<
>

Some things never change for Mavs

DALLAS -- There aren't any conspiracy theories floating in these NBA Finals. No controversy, at least not the kind that would upset the commissioner. No Cuban Whistle Crisis.

Dallas Mavericks fans, including the one who funds the franchise, can't complain about having to overcome 8-on-5 odds.

The honest people of Dallas have to give Dwyane Wade his props, as painful as that may be. The circumstances and supporting casts have changed, but there is one common link to the NBA Finals meetings five years apart.

The Mavs still can't stop the Miami Heat's homegrown superstar.

DeShawn Stevenson, one of the men who have failed so far this series with the mission to slow down the 2006 Finals MVP, can nominate Wade for all the Academy Awards he wants. Wade has earned his points in this series instead of being the honorary participant in a record-setting parade to the free throw line.

Unlike five years ago, Wade isn't the primary reason the Heat are poised to pop champagne bottles. The Mavs' most pressing issue is rediscovering the scoring balance they relied on all season. (Paging Jason Terry … you're needed for crunch time.)

But Wade has been a major problem for the Mavericks. He's arguably in the midst of a more impressive Finals performance than his original, when his average of 34.7 points was boosted by 75-of-97 shooting from the line in the six-game series, including a whopping 46 attempts in the past two games. He's put up 29.0 points per game to help the Heat take a 2-1 lead in this series, posting better numbers in field goal percentage (56.7), 3-point percentage (40.0), rebounds (8.7) and assists (5.0) than he did against the Mavs five years ago.

"He's proven time and time again, in the biggest moments is when he's at his best," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.

There was reason to believe -- or hope, at least -- that these Finals would be different for Dallas, that Wade wouldn't dominate again.

Heck, he managed to score only one bucket in 30 minutes against Stevenson during the Mavs' two regular-season wins over Miami. However, according to numbers crunched by ESPN Stats & Information, Wade is shooting 75 percent when guarded by Stevenson this series.

"He's a very talented person and he has a rhythm going right now," Stevenson said immediately after the Mavs' Monday practice, saving his criticism for the Miami stars' flopping and complaining for a few minutes later. "We've got to pick him up full-court and be more physical. We're not doing that now, and then when we try to, he's already in his mojo."

Jason Kidd, at the tender old age of 38, had been a defensive force against elite scorers Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant in the Mavs' previous two series. But he hasn't bothered Wade, who has 31 points on 12-of-22 shooting when defended by his former Team USA backcourt partner.

"He's come out aggressive," Kidd said, "and taken his team and put them on his shoulders."

Of course, nobody ever thought leaving Wade unguarded was a good option. But he has 36 points on 61.9 percent shooting in those situations, the results of defensive rotation mistakes and transition opportunities, two things that tend to happen far too often for teams that have to deal with the Wade/LeBron James duo.

"It's hard work," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said of defending Wade, "but we've got to do a better job."

The most concerning part of Wade's production, from the Mavericks' standpoint, is where he's scoring his points. Two-thirds of his 33 buckets -- and more than half of his attempts -- have come from 10 feet or closer to the basket.

He's getting easy dunks and layups in transition. He's creating off pick-and-rolls. He's making plays on post-ups. He's slicing through the Dallas defense on isolation plays.

"I'm playing in a good rhythm, a good flow," Wade said. "I've been in attack mode."

If the Mavs don't figure out a way to disrupt that, Wade will participate in another June parade, probably to the free throw line and almost certainly on Miami's Biscayne Boulevard.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.