Posted: Wednesday June 14, 2006 1:00PM; Updated: Wednesday June 14, 2006 11:03PM
If the Mavs aren't careful, Dwyane Wade may make Dallas' previous 2-0 Finals lead disappear as quickly as its Game 3 lead did.
Can't Touch This
Much has been made in these Finals about the number of "touches" Shaquille O'Neal gets each game. Tuesday night's Heat win proved that O'Neal's productivity does not necessarily correlate with how often he has the ball in his hands.
*S-Touches: touches while in scoring position.
MIAMI -- The NBA Finals will live at least to see a Game 5 Sunday thanks to the Heat's improbable comeback victory Tuesday night, a triumph that can be credited to the Herculean performance of one man: Dwyane Wade.
Throughout the Finals, much has been made of the Shaq Factor (see box) and whether or not Shaquille O'Neal gets enough touches. Dallas is so focused on O'Neal that it has diagrammed five defenses to stop the Diesel, none of which any Maverick is willing to articulate.
But what about Wade? Through the first two games he had been uncharacteristically quiet, averaging 25.5 points and lacking the explosiveness that he frequently showcased in the Eastern Conference finals. However, Game 3 was his coming-out party as the third-year pro poured in 42 points, the bulk of which came off his trademark penetrations.
So how do you stop Wade? Short answer: You can't. But there are ways for Dallas to make him work for his points.
Learn his tendencies
Everyone has them. Michael Jordan had a preferred elbow to post up on; Larry Bird liked a certain area of the parquet floor better than others. Wade is no different; the Mavs just have to know where to look. "Watch when he makes that entry pass to Shaq," says Nets coach Lawrence Frank. "He likes to jump when he makes it. When he jumps, his defender will jump with him, thinking it's a shot. But Wade is so explosive when he lands that he can free himself up before his defender can recover."
Wade also has become adept at slipping screens, a move made easier given that he has O'Neal setting the picks. "He's great at finding the seam in the pick-and-roll and splitting it," says Frank. "And once he does, you're in trouble."
Stop going for the ball fake
The knock against Wade when he came into the league was that he had a weak jump shot. He hasn't done much to disprove that. This season he shot a career low 17.1 percent from 3-point range. Through training with Heat assistant coach Erik Spoelestra, Wade has improved his perimeter game in the playoffs, but the jump shot remains his mortal enemy. Which raises the question: Why do the Mavs go for Wade's ball fake every time? Keep him on the outside; make him beat you from there.
It didn't take long for the crew at American Airlines Arena to broadcast Wade's "fall seven times, get up eight" commercial campaign. It's true: Few players in the league are tougher than Wade. But that doesn't mean he should get a hall pass when going to the rim. Dallas has a powerful shot blocker in DeSagana Diop, and Erick Dampier needs to get more physical. This is the NBA Finals; that means no layups allowed. Getting physical with Wade on the inside could force him to become more perimeter-oriented, which could work to Dallas' advantage.