Nowitzki, Mavs finish off the Heat

Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki lifts the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy with his teammates after they beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 to win the NBA Finals basketball series in Miami, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

With LeBron’s legacy (not to mention, the NBA title) on the line, the Mavs went into Miami and beat the Heat on their home floor. Dirk Nowitzki struggled to 1-of-12 shooting in the first half, but rebounded with 18 points in the second half, including 10 points in the final 7:22 to help close out the series.

Nowitzki was unbelievable in the Playoffs, averaging (a 36-minute adjusted) 52.6 points per game in the clutch (under five minutes to play with the score within five points), and deservedly won the Finals MVP. Jason Terry kept the Mavs in the game in the first half, and scored 27 points on the night.

As for the Heat, LeBron James finished 9-of-15 for 21 points, six assists and four rebounds, but he turned the ball over six times and wasn’t able to take the game over when it mattered most. Dwyane Wade went 6-for-16 from the field but turned the ball over five times. It should be noted that Chris Bosh (7-of-9 from the field, 19 points) played the best of Miami’s “Big Three.”

LeBron and the Heat better brace for even more criticism after the loss. Ever since “The Decision” and the trio’s over-the-top celebration last summer, throughout a season of ups and downs, the team became one of the most scrutinized in league history. Questions remain about LeBron’s play in the clutch and whether or not the “Big Three” actually fit together.

No matter how many championships the trio goes on to win, this loss to the Mavs will tarnish the legacies of LeBron, Wade and Bosh – they had control of the series after Game 3 and let it slip away.

Kudos to Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle, Dirk Nowitzki and the entire Dallas Mavericks franchise. I picked the Mavs to lose to the Blazers in the first round, but have been impressed by the team’s grit and resiliency throughout these Playoffs. I’ll gladly eat some crow after this performance.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

Bill Simmons on LeBron James

Miami Heat’s LeBron James speaks during a media conference for the NBA Finals basketball series against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Texas June 8, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL HEADSHOT)

If you haven’t heard already, Bill Simmons and ESPN have launched a new website at Grantland.com. It will feature longer form articles from Simmons along with other writers, including notable scribes like Malcolm Gladwell.

There’s never a shortage of topics for someone as prolific as Simmons, but he must have been thrilled to kick off his new site immediately following the bizarre Game 4 performance by LeBron James. His first column is classic Simmons, as he analyzes the LeBron situation from every possible angle, starting with The Decision:

Fact: The Decision special drew a better rating than the 2008 Finals, became an iconic moment, turned Jim Gray into a punching bag, gave bloggers a month of free shots at ESPN and turned “Taking my talents to South Beach” into a jack-of-all-trades phrase that meant you were about to leave your job, take a dump or pleasure yourself.

I wonder how long he had that line in his pocket . . .

Anyways, he gives his overall assessment of LeBron James, and I agree with most of it:

a. I think he’s one of the greatest athletes who ever lived. I will never forget watching him in person with a full head of steam, blowing through opponents like a Pop Warner running back who’s 30 pounds heavier and three seconds faster than everyone else. I am glad he passed through my life. I will tell my grandkids that I saw him play.

b. From game to game, I think the ceiling for his performance surpasses any other basketball player ever except for Wilt and Jordan.

c. As a basketball junkie, I will never totally forgive him for spending his first eight years in the NBA without ever learning a single post-up move. That weapon would make him immortal. He doesn’t care. It’s maddening.

d. In pressure moments, he comes and goes … and when it goes, it’s gone. He starts throwing hot-potato passes, stops driving to the basket, shies away from open 3s, stands in the corner, hides as much as someone that gifted can hide on a basketball court. It started happening in Game 3, then fully manifested itself in Game 4’s stunning collapse, when he wouldn’t even consider beating DeShawn Stevenson off the dribble. Afterward, one of my closest basketball friends — someone who has been defending LeBron’s ceiling for years — finally threw up his hands and gave up. “It’s over,” he said. “Jordan never would have done THAT.” (Footnote: That’s the third time LeBron opened the door for someone to say that. The first: Game 5 of the Boston series. The second: choosing to play with Wade.)

The only part of the above I disagree with is the following: “In pressure moments, he comes and goes … and when it goes, it’s gone.” This implies that he only has epic meltdowns, but this just isn’t true. Everyone will remember Game 5 last year against Boston and Game 4 against the Mavs, but there have been countless time where LeBron has had serious lapses of judgement in critical moments. It usually involves getting careless and tossing up a senseless three at times when the team desperately needs a bucket without even trying to get into the offense, let alone setting up for a post-up move or other high-percentage shot. As a Cavs fan I saw this repeatedly, to the point where it became hard to root for the guy. Go back and watch the Cavs-Orlando series from 2009. People remember LeBron’s big three to win Game 2, but that was negated by numerous brain farts throughout the series.

