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Thursday, June 15, 2006
What to expect from Wade, Mavs in Game 4

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Two things that veteran Wade Watchers and Dallas Mavericks observers already know about Game 4 of the NBA Finals, without waiting to hear insider tips before the opening tap:

Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade is banged up, but that's just the way he likes it.

1. Dwyane Wade will be fine.

2. So will the Mavs.

Wade will lead the Miami Heat in scoring in their latest must-win game no matter how much his hyperextended knee has South Beach freaked out (as opposed to plain freaky).

The Mavs, meanwhile, will not fold suddenly because they couldn't hold a late Game 3 lead that so easily could have made this a sweeps week.

How can one be so sure of these twin proclamations?

If you've been watching these folks all postseason, you just know.

Let's take (and make) the cases one at a time.

D-WADE

It actually makes sense, at least to me, that Wade played out his finest hour after Shaquille O'Neal fell backward into his little buddy's left knee.

Why?

Wade loves to be hurt.

Loves it like Allen Iverson.

Stein Line theory: Wade plays better when he's hurt and he loves for everyone to know that he's playing hurt.

It's his thing.

This was confirmed in a recent SportsCenter Sunday Conversation, when Wade revealed that he wanted that Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight theme for his shoe commercials as much as anyone.

One wag I know remarked the other day that Wade throws himself around so much that he could captain Italy's national soccer team. I naturally took offense to that jab, as a lover of proper football, but I started to wonder myself in Tuesday's first half when Wade fell to the ground after fouling a Dallas jump shooter.

Dwyane Wade and Josh Howard
D-Wade put a hurting on Josh Howard in Game 3.

Tasting hardwood, it seems, is Wade's default move when he wants to get himself going.

I certainly don't want to downplay his latest ailment -- which follows a recent sinus infection and an earlier hip bruise that required anti-inflammatory injections in the gluteus maximus -- because we all saw how forcefully Shaq tumbled into him. Yet I simply struggle to believe that the injury is going to noticeably hamper Wade in Game 4, even after watching him limping to and from Wednesday's between-games press briefing.

If he could rescue the Heat on the same knee from 89-76 down with 6:34 to play -- ending up with a final point total, 42, that exceeds Shaq's series total of 38 -- I'm figuring that Wade should be sturdier than that with a day-plus of treatment.

As Heat coach Pat Riley said of Wade's Game 3 heroics: "The mind just sort of transcended any pain."

The bigger doubt is whether Wade can transcend the limited help he's getting in trying to counter those deficits of depth, speed and athleticism that Miami faces in this series. He probably has to be Game 3 good three more times if the Heat want to become just the third team in Finals history to overturn a 2-0 deficit. Even Riley acknowledged that, for all of Wade's brilliance, Miami won by a mere two points and couldn't have avoided a fatal 3-0 deficit without help from the "basketball gods."

As stated in this cyberspace Sunday when Dallas took that 2-0 lead, it breaks down thusly: Miami doesn't have Shaq in his prime or Wade in his prime. So it's a lot to ask Wade, in his third season, to be Game 3 good four times in one series, as much as he loves, and thrives on, playing hurt.

The heat, then, is still on the Heat.

"We've still got to win three more," Heat center Alonzo Mourning said, rejecting the idea that stealing Game 3 from the folding visitors -- in one of the biggest Finals comebacks/collapses ever -- was worth a little extra.

"It's not worth more than one, no. We've still got our work cut out for us."

BIG D'S MAVS

Stein Line theory No. 2: Dallas wasn't as devastated by blowing Game 3 as common sense would suggest.

Reason being: Dallas has blown it bigger in these playoffs than it did Tuesday night.

Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki
Do the Mavs have the killer instinct to finish off the Heat?

Three or four times, actually.

Three times in one series, if you want to get technical.

In their seven-game epic with San Antonio in the second round, the Mavs wasted a big lead to drop Game 1 on the road, failed in their first two chances to close the Spurs out after winning the next three games and then blew a 20-point lead on the Spurs' floor in Game 7 ... only to recover from all those disappointments to win that Game 7 in overtime.

On the road, remember.

Against the team that has tormented Dallas all century.

"I don't see how the NBA Finals could be more intense than this," Mavs owner Mark Cuban said at the time.

I'd dispute that in most cases, but not this time. Getting past Detroit was an undeniable achievement for the Heat -- a real in-my-face series I said they'd never win -- but the unraveling Pistons gave Miami more assistance than Dallas got from San Antonio. Mavs vs. Spurs was like a Finals to get to the Finals. Plus Dallas still had to get past plucky Phoenix, which meant overcoming a Game 1 giveaway at home in which the Mavs blew a nine-point lead with less than four minutes left, just to reach the real thing.

"Game 1 of the San Antonio series, we gave that away and we bounced back," said Mavs guard Jason Terry.

Added forward Keith Van Horn: "This team gets pretty upset after a loss. I feel confident."

Van Horn's confidence probably stems from the fact that the Mavs are angry about a lot of stuff. They're mad at themselves for their offensive timidity and stagnation in crunch time when they badly needed scores to counter Tuesday's in-a-zone Wade. They're mad about two clock malfunctions acknowledged Wednesday by the league office that incorrectly erased 3.4 seconds. They're also mad about a couple late noncalls on Wade, who played the final 10:56 one foul away from a spot on the bench.

Dirk Nowitzki is the maddest, of course, after inexplicably missing one of two free throws in the closing seconds with a chance to force overtime. His standards have been so high in the playoffs that, even after collecting 56 points and 23 boards in the past two games, Nowitzki can legitimately claim he hasn't played close to his A game in these Finals.

"He's bounced back big before, too," Van Horn said, recalling Nowitzki's 50-point game against Phoenix after the Suns held him to 11.

Said Mavs coach Avery Johnson: "We still love him. I'm not going to take away any of his per diem or anything like that."

I'm guessing that's because Johnson remembers his only other trip to the Finals. In 1999, Johnson's San Antonio Spurs had gone unbeaten for a whopping 42 days when, up 2-0 and looking a tad overconfident, they dropped Game 3 in New York to the seemingly overmatched Knicks.

The response? San Antonio recovered from the jarring sensation of its first loss in 13 games to win the next two to clinch its first-ever championship on the road, with the Lil' General sinking the clinching jumper.

"I think we'll be all right," said Mavs swingman Josh Howard.

Me?

I think Game 4 will be Wade's best (or thereabouts) against the Mavs' best (or thereabouts).

After six weeks of this stuff, I'd like to think I'm not alone in that expectation, either.

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