2011 Playoffs

Opportunity Knocks For LeBron

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — So what’s after “now” and “never?”

Game 6.

In its own way, much more the crucible than a seventh game could ever be.

Once The Finals get to Game 7, the intense, smothering pressure is back on both teams, the glaring spotlight as potentially blinding for anyone who stares into the moment rather than just plays.

Now LeBron James finds himself dangling over the edge of the cliff for the first time in these “it’s-all-about-us” playoffs.

Never will King James and the Heat live down this monumental flop no matter how many future championships — “not five, not six, not seven…” — are out there over the horizon.

Pull it off and he rides into glory. Come up short and anything that comes later will look like a limousine with a license plate reading: 2LTL2L8.

This is the platform that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put themselves on ever since that night last summer when they danced and celebrated amid the smoke and noise on the stage.

But nobody set themselves up more than James, who put himself on the dissecting table with the nationally-televised “Decision” and brought the basketball world to this point with what was previously believed impossible– delivering an unsatisfying triple-double of 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

That’s because when the game was on the line Thursday night, James evaporated in the final six minutes, missing two of his three shots, had no rebounds, no assists and a turnover.

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Wade, James Caught On Camera Poking Fun At Dirk’s Fever

DALLAS — You’d have thought the first five nail-biting games of The Finals were dramatic enough, what with the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat playing an instant classic before our very eyes.

The games have been dramatic enough that no one needed any extra nonsense to stoke the flames.

That didn’t stop Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade from poking a little fun at Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki before Game 5, though. In light of the results of the game, however, it’s clear Nowitzki and the Mavericks got the last laugh this time:

Nowitzki’s fever broke just in time for him to cook the Heat for 29 points to help the Mavericks take a 3-2 lead back to Miami for Sunday’s Game 6. And you can bet the narrative will shift dramatically after this video makes the rounds.

The “Heat Haters” that James and Wade love to talk about will certainly revel in this one.

Oh, and a word of advice, fellas if there is a camera around … never mind!

James’ Defensive Breakdown Makes Terry Look Prophetic

DALLAS — LeBron James made more of an impact offensively in Game 5, scoring 17 points and dishing out 10 assists. Even in the fourth quarter, when he scored just two points, James kept the Dallas Mavericks’ defense honest and assisted on four layups or dunks.

And as James noted after his team’s 112-103 loss, the offensive end of the floor wasn’t the problem. But James’ defense down the stretch was.

After Game 3, Jason Terry was asked about James’ ability to stop him, and Terry responded with some strong words.

“We’re going to see if he can do it for seven games,” Terry said on Monday. “That’s going to be the challenge.”

Three nights later, with 1:33 left in the fourth quarter of Game 5, Terry looked pretty prophetic.

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Bruised hip no excuse to Wade or Mavs

DALLAS – Dwyane Wade wasn’t going to use his bruised hip as an excuse. The Dallas Mavericks certainly weren’t going to offer it up as any alibi, either, for Wade’s or the Miami Heat’s performance in Dallas’ 112-103 victory in Game 5 of The Finals on Thursday night.

Wade suffered a left hip contusion in the first quarter, left the game with 2:58 left in the period for treatment in the Heat locker room, returned at 8:52 of the second quarter and missed the first 7:27 of the second half as well.

He played the rest of the game and, with 10 points, was the game’s high scorer in the fourth quarter. Wade led Miami with 23 points, had eight assists and was 10-of-12 from the foul line. But he logged only 34:27 minutes, and the Heat were minus-13 when he was on the court.

“You know I’m not going to [talk about the injury],” Wade told reporters after the game. “It was unfortunate I had to leave the game. But I came back and I finished it.”

It was Wade, remember, who blew off a question about Dirk Nowitzki’s injury (left middle finger) and illness (102-degree fever) between Games 4 and 5. “Everyone is injured at this time,” the Miami shooting guard had said on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the fun-loving story of him being sick either. Once you show up on the court, you show up on the court.”

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Game 5 Sights And Sounds

DALLAS — Sights and sounds from the American Airlines Center in the hours leading up to Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks…

  • Chris Bosh doing some rare pre-game shooting and working on post moves (taking contact and finishing in the lane) with Heat assistant Keith Askins.
  • A private conversation between Mark Cuban and Bill Simmons.
  • Brian Cardinal signing autographs and posing for pictures with Mavs fans.
  • J.J. Barea once again beating Mavs assistant Darrell Armstrong in a long-distance shooting contest.
  • Reporter to Rick Carlisle in the Mavs coach’s pre-game press conference: “We’ve been with you all season.” Carlisle’s response: “It’s been fun, hasn’t it?”

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

LBJ On Game 5: ‘Biggest Of My Life’

DALLAS — After searching for it ourselves the past 36 hours, we didn’t think there was any extra pressure that could be heaped upon the combatants in Game 5 of The Finals tonight at American Airlines Center.

After all, the series is tied 2-2 and both the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat realize the gravity of the moment — the winner of this games moves just four quarters from claiming the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Then LeBron James walked out of the Heat locker room this morning, slid up against a wall and began to unload about his feeling about what he would go on to call the “biggest game of my life.”

James sent out a late-night tweet — “Now or Never!!” — the day before that should have served notice of the way he spent the time between his humbling Game 4 performance and the hours leading up to tonight’s game.

