Updated: June 18, 2006, 7:16 PM ET

Star search for Dallas

MIAMI -- Looks like somebody got it half right.

Remember when I wrote that Dwyane Wade (sprained knee) would be fine and that the Dallas Mavericks (shaken confidence) would be fine, too?

Finals Schedule

Best-of-Seven
Series Tied, 2-2

Game 5: Sunday, June 18
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Game 6: Tuesday, June 20
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Game 7: Thursday, June 22*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

* if necessary

Well ...

Wade, as promised, is better than fine.

The Mavs?

They're suddenly facing a long wait until Sunday night to prove me all the way right.

The Mavs' lead is gone in these NBA Finals, erased by Miami's 98-74 hammering in Game 4, and they might actually have a bigger problem than a series score line that will be viewed in many precincts as a 2-2 deficit.

That problem: Dallas' star has gone missing, too, as well as its blossoming star.

Regrets about their failure to close out an all-but-iced Game 3 and concerns about what that might to do the Mavs' collective psyche Thursday night have been replaced by a flurry of worries about what happens from here, after a Heat beatdown that oozed confidence and physicality from the home team.

Four games into the Finals, Dallas is still waiting to see the Dirk Nowitzki who dominated the Western Conference playoffs. Nowitzki is shooting 36 percent from the floor in this series, after a 2-for-14 struggle made twice as confounding because Udonis Haslem -- Miami's best Dirk defender -- was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble.

Four games into the Finals, Dallas also has a slumping Josh Howard to relocate. The Mavs' collapse Tuesday night was the first time all season (in 26 tries) that they lost a game in which Howard reached the 20-point plateau, but he went scoreless in that fatal fourth quarter and followed it with a Game 4 no-show . . . just three points on 1-for-8 shooting.

Four games into the Finals, Dallas can't spend too much time fretting about the lowest-scoring quarter in Finals history -- a mere seven points in the fourth quarter -- when it first must reconcile what happened in the opening quarter.

That's when Shaquille O'Neal went to the bench with two fouls and the Mavs -- who, incidentally, have yet to score 100 points in these Finals -- fell behind for good.

"It's a different series right now," Shaq says.

It's a series turned upside-down, first by the combination of Miami's Wade-led resurrection and Dallas' epic collapse and now by a Heat rout in which the Mavs did maybe one thing in 48 minutes to placate a coach who was counting on much more.

That would be the jaw-dropping takedown with Dallas trailing by 17 points in the third quarter: Stack tackling Shaq.

Otherwise?

Besides Jerry Stackhouse reinforcing his rep as maybe the most fearless Mav ever?

"They are beating us to the punch," Avery Johnson said.

And?

"They are just one step quicker," Johnson said. "This is two games in a row where we haven't had anybody [in] double-figure rebounding."

These are painful admissions for the Mavs' boss, who was convinced -- as I was -- that his guys would respond to that 13-point blown lead in Game 3 like they did several times in the San Antonio series.

Or like Wade does when he's banged up: 36 points' worth of feeling fine.

Johnson believed it most about Nowitzki, who was naturally desperate to atone more than any other Mav after missing a Game 3 free throw that could have forced OT. Instead he had a handful of good looks to go with the tough ones and missed almost everything short when he wasn't being knocked to the deck.

"They are putting a blanket over him," Johnson said. "He's going to have to get that blanket off."

Yet it wasn't just Nowitzki. This was a teamwide nonresponse from the Mavs, who also appear to have revved up Wade more than ever.

"I think they said I can't shoot," Wade offered when asked if the Mavs gave him too much room on the perimeter. "Why would they contest my shots? I can't shoot."

It was then relayed to Wade, in his postgame press briefing, that a Mav or two questioned the severity of the injury.

"We could care less what they say and they could care less what we say," Wade said. "Everybody knows I don't fake. If I'm hurt, I'm hurt. Y'all have seen me. I don't have to fake."

The only solace for Dallas is that, Johnson aside, none of Wade's victims have to say anything Friday. Instead of the usual two days of media grilling that the Mavs would have faced before Sunday's Game 5, league officials have decreed that the players from both teams don't have to take questions until Saturday.

Questions like the one Johnson got about whether the Mavs are still obsessing over the 3-0 lead they should have taken and didn't.

"I don't know about 'not recovered,' " Johnson said. "This is a mentally tough team that we have here. You're talking about the same team that won Game 7 in San Antonio against a world champion.

"Why don't you just give Miami credit for playing some [great] defense?"

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Dimes Past: June 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14


Cuban Exile In Miami
Marc Cuban
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Dallas owner Mark Cuban stands alone in the Miami crowd, none too happy to witness the Heat's thrashing of his team in Game 4.


Bucket Full Of Posey
James Posey

We've been killing Miami's bench all series long, so let's hand out some props for a change. The Heat's second unit was great tonight, allowing the Heat to keep up the momentum when Dwyane Wade checked out of the game and taking some pressure off the starters.

For the night Dallas' reserves outscored the Heat bench 33-22, but that's misleading for a few reasons.

First, the Mavs use Jerry Stackhouse and Erick Dampier almost as starters. Take away those two and it's advantage Miami, 22-17.

Second, the Heat reserves were far more efficient. Stackhouse needed 18 shots to make his 16 points, while Miami's James Posey needed half as many to get 15 for himself. The Heat also got a whopping 22 rebounds off the pine, including 10 from Posey and five out of the backcourt from Shandon Anderson.

And finally, the Heat bench gave at least as much on defense as it did on offense. Alonzo Mourning was able to thwart the Mavs' small-ball attack by manning the middle of the zone defense and turning aside three shots. Posey took over when Udonis Haslem had early foul trouble, took two charges and completely shut down Dirk Nowitzki. Anderson got his first meaningful action of the series and delivered too, contributing the hustle plays that had made him a rotation player during the season.

