Mavs not speedsters or leapers; they are resilient

Their best player can hardly jump. Their fastest player hasn’t

played a minute all postseason.

So it’s not breathtaking athletic ability that’s gotten the

Dallas Mavericks three wins from the NBA title.

Their strength is their resolve.

The Mavs are a collection of guys in their 30s who haven’t won a

championship, but clearly know what it takes. They have the

determination to keep fighting in every game, no matter how out of

it they might seem – such as trailing by 15 points with 7:14 left

on the road against a Miami Heat team waiting to be crowned NBA

champions since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade last

summer.

Instead of continuing on their runaway path to an 0-2 deficit,

the Mavericks sloughed off 7 1/2 underwhelming quarters in the NBA

finals and scored 22 of the last 27 points. Their astonishing

display of veteran poise and savvy completely changed the outlook

of this series just in time for the action to shift to Dallas. Game

3 is Sunday.

Maybe the Heat’s youth and athleticism will still rule. But the

mettle of these Mavericks – it’s as much of a constant this

postseason as Dirk Nowitzki’s step-back, one-legged jumper – means

it won’t be the coronation many were expecting. And it could

produce the first title in the club history.

”We just understand what we’re playing for,” said center Tyson

Chandler, the least-experienced of Dallas’ starters yet in his 10th

season. ”Some of the guys are on their last legs. We’ve got a lot

of guys who may not be here next year. We’ve got a lot of guys that

come from situations where they’ve never been this far. We just

want to win it for one another. We’re never going to give up.”

The importance of the next game can’t be underestimated. All 11

times an NBA finals has been tied 1-1 under the 2-3-2 format, the

Game 3 winner has gone on to win it all.

The best-case scenario for Dallas is to win the next three games

and not even return to Miami. Only two teams have won the middle

three games at home on their way to a title, the Pistons in 2004

and the Heat in ’06, against the Mavs.

”You cannot get a split and get a huge emotional win in Game 2

and then go home and lose Game 3,” said Nowitzki, who scored

Dallas’ final nine points, getting the winning basket on a layup

using his injured left hand. ”Hopefully our crowd will be rocking.

They’ve been great to us and carried us throughout the playoffs so

far.”

Dallas’ comeback was the biggest in an NBA finals since Michael

Jordan and the Bulls wiped out a 15-point deficit in Game 6 in

1992, beating Portland and claiming their second title.

For the Mavericks, it was their biggest comeback win in … 10

days.

That was the night the Mavs wiped out a 15-point deficit with

5:06 left to beat the Thunder in overtime in Oklahoma City in Game

4 of the conference finals.

Three weeks before that, they erased a 16-point, third-quarter

deficit to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles in Game 1 of their

second-round series.

A few days before that, they bounced back from a 12-point,

second-quarter deficit to beat the Trail Blazers in Portland to

close out their first-round series.

That makes four times – once each round – that they’ve won after

trailing by double digits, all on the road. And all have come while

relying on their core of 30-somethings, not youngsters like

Rodrigue Beaubois, the lightning-fast guard whom Nowitzki, and the

rest of the organization, was counting on to bring

”unpredictability” to their attack this season. He’s been hurt

and ineffective when healthy, putting the burden back on the guys

used to carrying the load.

”We don’t want to get in these situations,” said Jason Terry,

who got the latest rally rolling with a jumper, a layup and two

free throws in less than a minute. ”But if this situation does

present itself, we’re a veteran team. And we pride ourselves on

being calm, being even-keeled. If there’s time on that clock,

there’s still time for us.”

Funny thing is, this club’s reputation coming into this

postseason was the exact opposite. They seemed to lack the mental

toughness needed to win 16 playoff games.

They got to 14 in the ’06 finals, then melted down. They lost in

the first round three of the next four postseasons. Another early

exit was in the making when they blew a 23-point lead with 14

minutes left in Game 4 against Portland.

That game has become both a rallying point and a reminder. If a

veteran team like theirs can get that complacent and sloppy, then

it can happen to anyone. Keep scrapping and there’s no telling what

might happen.

”If you’re going to win a championship, you’ve got to have the

wherewithal to hang in when things are tough,” coach Rick Carlisle

said. ”You have to keep believing. All year our guys have

believed.”