Dirk Nowitzki: 'This is our Game 7'
DALLAS -- Dirk Nowitzki, who battled triple-digit temperatures and a sinus infection in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, said Thursday that he's feeling great and will be ready for Game 5 for the Dallas Mavericks.
Nowitzki was back to his jovial, joking self with teammates before Thursday morning's shootaround as the Mavs made final preparations to play the Miami Heat in what will be Dallas' final home game of this unpredictable season.
Already playing with a torn tendon in his left middle finger, Nowitzki is coming off his second game-winning shot of the series -- a driving layup with 14.9 seconds left in Game 4 to even the best-of-7 series with the Heat at two games apiece.
"You don't want to give them two chances to close it out at home, so this is our Game 7 and the last home game for this year in this building," Nowitzki said. "It should be a great atmosphere and hopefully we can pull it out."
The 7-foot forward exerted little energy on the day off prior to Game 5, having watched film and doing a brief walkthrough during the Mavs' light workout.
"The main thing is the fever is gone," Nowitzki said. "There's nothing to ever worry about other than that. The cough, the sniffles or whatever, all of that doesn't matter. That's something you just play through."
The story lines are numerous as the sense of urgency ramps up for both clubs. The Mavs face injury concerns with backup center Brendan Haywood (right hip flexor) being a game-time decision, but seemingly more doubtful than questionable.
Shawn Marion declared himself ready to go for Game 5 after he was kicked in the left calf late in the third quarter of Game 4.
Dallas also must deal with its shrinking depth and rising minutes for its older core players. Peja Stojakovic played sparingly in Game 3 and lost his spot in the rotation in Game 4, and since Haywood exited in Game 2, Dallas has relied primarily on a two-man bench.
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
More: Mavs Center » Mavs Blog »
"I said it all series long that I think everybody's banged up at this point. It's June. We've played eight, nine months of competitive basketball," Nowitzki said. "We've got to grind it out. We've got a week left or something in this season and ultimately to win the NBA championship -- which, obviously, you don't get enough chances to play at this stage -- we've got to forget all about this and just leave it all out there."
The Heat seek a return of an aggressive-minded LeBron James after the first single-digit scoring game of his postseason career in Game 4.
"I expect them to attack like they did in Game 3 where [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron got to the rim a bunch of times early," Nowitzki said. "We've got to be ready defensively. That's where we really made a mistake defensively in Game 3. We weren't ready to play on the defensive end and that's what really got us in trouble."
James heaped the pressure squarely on his broad shoulders, saying: "This is a big game -- probably the biggest game of my life. Well, not 'probably.' It is."
He has mostly disappeared in multiple crucial fourth quarters in which the Mavs have been the better team in terms of execution, having rallied from a 15-point deficit with seven minutes to play in Game 2 and from nine down with 10 minutes to play in Game 4.
Dallas has prided itself all season on its late-game execution and coach Rick Carlisle said Thursday that the pressure of another crunch-time finish with the stakes at an all-time high won't faze his team.
"We love pressure," Carlisle said, "and the more the pressure's on, the better our team has functioned all year long. So bring it on."
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.