Mavericks-Heat Preview

Brian Cardinal took one look at Dirk Nowitzki’s injured finger,
turned to the Dallas Mavericks’ trainer and recommended his
treatment plan.

”Cut it at the knuckle,” Cardinal said, making a scissors
motion with his right hand. ”Like Ronnie Lott.”

Good thing ”Dr.” Cardinal is a backup forward whose specialty
is comic relief.

Nowitzki’s injury was more source of fun than concern Wednesday,
starting from the moment he woke up. He expected the torn tendon at
the tip of his left middle finger to be sore and throbbing and it
wasn’t either.

So only the devilish teasers were even considering a Lott-like
amputation of his fingertip.

Nowitzki took the practice court wearing a splint to keep the
finger straight and figures it’ll be mostly a nuisance for the next
month or two. He and shooting coach Holger Geschwindner were
planning their own workout later Wednesday to see which moves
Nowitzki can and can’t make and to come up with ways to compensate,
starting with Game 2 of the NBA finals against the Miami Heat on
Thursday night.

”Hey, (Rajon) Rondo played with one arm, so he might be able to
play with nine fingers,” Geschwindner said, smiling.

Nowitzki already is experimenting with different bandages.
Trainer Casey Smith said, ”We’re going to make it as small as we
can,” and indeed Nowitzki’s wrap at the start of practice was
smaller than what he had at a news conference a few minutes before.
He was down to a hard splint under the knuckle at the tip of his
left middle finger, held on by strips of white tape. The bandage
looped around the knuckle and tip, leaving the nail and top
exposed.

Nowitzki was hurt trying to strip the ball from Chris Bosh with
a little under 4 minutes left in the opener. He knew something
serious was wrong because he couldn’t straighten the tip. The
injury is known as a ”mallet finger” and generally takes six to
eight weeks to heal.

With only quick, courtside treatment, Nowitzki managed to his 1
of 2 shots and all four free throws after the incident. He was 6 of
16 while healthy.

Because the problem is on Nowitzki’s non-shooting hand, most of
what he does will not be affected.

But some of his game will be.

He likes to drive to his left, dribbling hard to get to his
favorite shooting spots or taking it all the way to the rim. It
also could affect him on defense; don’t expect him to swipe down on
the ball with the ferocity he did on the play when he was
injured.

”I think once the game starts, the adrenaline starts flowing, I
don’t think it will really slow me down much,” Nowitzki said.
”I’m not really worried about it.”

Maybe he should be.

Because Miami knows where he’s hurting, and everyone knows how
much Nowitzki means to Dallas, it only makes sense that guys are
going to swipe at his hands more than ever, knowing that even if
they don’t snatch the ball, they might rattle the splint.

”Somebody’s going to swat down on it, whether they want to or
not,” Bosh said. ”It’s painful. As ballplayers, we all go through
it.”

Teammate Jason Terry said some shooters actually benefit from
hand injuries because ”it helps you lock in even more.” He echoed
the words of all his teammates when he emphasized how certain he
was Nowitzki would still carry Dallas’ offense.

”I think Dirk can shoot the ball with his eyes closed, with no
hands, if he had to, especially in a game of this magnitude,”
Terry said.

With the Mavs joking about an injury to their best player, it’s
clear they aren’t too uptight about losing the opener of the NBA
finals, ending a five-game road winning streak or being down in a
series for the first time this postseason.

Besides, the Mavs made so many mistakes in Game 1 they figured
they deserved to lose.

Their biggest concern was getting outrebounded by 10. Coach Rick
Carlisle called it losing at the line of scrimmage, saying, ”The
guys that hit first and hit most aggressively and with the most
force are going to have the most success. And they did it better
than we did last night.”

The Heat were especially good at chasing their own missed shots.
They got 16 of them, leading to 13 more shots than Dallas.

Miami got comfortable behind the arc, hitting 11 3-pointers,
three more than any Mavs foe this postseason. Some of their
attempts were so uncontested ”they had time to set their feet,
check the temperature in the gym and then let it fly,” center
Brendan Haywood said.

Dallas, meanwhile, made a playoff-low 37.3 percent of its shots
and got a measly 17 points from the bench. Terry scored 12, but all
in the first half as he was smothered by LeBron James; it was a
surprise move by Miami because the Mavs were expecting him to be
the secret weapon against Nowitzki.

Despite it all, the Mavs led after the first and second quarters
and were up by eight points in the third quarter. They weren’t
really out of it until the final five minutes, when Dwyane Wade,
James and Bosh put on the kind of show their fans wanted to
see.

Each superstar made plays that sent the white-clad fans to their
feet, hollering and celebrating as if it was 2006 all over again –
only better, because if Miami can win it all in the first season of
their trio of collaborators, imagine how much better the Heat could
be once the guys get more experience playing together.

People around the country are certainly interested, too.

Game 1 drew the highest overnight figures for an NBA finals
opener since the 2004 series between the Pistons and Lakers. It was
up 15 percent from the start of the 2006 series between these same
teams.

While everyone saw James win a finals game for the first time in
his career, and Wade dominate the second half much like he did
during his MVP romp in ’06, the Heat came away seeing plenty of
room for improvement.

They made only 38.8 percent of their shots and didn’t get
rolling until the middle of the third quarter. They were slowed by
Dallas’ defense switching from man-to-man to zones.

”I think once we understood they were going to do that, we just
said, let’s just run our offense,” Wade said.

The Heat felt better Wednesday about their injury concern, too.
Mike Miller practiced after leaving the arena the night before with
his left arm in a sling.