“It was a personal message to myself,” James said after the Heat’s shootaround practice. “That’s just how I was feeling at that time, honestly. It was just a personal message to myself and had nothing to do with anyone else besides myself. I was just in a zone at that point … this is a big game, probably the biggest game of my life, well, not probably, it is. And I’m approaching it that way.”

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Looking Back At LeBron’s Game 4 Decisions

DALLAS — “There were times I definitely could have attacked,” LeBron James said a day after his disappointing Game 4 performance in the 2011 NBA Finals. “When you’re out of rhythm, I guess it feels like you have nothing going offensively. You just try to focus your play somewhere else.”

At the end of the third quarter on Tuesday, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had combined for 47 points on 32 shots, with the Miami Heat holding a 69-65 lead. And there were no real issues with James taking a back seat and filling the box score with eight points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals.

But in the fourth quarter, the Heat needed a boost offensively. They pushed their lead up to nine early in the period, and then watched the Dallas Mavericks make another late comeback in a game they would win to tie The Finals at two games apiece. The Heat scored just 14 points on 21 possessions in the final 12 minutes, in which James had more turnovers (two) than assists (one) or field-goal attempts (one).

Yes, there were times when he could have attacked the Mavericks’ defense.

None of the decisions that James made was necessarily wrong. Both he and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra consistently speak of making the “right play,” which is to get the ball to the open man. That’s great, and it’s what helped the Heat build that nine-point lead.

But late in the fourth quarter of Game 4, when the situation was calling for him to be more aggressive, James was more passive than usual. He gave the ball up at the first hint of a double-team, never putting any pressure on the extra defender or forcing the Mavs to send him to the free-throw line.

James played all 12 minutes of the fourth, touching the ball 18 times. But he took just the one shot and didn’t get to the line once.

Here are a few plays worth pointing out …

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Cast-offs make Mavs take off

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It takes a village, they say.

Well, sometimes what it takes is experience and a junkyard collection of useful parts.

Every championship team needs one or more superstars to be the foundation and Dirk Nowitzki has proven to be that throughout his 13-year NBA career.

But the reason that Dirk has been able to battle his way to a 2-2 tie in The Finals and get to the threshold of his first title is because he finally has an assembled supporting cast that has come together to maybe be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

It takes talent to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but quite often it also takes years and plenty of battle scars.

In an excellent Q and A with Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, Mavs GM and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson says it’s drive – not age – that matters and he’s quite happy with his team of so-called cast-offs:

Were you concerned when you were putting this team together that you have so many 30-somethings?

“I’ll tell you what, what people call 30-somethings or old, we call experienced. Just give me guys that have heart. I don’t care how tall they are, they could be 4-foot-1 like JJ, they could be 40-year-old like our point guard…give me a guy with heart, and you’ll win most games.”

What about (DeShawn) Stevenson’s performance so far?

“I joke about this a lot, but you look at our team and we’re like the movie, Castoffs. Our superstar is a “superstar…but.” Then you go right down the list. JJ (Barea) is too small, Jason Kidd is too old. Jason Terry in the Stevie Nash booby prize. Tyson Chandler and (Peja) Stojakovic are damaged goods, y’know. All of our guys are like this. D-Steve was a throw-in on the Caron Butler deal. They saw a long-term contract that they wanted to get that off of their books, and we saw a guy that was 6-5 and tough as nails and just needed to get dusted off a little bit. And I really think that’s the story. We don’t have a superman who is going to have from the free throw line and slam over people. We’ve got to do it the good old fashioned way with team defense. As they say, the sum of the parts, that’s what we’re all about.”

There was a time when the Mavs had their Big Three lineup of Nowitzki, Nash and Michael Finley and couldn’t ever make the long climb up. Now here they are with a glimpse of the mountaintop.

Sometimes what it takes is the hunger of empty bellies.

It’s All About Tyson Chandler Now

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s obvious that the Mavericks’ season would be all but over if Dirk Nowitzki had not fought through the effects of fever to play the role of Lazarus in Game 4.

It was also timely and significant that Jason Terry used that clutch fourth quarter to finally pull his “JET” persona out of the hangar for the first time in The Finals.

But if Dallas is going to keep fooling the experts, bamboozling the Heat and have a real chance of clawing out its first NBA championship, the series will likely rest in the hands of Tyson Chandler.

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Nowitzki Feeling ‘A Lot Better’

DALLAS — Less than 14 hours after scoring the most important basket in the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 4 victory — with a 101-degree fever, no less — Dirk Nowitzki was back on the floor at the American Airlines Center. Nowitzki participated in the Mavs’ light, no-contact practice on Wednesday.

Afterward, Nowitzki said he felt “a lot better today.”

“I still got a little high temperature,” he continued, “but the fever is basically gone. So that’s obviously the main concern always. Anything else, the sniffles or the cough, you don’t really care about that as long as the fever is gone.”

That’s big new for Dallas, which needs a win in Thursday’s Game 5 to avoid going into a 3-2 hole with the final two games of the series in Miami.

They’ll need a win on enemy turf either way, but things have to be looking up for the Mavs, who looked beaten early in the fourth quarter on Tuesday. Tyson Chandler said Wednesday that he knew it might be a rough night when he saw his teammate in the locker room before Game 4.

“When I saw him, I really knew he was under the weather,” Chandler said. “Dirk is a playful guy and outgoing and outspoken when it comes to the locker room. Seeing him not being playful and not really saying much and kind of sitting in his locker, I knew it was going to be a tough night for him.”

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