Heat or Mavs have the edge in Game 5?
It can't get any worse for LeBron James and the Heat can it?
Instead of making quick work of the Mavericks, two late collapses have put Miami in a best-of-three battle for a championship ring.
Which team has the edge? Our five-man team breaks it down before a big Game 5:
1. Give us 50 words on LeBron James.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: How 'bout 100? I'm going to give him some rare slack, because we are underestimating how much energy he's expending defensively against the team that moves the ball better than anyone on the NBA map. But going into the Finals, I thought the Mavs had to knock LeBron James out of the zone of his life to win this series. And they've done it. Whether this is more about LeBron shrinking for them or Dallas doing it to him with its own D is immaterial. The supremely confident LeBron we saw in Game 1, lining up 3s like he was Peja Stojakovic in his prime, has gone MIA.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: LeBron has created a riddle that no one can seem to figure out. He has all the talent in the world, but seemed powerless. He has all the athleticism on the planet, but appeared grounded. His indifference and ineffectiveness in Game 4 was jarring, and the amazing part is the Heat almost survived it.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Prior to last year's Game 5 versus Boston, LeBron had never truly let his teams down. Now he is on the verge of costing championship-quality teams playoff defeats against lesser teams in two straight years. I believe he's now at a defining crucible of his career, and I can't wait to see what happens.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: The criticism against James is that he doesn't play like Kobe Bryant when Kobe Bryant plays in that me-me-me way we love to criticize. The Heat nearly won Game 4 despite James' underwhelming scoring performance. Miami's biggest concern should not be James turning in another poor performance. The Heat should guard against overreacting to his recent poor play.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: The most powerful physical force I have ever seen on a basketball court. His sheer size, speed and strength is downright unfair. He is a pure joy to watch play the game -- on most nights. Nights like Game 4, rare as they may be, are perplexing. Just a bad game? Did pressure psych him out? We will find out the answer in Game 5.
2. After Dirk and D-Wade, who's been the best player in the Finals?A. Chris Bosh
B. Tyson Chandler
C. LeBron James
D. Shawn Marion
E. None of the above
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: C. I'd still have to say LeBron, believe it or not. Miami's defense is unequivocally ridiculous, so suffocating that the breakout shooting game everyone in Big D expects might never come. And Wade and LeBron are the co-point men of that unit. Like it or not.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: C., LeBron James. Sure, he had a stinkbomb in Game 4, but I won't let that cloud what he's done in the first three games. His impact is so strong, affecting the game in so many different ways, that even his C-plus work still ranks better than the A-game of most other players.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: C. It's still a 2-2 series, so I'd still say LeBron, who has been a major factor in the two wins, even though he has unquestionably underachieved. Certainly, the fact that Shawn Marion has been only slightly less productive than King James is an enormous, shocking win for Dallas. And Chandler's defense and rebounding have made him at least as valuable as the Matrix.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: B. Tyson Chandler doesn't get enough credit for how much he impacts games. When he plays well, the Mavericks are, perhaps, the league's best team. Dirk is always brilliant, and he is rightly credited for making the Mavs great. But Chandler, in his own way, quietly elevates Dallas to a different level.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: D. Shawn Marion. He's got the toughest gig in the Finals. Marion must guard LeBron and, at times, Dwyane Wade, and is also relied on to score. Through two games he had virtually canceled out James, and he bounced back from a sluggish Game 3 with 16 points in Game 4.
