Mavs compare Dirk to Willis Reed
DALLAS -- Under-the-weather Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki slept in Wednesday morning and then returned to the scene of his Game 4 heroics feeling well enough to at least walk through the team's light workout that included no running or contact.
Nowitzki said a slight fever lingers after he scored 10 of his team-high 21 points in Tuesday night's fourth quarter playing with a triple-digit fever and sinus infection. His driving layup with 14.9 seconds left in the game gave Dallas the lead in the 86-83 comeback victory over the Miami Heat that evened the NBA Finals at 2-2.
Bryant: Point made
Regardless of the outcome, Dirk Nowitzki finally has answered all questions about his abilities about his greatness as a basketball player, questions that were never fair in nature, writes ESPN.com's Howard Bryant. Story
"That was our version of Willis Reed if you think about it," Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said. "If he doesn't tough it out and if he doesn't come back, there is no way [the Mavericks win]. And I don't even know how he was standing that fourth quarter because it was such a physically taxing game. But hat's off. We're here at 2-2 because of him."
Nowitzki left no doubt that he will be ready for Thursday night's Game 5 when the Mavs will try to become the first team to win two in a row in this best-of-seven series and take a 3-2 lead back to Miami.
"I'll probably come back [to the American Airlines Center] tonight, get a little sweat for like 30 minutes, at least get the body used to sweating a little bit," Nowitzki said. "And then I'll be ready tomorrow."
In other injury news, Mavs small forward Shawn Marion will also be ready for Game 5 after he got kicked in the left calf and exited Game 4 late in the third quarter. He sat out the entire fourth quarter until returning with 14.4 seconds left in the game for defensive purposes.
Marion said he could have played at any point during the final quarter and coach Rick Carlisle said he opted to use DeShawn Stevenson to limit Marion's floor time after he played 43 minutes in Game 3 -- a key component in Carlisle moving Stevenson to the bench and replacing him at starting shooting guard with J.J. Barea.
Backup center Brendan Haywood tried to play through a right hip flexor injury in Game 4 after sitting out Game 3, but after three minutes he had to call it a night. After going through shooting drills Wednesday, Haywood said he feels better, but he remains questionable for Game 5.
After Game 4, he all but ruled himself out of Thursday's game and he officially is listed as day to day.
"He gave it a shot and it just wasn't quite where it needed to be. A tough situation," Carlisle said. "With each passing day hopefully Mother Nature can help out and we'll see if we can have him ready for tomorrow."
Nowitzki has scored the game-winning basket in the Mavs' victories in Games 2 and 4, and he missed a game-tying fallaway in the final seconds of Game 3.
2011 NBA Finals: Champion Mavericks
Game 1: Heat 92, Mavericks 84
Game 2: Mavericks 95, Heat 93
Game 3: Heat 88, Mavericks 86
Game 4: Mavericks 86, Heat 83
Game 5: Mavericks 112, Heat 103
Game 6: Mavericks 105, Heat 95
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He has played with a torn tendon in the middle finger of his left hand since going for steal late in Game 1, an injury that has required him to wear a splint on the back of the finger likely for the remainder of the series.
He's managed to average 26.5 points a game although his shooting percentage is at a playoff-low 42.5 percent against the smothering Heat defense. Even with the damaged finger, Nowitzki has increased his rebounding this series to 10.3 a game, more than two above his average in the previous two series.
Nowitzki opened Game 4 by making three consecutive jumpers from different spots on the floor and he looked primed to have another big game. But, his shot started falling short as his energy waned and he missed 10 of his next 11 shots.
In the decisive fourth quarter when the Mavs turned to their zone defense and held Miami to 14 points on five field goals with six turnovers, Nowitzki was just 2-of-6 from the floor. But, he stayed aggressive and managed to get to the free throw line six times, making all six.
When he got the ball at the top of the circle with a chance to take the lead in the final 20 seconds, Heat defender Udonis Haslem provided single-coverage just like in Game 3. Instead of shooting a fallaway, Nowitzki drove right and laid it in off the glass.
It was reminiscent of his Game 2 winner when Chris Bosh tried to cover him without the help of a double team and couldn't keep Nowitzki from spinning around him to the left.
Nowitzki, always his own harshest critic, apparently didn't find his 6-of-19 performance to be Reed-esque.
"I felt I had an off-night, really," Nowitzki said. "I couldn't get anything going after I made my first three shots. Our defense was what won us the game in the fourth. To give up 14 points on an explosive team like that, that was the key."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.