By Surya Fernandez
Maybe LeBron really does spoil us with his play (his words not mine). After monumental performances against the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls that have long ago been forgotten because it didn't happen in the last game, LeBron must repeat those masterful crunch-time dominance because anything less tonight will be a major letdown for the City of Miami as the Heat prepare for their first elimination game this postseason.
Let's be clear, Miami just doesn't win in Dallas and it's been that way for many NBA seasons. So it was going to be next to impossible to beat the Mavericks two or three times in a row in their home in an NBA Finals. But after regaining home-court advantage with the Game 3 victory, the Heat have failed to keep up with the Mavs in the last half of fourth quarters and have had golden opportunities to put their disastrous Game 2 meltdown behind them and head back to Miami with 3 victories in the series.
If the Heat had fleeting glimpses of the dominant LeBron from series past, there's no doubt Miami could have pulled it off. While he has played well enough throughout games, even if it's still been offensively tame given his high standards, James has not given enough support to the Heat and Dwyane Wade in particular when it's mattered the most. And it's not just the long jumpers that aren't falling that have been killing him (which he was knocking down against the Celtics and Bulls, which become "bad" shots if they don't go in).
On the other side, Jason Terry's PPG is 19.1 per 36 minutes when LeBron is on court, vs. 8.5 when James is on bench (according to NBA.com), so it's not like he's playing the same brand of lockdown defense he was displaying against Derrick Rose. On the flipside, Shawn Marion deserves a lot of credit for his defense on LeBron all series long.
The referees also get a shout out too, allowing the Mavs defense to pick and prod at Heat ball-handlers on any spot on the floor and deny the Big 3 if they take it to the basket with minimal punishment. Apparently the Mavs are playing a brand of defense that somehow never crosses the line into foul territory and they always seem to get fouled during every 50/50 ball or rebound attempt. Pretty much every time this series, it's Udonis Haslem or Joel Anthony fouling Dirk or Tyson Chandler and it's never the other way around.
I find it interesting to note the free throw attempts from Jason Terry (24) and Dirk (44), Mavs players primarily known for being jump shooters. Chandler has 30 free throw attempts himself while Anthony and Haslem have one free throw combined for the series.
For the Heat? Wade (42 attempts) and Bosh (38) have gotten to the line but have missed 13 and 8 of them, respectively. But the biggest shock is that LeBron has only been to the line 16 times, only two more times than Mario Chalmers.
With all the focus on LeBron's struggles this series, Bosh's shooting has gone under the radar but going 31-83 for the series so far isn't going to be enough to pull out two straight victories against the Mavs. Wade may be hobbled but look for him to be as aggressive as ever returning to Miami.
Just one request for the Heat tonight: no more hero ball with five minutes left in the game, ok?
Get more great Miami Heat news, recaps and analysis over at HotHotHoops.com