3. What hidden edge do the Mavs have that's keeping them in this series?
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: The aforementioned ball movement that has LeBron scrambling all over the place. Kobe Bryant said it in the second round: Guarding Dallas is completely different than guarding teams like New Orleans (Chris Paul) and Chicago (Derrick Rose) that have one ball dominator to lock in on. Playing passively is obviously part of LeBron's problem, but he just doesn't look like he has his normal zip/explosion when he's turning corners.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Tyson Cleotis Chandler. You want to know why LeBron James hasn't gotten into the paint? This 7-footer has a lot to do with it. He's a house out there, walling off any pick-and-roll penetration and patrolling the paint. He won't resonate with the casual fan because of his low scoring totals, but if he can stay on the floor as he has been, the Mavericks will do more than just keep up with the Heat.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Same one they've had all season and playoffs: coaching. Rick Carlisle and his staff (someone hire Dwane Casey already!) always have Dallas prepared, and expert in-game adjustments have helped these savvy vets steal games repeatedly. If the Mavs can pull this off with two more wins, this should go down as one of the very best NBA coaching jobs ever.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: It's simple psychology -- through four games the Mavericks just seem to want it more. It helps that the Heat's best players have come up short more often than they should have, but Dallas plays like a team that wants to win a championship. Miami plays like a team that thinks it deserves to win. Big difference.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: 38-year-old Jason Kidd is a steadying force for the Mavs and a key reason why they have been the better team at executing in crunch time. Kidd's stats are awful: 6.0 points on 30.8 percent shooting, 6.0 assists and 4.0 turnovers. But he's in control when it matters most.
4. Closer to the truth: Heat are blowing this series or Mavs are taking it?
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Let's give the Mavs some credit. Miami undoubtedly slinked away from its two losses with a lot of regret, but I've never seen a Mavs team defend like this. Ever. They've found another gear defensively on the biggest stage of all. Significant achievement for a team that's never been known for its grind game.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Heat are blowing it. This series could very well have been a Heat sweep, save for two epic collapses in the fourth quarters of Games 2 and 4. The final margins have been close, but that's mostly because the Heat have dropped the ball.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Miami is absolutely blowing this series. It is the better team and should be up 3-1, minimum, particularly given the epic Game 2 collapse. Tons of credit to the resilient Mavs, for sure, but the Heat's regression back to November's offensive stagnation, and LeBron's Game 4 passivity, are fairly inexplicable.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: Dallas has seized the opportunity of Miami's uneven play, and it hasn't squandered the opportunity that is LeBron James' low scoring output. I'd prefer to say Dallas is taking the series, but what it's taking is Miami's missed opportunities. What's closer to the truth? It's a push. 2-2 feels exactly right.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: The Heat are blowing it. A 15-point lead with seven minutes to go and a nine-point lead with 10 to play? Championship-caliber teams close those games out. Dallas is shooting around 42 percent for the series. It's not like the Mavs are making music offensively.
5. Who wins Game 5?
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I'm not banking on the Mavs finally erupting offensively, but I do expect them to find a way to win with a full-strength Dirk Nowitzki. Which would be the best thing for the series drama-wise.
Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: My brain says, "Who the heck knows!?" but my gut is telling me that (A) Texas barbecue is delicious, and (B) Dallas will protect its home turf again with Dirk and JET in the pilot seats. I wasn't too sure the Heat would need seven games to put the Mavericks away after witnessing the series opener, but now I think that's where we're headed.
Mark Haubner, The Painted Area: Miami. I had the Heat in six games prior to the series, and despite the roller-coaster ride of this series and all the accompanying uproar, that's still on track. I think the Heat are the better team, so I'm sticking with them, but I get more nervous about that prediction with each passing fourth quarter of Heat ineptitude.
Timothy Varner, 48 Minutes of Hell: I like the Heat in Game 5. It's hard to imagine LeBron contributing less scoring, and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are playing well. Even if the Heat get only a little more scoring from James, that should be enough for a Heat victory.
Jeff Caplan, ESPN Dallas: The Miami Heat take a 3-2 lead back to South Beach. Wade will likely continue to roll because the Mavs just don't have an answer for him. I also believe the Heat will seek to get LeBron engaged early so he can quickly put whatever that was in Game 4 behind him. Jason Terry has been saying all series that the Mavs are going to make their shots, but they never do. Why will they start now against a Heat defense that will be flying around after an unsettling loss?
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