacation -- can look at him tomorrow on ABC.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

  • Rumor has it Mo Rocca, who often serves as a correspondent for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was in the house, although I was unable to locate him to confirm. I've heard he asked such off-the-wall questions as how to say airball in German.
  • Just because he's tight with Steve Nash doesn't automatically mean GQ will call any time soon. His teammates were all donning blue practice shorts, but not Dirk, who went through the session sporting grey sweats with the pant legs tucked into his knee-high socks. Given a putter and cap, he could've passed for Payne Stewart.
  • An update on Wade: He arrived at practice today with shoes in one hand, a box of tissues in the other. That must be one serious sinus infection or the third-year guard was just being a bit dramatic.
  • Avery Johnson normally calls the shots, but apparently not on a practice day. When the team broke from its huddle after practice, he called out for Sarah Melton, the team's communications director, patting his chest and asking, "What am I doing now?" Thanks for asking, Avery. And away he was whisked to a slew of interview sessions.
  • Cuban and Mavs' assistant coach Del Harris held court ... literally. While each team was given 30 minutes of Q&A time, the pair each controlled the sidelines, fielding reporters' questions for a full hour. Our unofficial timing system had Harris edging Cuban by a few minutes for longest-talker honors.
  • Today's media session also provided some players an opportunity to have fun with new media members. To wit, Jason Williams' semi-straight-faced response to one reporter who asked what he was planning to do tonight to prepare for tomorrow's game.

    "I'm going to go out. I'm going to drink probably two or three bottles of tequila and play some pool."

    "Seriously?" the reporter asked. "You'd drink tequila the night before the game?"

    Well, no, but it was good for a laugh, which is what most of the players welcomed before things turn serious tomorrow.

  • Talk The Talk
    Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 7, 2006, 10:30 a.m. ET

    Well, scanning the morning fishwraps we noticed Dwyane Wade missed his second consecutive practice.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

    But, fear not, Heat fans. Pat Riley is confident his young star will be ready for today's practice and will be fine for tomorrow's Game 1. Not to mention, he didn't miss much ... doing too much the day or two before the Finals starts would be kind of like trying to memorize the Merriam-Webster dictionary the day before a spelling bee. If you're not ready at this point, you're sunk. You really just need to brush up on a few sticking points.

    So, will Wade practice today? We'll find out in a bit when we make our way over to the American Airlines Center (not to be confused with AmericanAirlines Arena) for the Heat and Mavs media sessions. We'll report back on what we've seen, the emotions of the players -- with so many first-timers, I expect nervous anticipation -- and the general atmosphere. So be sure to refresh this space later today.
    -- [USA Today]

    Greetings From Dallas
    Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 6, 2006, 7:15 p.m. ET


    If the fans were this crazed for the Conference Finals, just wait until action gets underway Thursday.
    (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty)
    Safe landing. Check. Hotel room. Check. Finals credential. Check.

    Now we're back, officially, at The Finals! Any basketball related events -- not counting a pick-up game or two by us NBA.commers this evening -- don't start until tomorrow's team practices at the AmericanAirlines Center as the media gets its first chance to ask Finals-related questions of both teams.

    Until then, we can only gauge the excitement a Finals berth creates based on what's happening around the city. Judging by my taxi ride from the airport -- the entire trip was spent with my driver talking hoops -- the locals can't wait for this to get underway.

    Michael Cunningham got more of the same.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

    And Emily Ramshaw is talking parades ...
    -- [Dallas Morning News]

    So, the rest of the day and evening, we're going to spend getting acquainted with the city ... and the heat. And, no, we're not talking the road team. It is HOT here today. Who'd have thought Texas could reach 98o in June?!

    Okay, while we wilt under the extreme temperatures -- Dwyane Wade is under the weather a bit himself, albeit of a totally different sort -- take a few minutes to read the latest on this year's Finalists.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

    We'll check in from tomorrow's practice sessions and give you a feel for what we're seeing from the two first-timers...

