Finals: Which stars shine brightest?

Originally Published: June 7, 2011
ESPN.com

After three scintillating games, the NBA Finals head into Tuesday's Game 4 (ABC, 9 p.m. PM ET) with the Dallas Mavericks trying to rally again and the Miami Heat trying to get a firm grip on the series.

To set up this critical game, we brought in five writers for a closer look at LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, and we asked: Are Games 4 and 5 must-wins for the Mavs?

Here's 5-on-5:

1. Fact or Fiction: Dirk Nowitzki is the Finals MVP so far, win or lose.


Alfredo Berrios, ESPN Deportes Los Angeles: Fiction. Dirk has been Dallas' go-to man in every game, and his average is close to 30 ppg. If the Mavs win, he should be MVP. But you can't just brush off Wade's performance for Miami, and I still believe that such accolades go to the winners, not the losers.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Fiction. It's no disrespect, rather a testament to the play of Wade and LeBron James, that the Finals MVP has not yet been decided despite Dirk's averaging an efficient 28 and 10, spiked with 34 fourth-quarter points and Dallas' being plus-23 when he's on the court versus minus-31 in the 20 minutes he has rested.

Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. Like, Dr. Seuss fiction. Dirk has been phenomenal, but Dwyane Wade's performance plus a series win equals Finals MVP. The trophy should always go only to the winner. But I can't lie, Dirk is having a Finals for the ages.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. If the Mavs win, then yes, Dirk is MVP. But if the Mavs lose, I can't abide by Dirk, or any other Mav, winning Finals MVP. If you're an MVP, you will carry your team to victory. Only one player in Finals history won MVP in a losing effort: Jerry West in 1969. It should stay that way.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. Obviously Dirk has a case, but there are still games to be played. So far we've seen only three, and the most recent image I have of Dirk is a bad turnover with 30 seconds left and a missed jumper at the buzzer. A Finals MVP doesn't go out in five games and, right now, that's a possibility.


2. Fact or Fiction: Jason Terry should start and play more than 32 mpg.


Alfredo Berrios, ESPN Deportes Los Angeles: Fiction/Fact. Terry has been more effective coming off the bench all season long and that shouldn't change. Besides Game 2, when he had eight points in the final quarter, he has not been a factor. Dallas needs him to take over in the clutch, which did not happen in Games 1 and 3.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Fiction/Fact. As long as Mike Bibby is on the court at tipoff, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle can get away with starting DeShawn Stevenson and using Terry off the bench. That said, playing for these stakes, it probably shouldn't take nine or 10 minutes before Terry and Nowitzki share the court.

Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fact. This is the Finals. There is nothing else after this. Your second-best player has to be on the floor as much as possible. He can't get hot on the bench.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. I don't know if more Terry is the answer as much as a more efficient Terry. He's 13-for-34 from the field, and at times LeBron has hounded him, but Terry has missed open looks. The story remains the same for Terry before Game 4 as it did after Game 1: he needs to make shots.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. I'm not a believer in messing with something as big as Terry's role at this point. The Mavs arrived in the NBA Finals playing with Terry as their sixth man, and making a drastic change right now would send a negative message to the team. Now's not the time to panic and change things like that.


3. Fact or Fiction: LeBron James is playing up to expectations.


Alfredo Berrios, ESPN Deportes Los Angeles: Fact, with some explaining. James is scoring his share of points, is leading the highlight reels and is not a factor at clutch time. This has been typical of LeBron in crunch time, even with him leading the pack in scoring. Yes, he's playing up to expectations.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Fact. When Dwyane Wade has the ball in his hands, he is doing more than James. But unless you are only watching the ball or are profoundly biased, it's impossible to miss the positive impact James has had for Miami on both ends of the court.

Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. LeBron will never play up to expectations because people expect the world every night. But he is playing terrific basketball. A stat line like 20/6/6 on 51 percent shooting is nothing to scoff at.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fiction. If he averaged 50-12-12 and won the Finals, critics would point out that he had to join Dwyane Wade to win a title. His bolting the Cavs, and the way he did it, will remain a permanent mark against LeBron for many people. He won't please them, but he's been just brilliant enough to help the Heat to a 2-1 series lead.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. Because the expectations in this world are at unrealistic standards for LeBron. Winning isn't even good enough. LeBron has to win and be "the man" while doing it. It's an unfair situation for LeBron, but that's just how it is and will be.


4. Fact or Fiction: If he's not MVP, LeBron's first title would lose luster.


Alfredo Berrios, ESPN Deportes Los Angeles: Fact. James has not been a factor in the clutch. As a matter of fact, he had only two points in the fourth quarter in Game 3 and three turnovers. Only a spectacular outing and points in the clutch in the remaining games would redeem him ... maybe.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Fiction. The difference in ability, over a best-of-seven series, between James and Wade and Nowitzki is awfully slight, and the two of the three who don't play the best over that brief span should, as long as they continue to play well, lose no luster as a result of (arguably) not being most brilliant.

Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fiction. A ring is a ring is a ring. And it's not like there will be an asterisk next to this title if he's not MVP. But it'll be fuel for LeBron haters who will find a way to diminish his first world championship. Haters gon' hate.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. See also, Question No. 3. The expectations are such that if LeBron, the NBA's best player, doesn't win Finals MVP, people will definitely point out that not only did he need to join Wade to win a title, but also that he needed Wade to win it for him. It may not be true, but that will be the perception.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. At some point, LeBron will need a Finals MVP trophy to start moving into all-time discussions. But right now, it's just about putting away that first championship. Like I said with expectations, it's not even good enough for LeBron to just win. We want him to win on our terms.


5. Fact or Fiction: Games 4 and 5 are must-wins for the Mavs.


Alfredo Berrios, ESPN Deportes Los Angeles: Fact. To have a chance of winning their first NBA title, the Mavs have to go back to Miami ahead in the series, especially if they can't control Wade, who has gone into Finals mode since Game 1. And Dallas' bench must come back to life.

Bret LaGree, Hoopinion: Fact. They might be must-win games for basketball fans, too. Great as the series has been through three games, I suspect I'll still be disappointed if I don't get to see these teams play each other all seven times. Ungrateful? Guilty.

Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: Fact. Actually, Game 4 is a better-hope-they-win situation. If they don't, the handwriting will be on the wall because even if they manage a Game 5 win, Miami has two remaining home games to get one win. I don't like those odds for the boys from Big D. Must-win, baby.

Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Fact. The Mavs must win Game 4. Do you know how many teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals? None. The Mavs need to go into Game 5 with the series tied. As for Game 5, I'd also say that's a must-win, so they won't have to win two in South Beach.

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Fiction. Obviously, one of the two is a must-win, otherwise the series would be over. But as long as Dallas gets the series back to Miami, I think the Mavs have a chance. This Dallas team has seen plenty of challenges this postseason and has climbed over the mountain every time.


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