"I think everybody did a great job," said Posey. "We came in very aggressive on the defensive end. I think that opened up some things for us on the offensive end."

See the full John Hollinger story



News And Notes
• The previous NBA Finals record for fewest points scored in a quarter was nine, done by Utah against Chicago in 1998 and New Jersey against San Antonio in 2003.

• The Miami fans chanted "Da-vid Hassel-hoff" every time Nowitzki stepped to the line. Dallas' star sings "Looking For Freedom," before he shoots free throws. The song was a big hit -- in Germany -- when Nowitzki was a kid.

• Mavericks owner Mark Cuban feels the NBA should be able to prevent any clock malfunctions like the two that cost Dallas nearly four seconds in Game 3. "It should have been caught and it should have been corrected," he said. "Would it have made a difference? Who knows?"

• It's no secret that Miami's Dwyane Wade and Cleveland's LeBron James are close friends. James has been text messaging Wade with encouragement during the series. "We're two of the front-running guys that a lot of people talk about," Wade said, "myself and him and Carmelo (Anthony) and the other young guys in the 2003 draft. I mean, he (James) is younger than me -- well, that's what they say."

-- The Associated Press




Even Now

Getting 36 points from their banged-up superstar Dwyane Wade and forcing Dirk Nowitzki to pick himself up off the floor more times than he had in the entire series, the Heat dominated Game 4 of the NBA Finals and beat the Mavs, 98-74, ensuring this series will be going at least six games.

Series Tied 2-2



Floored By The Heat
Shaq and Stack
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki was sent to the deck early and often in Miami's Game 4 win.


Extreme Behavior
Dwyane Wade

Thursday's Best
Heat guard Dwyane Wade: Gets 36 points on 13-for-23 shooting, leading the Heat to a Game 4 win. Big honorable mention to James Posey, who came off the bench to post 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Dirk Nowitzki

Thursday's Worst
Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki: After he took a few blows early, his shooting was not the same. Under a hail of Hasselhoff chants, to boot, sometimes he must have felt like he was run over by the crime-fighting K.I.T.T. car. In reality, just a crime-fighting officer Shaq. Nowitzki made only 2-of-14 field-goal attempts.

Thursday's Worst, Part 2
The Mavs set an NBA Finals record for lowest point total in a quarter. Seven points in the fourth on 2-of-18 shooting (11.1 percent), including 0-of-8 from behind the arc.

Quote of the Day
"My impression was my daughters tackle me harder when I come home ... It actually felt pretty good to get hit like that. Thank you, Jerry, I appreciate it."
-- Heat center Shaquille O'Neal on a hard foul courtesy Jerry Stackhouse.

See how all 21 who played stacked up
Hollinger playoff stats (Stack's No. 52)
Plus/minus stats from 82games.com

-- Andrew Ayres



Stack Foul Scrutiny
The NBA is going to take another look at Jerry Stackhouse's flagrant foul against Shaquille O'Neal, which means there's no guarantee Stack will be in uniform for Game 5.

It might seem unlikely he'll be suspended, but it's not out of the question.

Though O'Neal simply laughed the foul off by saying his daughters hit harder, the foul certainly seemed to fit the rule-book definition of a flagrant foul-category 2, which states such a foul to be unnecessary and excessive (as opposed to a category-1 flagrant, which is merely unnecessary).

"All flagrants are reviewed, and this case is no different," said NBA vice president Stu Jackson, who has the discretion to suspend Stackhouse or not suspend him for Game 5 if he indeed reclassifies the foul as a category 2. Throwing a punch brings an automatic suspension (just ask Jason Terry, who sat out Game 6 against San Antonio for taking a swing at Michael Finley), but committing a flagrant-category 2 does not bring a suspension unless Jackson feels one is merited.

Stackhouse's flagrant foul came after Jason Williams stole the ball and was going in uncontested but saw O'Neal trailing close behind. He passed the ball to Shaq, and Stackhouse came across the lane and raked O'Neal across the upper chest and face, knocking him hard to the floor.

Antoine Walker picked up a technical for going after Stackhouse, and Stackhouse got to shoot that technical free throw when the referees decided against calling a flagrant-category 2 foul against him, which would have brought an automatic ejection. But after Stackhouse made his shot, O'Neal went to the line and knocked down both of his to get the lead up to 20, 72-52.

"My impression was my daughters tackle me harder when I come home," O'Neal said. "You know, I'm one of the last players from the old school, and you know, you just have to take a hard foul like that and keep on moving. It actually felt pretty good to get hit like that. Thank you, Jerry, I appreciate it."

Said Stackhouse: "It was a hard foul. I mean, he was going to the basket. In fact, when Shaq is going to the basket, we want to make him go to the free throw line and earn it."

The situation could have gotten out of control after the foul was committed, with Heat coach Pat Riley running onto the floor and into the fray, and Walker going after Stackhouse.

"You've got heroes like Antoine Walker coming up feeling like he's got to say something. For what? He hasn't fought one time in this league," Dallas' Darrell Armstrong said. "All of the sudden you're getting brave?"

But the referees separated the teams, and nothing ever escalated.

And unless Jackson comes down extra hard on Stackhouse, this flagrant foul won't be escalated in severity. The tricky thing is, however, that there's really no telling what Jackson will do.

-- Chris Sheridan at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami



Fouls Delivered With Authority

Game 4 was physical. ESPN's experts review a night where toughness was at a premium.

Going Gets Rough



Elias Says
With 36 points in Thursday night's victory, Dwyane Wade has now scored 129 points in this series. That's the second-most points ever scored by an NBA player in his first four career games in the Finals. The top four: Allen Iverson (141), Wade (129), Willis Reed (127) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (127).

Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias

 

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