    Ailing: In addition to Wade and Payton (as we learned in the above article), add Josh Howard.
    -- [Washington Post]

    Jason Williams is healthy, but he is looking for a cure.
    -- [Miami Herald]

    This comparison is tired ... but praise for the kid's game is always welcome.
    -- [Toronto Star, Dallas Morning News]

    Haslem figures to be tired trying to stop Dirk. More on this task.
    -- [USA Today, Dallas Morning News]

    So, too, Dampier and Diop in trying to stop Shaq.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

    Shaq, meanwhile, has stopped the "Erica" jokes.
    -- [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

    We never tire of coaching comparisons: Riley vs. Avery
    -- [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, South Florida Sun-Times]

    Welcome, Mavs, Heat, Hoops Fans
    Posted by Jeff Dengate (NBA.com) on June 5, 2006, 12:45 p.m. ET


    For the first time since 1998, the West is represented by a team not named the Spurs or Lakers. (Ronald Martinez/NBAE/Getty)

    ON THE ROAD AGAIN

    Welcome back hoops fans. Throughout The Finals, the NBA.com bloggers will again take you inside the action -- both on and off the court. No offense to Detroit or San Antonio -- both excellent ball clubs and nice locales -- but we've gotten a change of scenery and, frankly, we're excited to be visiting Dallas and Miami while watching the two teams battle for their first championship.

    An interesting note: both arenas are named after the same airline -- Dallas plays in the American Airlines Center; Miami in the AmericanAirlines Arena.

    It figures I'd fly Continental ... along with the rest of the NBA.com crew, we'll be making our way to Texas tomorrow. Once on the ground, we'll be posting regularly, providing you a look at what's happening at practice sessions, in the arenas and around the teams' respective cities.

    As for today, enjoy a few good reads as the excitement builds ...

    A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

    As the saying goes, you always remember your first time. The first-ever trip to the NBA Finals should prove memorable for either the Mavs or the Heat. Both teams had been knocking on the door in recent years, but neither was able to break through.
    -- [SportsLine.com]

    So, for the first time since 1971, when the Bucks swept the Bullets, we have two first-timers in the championship series. It's only the third time since 1957 (Boston-St.Louis seven-game showdown) and the fifth time overall (the first Finals, obviously, in 1947 between the Philadelphia Warriors and the Chicago Stags and the 1949 meeting of the Minneapolis Lakers and the Washington Capitols.) the feat has occurred.

    For the Mavs, it's been a loooooooooooong 26 years.
    -- [Dallas Morning News]

    It hasn't been that long for the Heat, but the trip has been long overdue ...
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

    Of all teams that have won an NBA title, only the Chicago Bulls and San Diego Rockets took longer to win their first championship. The Bulls entered the NBA in 1966-67 and won their first title in their 25th season (1990-91). The Rockets joined the league a year after the Bulls and won their first title in Houston in 1993-94 (27 years).

    While Pat Riley, Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton have been here before, Antoine Walker hasn't.
    -- [Miami Herald]

    Neither has 'Zo.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

    HOW LONG?

    While the wait to get here was long for both teams, how much longer will one team have to wait before celebrating? And, consequently, the other have to wait before returning?

    Well, if you take a glance at the teams' regular season meetings, you might think Dallas could sweep after the Mavs routed the Heat twice.
    -- [Miami Herald]

    Don't count on that, however, as there have only been seven in NBA Finals history: L.A. Lakers in 2002, Houston in 1995, Detroit in 1989, Philadelphia in 1983, Golden State in 1975, Milwaukee in 1971 and Boston in 1959.

    Also, this is a much different ball club than the one we watched stumble against top flight opponents during the first 82 games.
    -- [New York Times]

    CALLING THE SHOTS

    One of the most interesting battles won't take place on the court, but on the sidelines where one "old codger" works his magic.
    -- [USA Today]

    On the other bench is a relative newcomer, just finishing his first full year in a head coaching job.
    -- [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

    There are plenty of good stories on the two already written and some that surely will be when the travelling media arrives in Dallas tomorrow and Wednesday.

    Dave Hyde tells us, Pat Riley doesn't mind being right every once in a while ... or always.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

    Mike Wise gives Shaq's assessment on how Riley's aged.
    -- [Washington Post]

    Mike Bresnahan give a little insight on the difficulties -- and rewards -- of playing for Avery.
    -- [Los Angeles Times]

    BIG ROADBLOCK

    Dallas is deep, sure, but really, is there anybody out there who believes the Mavs can stop Shaq?
    -- [Philadelphia Inquirer]

    Again, he stands in the team's way.
    -- [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

    SIDELINES, TAKE 2

    On the bright side, Mr. Kapono, you're still playing more than if you were on, say, 28 other teams -- not to mention you've got the best seat in the house for The Finals.
    -- [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]