The Dallas Mavericks go into Game Four down 2-1 in the Finals due to the total disappearance of their previously magic shooting touch.
The Mavs made the Finals because in every series up to this point they have had great team efforts, with strong contributions from the starters and the bench. In the Finals however, both of those have disappeared.
Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki are the only Dallas starters to have reached double digits in every game of the series, and the bench has not been contributing at the level that Dallas requires to have a chance at winning the title.
During the regular season the Mavs' bench led the league in scoring at around 40 points a game and was pivotal in getting Dallas to the Finals. Through the first three games of the Finals that scoring average has dropped to just 21.6 points as the bench has had difficulty scoring against an athletic and tenacious Miami defense.
The lack of a dominant inside presence - Tyson Chandler is a great post defender but his offense is somewhat lacking and Nowitzki is basically a perimeter player - means that the Mavericks rely on ball movement and jump shooting to score. Miami's speed and excellent defensive schemes, for which Coach Erik Spoelstra should receive credit, have been giving the Mavs' shooters fits.
Most notable is the disappearance of former Sixth Man of the Year, and icy-veined fourth-quarter sharpshooter, Jason Terry. For the series, the veteran guard is just three-of-12 in fourth quarters and hasn't converted one shot in seven attempts in Dallas's two losses. The drop-off in production from the Mavericks' second-leading scorer and bench sparkplug has put the team in a difficult position going into Game 4 tonight.
The loss of Caron Butler to a knee injury has allowed LeBron James to guard Terry in late-game situations, and the speed and length of the 6'8 James has hindered Terry's ability to get open looks at the hoop.
Terry isn't the only player struggling with his shot. Stojakovic, whose hot three-point shooting helped Dallas sweep the Lakers, has been almost completely ineffective in the Finals. He has scored only two total points in the entire series, converting only one-of-five shots.
In the first and second rounds, Stojakovic averaged more than 20 minutes a game, and more than 16 against Oklahoma City in the Conference Finals. But his recent struggles have forced coach Rick Carlisle to change his substitution patterns in an attempt to find some scoring punch elsewhere.
Small-guard Jose Barea, who was electric against the Lakers and Thunder, has also faded in the face of Miami's athletic defense. His scoring is down more than seven points from those series, from over 11 points per game to four points per game, and his shooting in the Finals has been abysmal. Barea's shooting average was higher than 47 percent in each of the previous two series, but has dropped to under 22 percent and he is only one-of-eight from beyond the arc against the Heat.
For a team that has relied heavily on its bench to come this far, the drop in scoring and overall production from key bench players is troubling.
Unlike the Heat, the Mavericks cannot count on one or two players to carry the bulk of the scoring load. In the Game Three loss, Nowitzki scored 34 points, while the rest of the starters combined for just 27.
For the Mavericks to have a chance to extend this series, and possibly win a title, the entire team must step up and give Nowitzki the scoring help he so desperately needs.