I have no idea what LeBron will do tonight. As Simmons points out, he’s capable of having a legendary game, but he’s also capable of wilting under pressure. Anything is possible, and that’s why most fans can’t wait to watch . . .

Is it over already?

Miami Heat’s LeBron James (C) goes up to shoot between Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki (L) of Germany and Tyson Chandler (R) during the second half in Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Miami, May 31, 2011. REUTERS/POOL/Larry W. Smith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

News like this makes you wonder whether Dallas has a chance.

A torn tendon in superstar Dirk Nowitzki’s left middle finger made the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals on Tuesday night a little more painful.

Nowitzki suffered the injury when he was called for a foul after stripping Miami’s Chris Bosh with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“I thought I stripped him clean, then I kind of looked down and I couldn’t straighten my finger out anymore,” said Nowitzki, who had 27 points on 7-of-18 shooting as the Mavs fell behind in a series for the first time this postseason. “So I tore a tendon in there. I guess it will be all right. I have to wear a splint probably the rest of the playoffs.”

Nowitzki, who is averaging 28.3 points per game in the playoffs, said X-rays on the finger were negative.

He downplayed concern about the injury, pointing out that it’s on his non-shooting hand.

The Mavs have to find a way to win game 2 in Miami. Hitting their threes would help . . . .

A look at Dirk Nowitkzi’s epic Game 4 performance [video]

Nowitzki went nuts in the fourth quarter to bring the Mavs back — here’s a look.

Are the Lakers dead?

Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) bites his jersey in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks during Game 2 of the NBA Western Conference semifinal basketball playoff in Los Angeles, California May 4, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Short answer: No. But they’re on life support.

With Game 1 already in the bag, the Mavericks had very little to lose on Wednesday night. Boosted by the Lakers’ dreadful three-point shooting (2-for-20, 10%), and some nifty play from J.J. Barea (12 points, four assists in 17 minutes), Dallas is leaving L.A. with a 2-0 lead on the defending champs.

Barea’s line does not tell the whole story. In the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter, he had six points and two assists, but literally took over the game offensively for the Mavs. None of the Laker guards (Derek Fisher, Steve Blake or Shannon Brown) could stay with him on the countless ball screens that the Mavs ran during that span. He got into the lane at will and either made the runner/layup or found the open man for the easy attempt. What’s worse — the Lakers couldn’t punish him on the other end of the court because none of those aforementioned guards is a capable post player.

Of course, the Mavs wouldn’t be up 2-0 without Dirk Nowitzki. He scored 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting and hit a series of awkward shots, including a three-point play from 18-feet with 2:50 to play to give Dallas a 13-point lead.

But back to the Lakers, who looked completely out of sorts on Wednesday night. As far as I can tell, they have three major issues in this series:

1. Guard play
Steve Blake (0-5 3PT, two turnovers) was dreadful Wednesday night. He missed all of his shots and had two crucial turnovers in the fourth quarter that enabled the Mavs to expand their lead. Derek Fisher (2-for-7, four points) and Shannon Brown (3-for-4, six points) didn’t do much either. Most importantly, none of these guys could stop J.J. Barea’s game-changing penetration in the fourth quarter.

2. Overconfidence
For years, the Lakers have been able to “turn it on” at will. At the end of the third quarter, Steve Kerr said that he overheard Lamar Odom talking to someone in the crowd about how the Lakers would win the game (at that point L.A. was down six) and then he proceeds to go 1-for-6 in the final period. Kobe did his best to carry his team, but he’s not capable of single-handedly outscoring the Mavs anymore, especially when they’re hitting their shots.

3. Three-point shooting
The Lakers went 2-for-20 from long range and the first make wasn’t until the 2:43 mark in the fourth quarter. In Game 1, they went 5-for-19 (26%), which is better, but that’s not saying much. They’re going to have to start knocking down some shots to draw the Mavs’ defense out of the lane. Right now Dallas is simply crowding the Laker bigs inside. Andrew Bynum (8-for-11, 18 points) doesn’t seem to mind, but Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom are having trouble putting the ball in the basket.

Let’s not forget that these are the champs and they are perfectly capable of winning two games on the road to even up this series. In fact, it might do this team some good to get away from an unsupportive Laker crowd which is clearly too spoiled to realize that its team desperately needs its support. Instead, Laker fans are booing Pau Gasol, who was instrumental in the last two championships. That behavior is befuddling considering what he has meant to the organization over the last three years.

Game 3 is in Dallas on Friday night. Obviously, this is a ‘must-win’ for L.A., but the Mavs would do well to treat it as a Game 7. There is blood in the water and the last thing Dallas needs to do is give this Laker team some confidence.

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