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


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


”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


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


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


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.