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June 10, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
On the Verge

by Dan Feldman

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at Dallas 112, Miami 103 (Dallas leads 3-2)
Pace: 82.8
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 131.6, Miami 120.3

The Miami Heat is LeBron James' team. That was painfully clear in Game Five, when for better or worse (mostly the latter), Miami took his personality.

The Heat played with an understated, yet disappointing, effectiveness before crumbling down the stretch as the Dallas Mavericks took a 3-2 series lead that has them a win away from their first NBA title. Road teams leading an NBA Finals 3-2 have won 10 of 15 series (67 percent).

LeBron had a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) and played effective defense (especially off the ball). But his inability to make a jump shot--he missed eight of his nine shots outside of nine feet--dwarfed his positive contributions. At a certain point, with all his athleticism and talent, it's fair to ask, is this all?

The same question applies to the Heat.

The super team didn't look so super tonight. Chris Bosh posted strong numbers (19 points and 10 rebounds), but because of four turnovers and mediocre defense, he finished a team-worst minus-13. Dwyane Wade--who left the game in the first half with an injury, returned, stayed in the locker room past halftime and returned again--excelled in all the obvious ways LeBron didn't. Wade scored 23 points on 12 shots, including a three-pointer that gave Miami a four-point lead with 4:37 left. But he also committed four turnovers and failed to create his usual defensive havoc, finishing minus-11.

But don't count out the Heat just yet. The Finals will return to Miami, where Miami, since losing four straight home games in late February and early March, has posted a 17-3 record, including 9-1 in the playoffs. Dallas, which beat the Heat in Game Two, is the only team to beat Miami at the American Airlines Arena in more than two months.

The Heat isn't quite as off track as it appeared late in the fourth quarter Thursday. To even remain competitive with a hot-shooting Dallas squad showed impressive mettle.

Led by Dirk Nowitzki (29 points), Jason Terry (21 points) and J.J. Barea (17 points), the Mavericks had a 61.6 effective field-goal percentage, a mark they've topped in just one other game this postseason. Even Jason Kidd (three steals) and Tyson Chandler (two blocks), both of whom made more of a positive defensive impact, each scored 13 points. Before Thursday, Miami's Game One 109.6 was the highest Offensive Rating either team posted in the series.

With Brian Cardinal's grit and hustle boosting the Kidd-and-Chandler-anchored defense, the Mavericks would have won easily on most nights. But Miami's strong rebounding (36-26 advantage on the glass), efficient shooting (17-of-19 at the rim and 8-of-20 on three-pointers) and strong bench (Mario Chalmers had 15 points and four rebounds, Udonis Haslem had 10 points and five rebounds, and each of the five Heat players who came off the bench finished with positive plus-minuses) kept the Heat in the game.

After Miami fought back from the Mavericks' nine-point lead late in the third quarter, their largest of the Finals, Dallas stormed to the finish. Terry made a pair of big three-pointers late in the fourth quarter, and Kidd made one of his own.

With the game tied at 100, the Heat turned to LeBron. On three straight possessions, LeBron missed a jumper, charged and missed a three-pointer. He finally made a layup to cut the Dallas lead to 108-103, but a game after going scoreless in the fourth quarter, those were his only two points in the final period tonight.

The Heat stumbling down the stretch served as a reminder that Miami still hasn't won a Finals game without multiple days off beforehand. Perhaps, as a long season nears its end, the Heat is getting tired. In a tight series where neither team has a big advantage, the slightest amount of fatigue could make the difference.

The Heat is playing well enough to win a title in many years. The Mavericks are playing well enough to beat a team preordained as a dynasty.

Don't undersell Miami, but recognize Dallas' greatness.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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Premium Article Replacing Dirk (06/09)
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Playoff Prospectus (06/08)
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