DALLAS -- The Miami Heat knew they would face a tremendous challenge in the NBA Finals with a certain 7-footer from the Dallas Mavericks who creates matchup problems with his length, relentless play and ability to dominate games in stretches.
“Someone has to take the challenge in our locker room of trying to limit [him] as much as possible if we're going to win a championship,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
Wade wasn't referring to Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks' perennial All-Star who has repeatedly torched the Heat with his late-game heroics to help Dallas knot the series at 2-2 heading into Game 5 tonight at the American Airlines Center.
The Heat expected every bit of Dirk's exploits in this series.
But Tyson Chandler has been the one Miami has had problems accounting for through the first four games. Chandler's energy, effort, rebounding and defense have sent the Heat searching for adjustments on the heels of his 13-point, 16-rebound performance during the Mavericks' 86-83 victory in Game 4.
With so much of the focus geared toward containing Nowitzki and preventing guard Jason Kidd from controlling the tempo, Chandler has effectively been able to slip through the cracks in Miami's game plan to repeatedly get in position for rebounds, putbacks and tip-outs to extend possessions.
Nowitzki is the 7-footer who has garnered the headlines in this series.
But Chandler has been causing the headaches.
During a series in which the last three games have been decided by three or fewer points, the assortment of little things that Chandler has done on the court has had a big impact on the outcome. Of all the statistics and numbers crunched in the aftermath of Tuesday's loss, the one that most concerned the Heat was Chandler's nine offensive rebounds, including four in the fourth quarter.
Most of the dirty work came as the Mavericks rallied from a nine-point deficit with a 17-4 run. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra insists his team has the capable bodies down low to slow the 7-1 Chandler -- or to at least match his activity and production in the paint.
But Heat starting center Joel Anthony, a 6-9 shot-blocker, has been unable to keep Chandler from being disruptive in the lane. Chris Bosh, a power forward who primarily has guarded Chandler instead of Nowitzki, has struggled with his own rebounding in addition to keeping Chandler off the glass.
Miami has left three 7-footers on the bench during the series -- Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire and Erick Dampier -- and Spoelstra hasn't hinted at any potential changes in the rotation, although he also didn't rule out potential adjustments to counter Chandler.
“It goes without stating, obviously,” Spoelstra said when asked if Chandler, who also is shooting a team-high 57.1 percent from the floor, is hurting the Heat in stretches almost as much as Nowitzki. “Nine offensive rebounds and putting a lot of pressure, getting to the rim. He's an impact player, and he has been for several years when he's been healthy. We understand that. We have to meet him with force, with effort, and we have to be relentless, because he does offer them relief points in the paint with his aggressiveness.”
Chandler has also been a legitimate two-way threat at center, which is a dynamic the Heat lack at the position. Chandler has averaged 10 points and 9.5 rebounds in the series, with his workload and minutes having increased the past two games since backup Brendan Haywood sustained a hip injury.
Asked specifically if he believed he has the personnel and confidence in his post players to offset Chandler's impact, Spoelstra didn't shy away from the challenge.
“Yes,” he said. “We've played against a lot of big teams already in the games we won. The two games [Games 1 and 3], we've been able to impact the big muscle areas enough. So yes.”
Bosh said the Heat have to get back to winning the “hustle areas” of the game. To accomplish that, it's as much about effort as it is execution. It's as much about aggression as it is adjustments.
“We have to tighten up our defense,” Bosh said. “We have to continue to give them one shot and we've got to get out in that open court and get some easy baskets ourselves, and really swing momentum back our way if we're going to win in this building. That's relief for us. We have to keep our minds in it.”
And that's why Wade theoretically placed a "Help Wanted" ad in the Heat's locker room entering Game 5 as both teams look to move to within a victory of winning an NBA championship.
For the Heat, dealing with Dirk presents one major dilemma.
But challenging Chandler can be just as difficult of a task.
“Tyson has had a similar impact to Dirk in the sense of the importance he means to the team,” Wade said. “We have to make an adjustment on what we're doing with him.”