After a complete collapse in the fourth quarter, the Miami Heat travel to Dallas to face a Mavericks team that has salvaged the series, in Game Three of the NBA Finals on Sunday night.
The 15-point Heat lead with 7:13 remaining dwindled away as Dirk Nowitzki and his hard-playing teammates didn't give up. Had the Mavericks not mounted that comeback, the series would be 2-0, and the only talk would be about the 2006 NBA Finals, when the Mavericks had the two-game advantage, only to surrender four straight games to the Heat.
The Heat squandered a great performance by Dwyane Wade who played a brilliant three quarters. But Wade faded in the final minutes, and Miami proved that they are vulnerable to tough defense.
Dallas will need another inspired effort in Game Three, and want to avoid a desperation comeback to get the win.
Miami isn't going to roll over for Dallas, but the Heat have to be aware of how tough the Mavericks can be at home. During the postseason, the Mavericks have defeated their opponents by an average of a little more than 12 points per game.
In the regular season, the Mavs and Heat shared similar records, including their records at home and on the road. But after the drumming the Mavs took in Game One, and the difficult comeback they had to pull off in Game Two, Dallas will likely need to buckle down at home.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN GAME THREE:
The Heat will come out with more intensity, and pass the ball better to work for better shots. Expect James to hold the ball and run down the clock, and then go to work on penetration, with the expectations to be either fouled or hit the high-percentage shot.
The Heat will maintain their strategy of getting James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade as many touches as possible. The Mavericks defended all three of those players well, but when they're on their game, there's no stopping them.
Bosh is playing in his hometown, so there will either be a lot of pressure on him to perform. The power forward has played well in Dallas over the course of his career.
The Heat should feel fortunate that certain shots were dropping. Mike Bibby hit three three-pointers, and Wade was making some highly difficult shots.
Head coach Erik Spoelstra should consider using Udonis Haslem a bit more. The power forward was only one-of-three from the field, and didn't get to the line. Haslem is certainly better than those numbers, and he will probably bounce back from that weak Game Two.
The Mavericks are in an interesting situation. They want the Heat to shoot more jump shots, but when outside shots don't fall, they often have long rebounds, and that means more offensive rebounds. In Game Two, the Heat only had 6 offensive rebounds, compared to 16 in the Game One victory.
There will be a heavy dose of Dirk Nowitzki in Game Three. No playoff team has had the answer for the sharpshooter, and the Mavericks know that he is capable of getting hot and staying hot in the game. In the first half of Game Two, Nowitzki struggled, which contributed to being down for most of the game.
Jason Kidd and Jason Terry need to find better shots for Nowitzki in the first half to avoid a deficit. Kidd is probably the smartest point guard in the NBA, and he is good at recognizing when a player is in a zone.
Right now, Shawn Marion is on top of his game. The veteran hasn't slowed down after excellent performances in each playoff series.
Dallas will probably be get Tyson Chandler more involved. The center is skilled at converting on alley-oops, but the Mavs have not gone to them much.They need to make sure he remains part of their offense.
J.J. Barea deserves to get more playing time in Game Three. He has shown to be fit in the playoffs, but played just 14 minutes in Game Two.
The higher the score, the better the chances for the Mavericks to win Game Three. Dallas wants to keep the Heat shooting, and shooting well-defended outside shots.
Expect Miami to play smarter basketball in Game Three after their breakdown in Game Two's fourth quarter. This is a mentally sharp team, that simply got outplayed when it mattered, and will have more concentration this time around.
PREDICTION: The Mavericks get Nowitzki involved early, and he has a better first half than he did in Game Two. But Miami keeps the game close at half time thanks to Bosh and James. The Heat rally in the second half as well, as Haslem and Mike Miller get some wide open shots. But the Mavs battle back because Nowitzki and Terry are too focused in the fourth quarter to let a home game slip through their fingers in a tight Game Three.
SCORE PREDICTION: Dallas 90, Miami 89