Posted: Saturday June 17, 2006 10:34PM; Updated: Saturday June 17, 2006 10:34PM
-- Whether he can credit Pat Riley's loosened reins, improved health or a lax Dallas defense is obscuring the point -- Dwyane Wade is the MVP of this series so far, based solely on his play in the Miami wins. Wade is averaging 39 points per game at home, on 55 percent shooting, with 9.5 rebounds and just five turnovers in 83 minutes. Wade may have even hit for more points had he not tried to force-feed Shaquille O'Neal early in Game 3 or forced a series of drives (incurring four charge fouls) during the second half of Game 4.
Does Dallas have a chance of staying in front of this guy? Hard to say, as no team has successfully stopped a determined Wade this season (especially when his jumper is falling), and even though some squads have kept the All-Star in check for three quarters, he usually breaks out with a double-figure fourth quarter and makes an impact before the final buzzer sounds. Devin Harris did a solid job of staying in front of Wade in the second half, but it took him a half to get acclimated, and his first-quarter turnover issue put the Dallas offense behind the proverbial eight ball. Jerry Stackhouse's length bothered Wade at times in the second half, but Stackhouse continually lost Wade while running through screens, which mitigated any size advantage.
-- Stackhouse's Game 5 suspension is a bit of a downer for Dallas, but it's hard to contemplate the NBA reacting any other way. Stackhouse did the right thing in trying to throttle Shaq on the way to the basket in Game 4; it usually takes every bit of a 7-footer's strength (to say nothing of 6-6 shooting guards) just to wrap up O'Neal and prevent him from getting a shot up, and I don't think anyone believes Stackhouse went into the collision with malicious intent. Stackhouse was Dallas' best bench performer for the duration of the regular and postseason, but he's taken second to Erick Dampier in this series due to his inconsistent touch. Take away his 6-of-11 performance in Game 2 and the opening quarter of Game 4, and Stack is shooting 8-for-34 (24 percent) in the Finals.
-- Stack's day off will force Dallas coach Avery Johnson into finding more minutes for third-year guard Marquis Daniels, who has been in and out of the rotation all season. You're allowed to question Johnson's handling of Daniels, especially after watching game tape of Dallas' 13-point win over Miami from last December -- one in which Daniels had the biggest hand in holding Wade to 7-of-19 shooting. Daniels isn't the most disciplined defender, but his length and quick feet gave Wade fits all game. Strangely, he hasn't seen much of Wade in the five games since. He matched up just once with Wade in Dallas' win over the Heat in February, and just three times in the Finals (resulting in a badly missed jumper and two missed layups).
Daniels has his faults defensively, but anything's better than the "defense" we saw against Wade in Games 3 or 4 -- or even what we saw from Harris or Adrian Griffin all season against the All-Star. In limited minutes, and with help from his bigs (Daniels gets lost in screens quite a bit), Daniels could make a huge impact on Wade. Overall, the team is just going to have to stay down, force him away from his preferred shooting spots and hope the jumper isn't falling.
-- Dirk Nowitzki was pitiful in Game 4, and though you can credit Miami's defense for forcing him away from his sweet spots, he still has to take the blame for a 2-of-14 effort from the floor. Of his 12 misses, I counted nine looks that he usually makes with ease, including two 3-pointers. His two made shots consisted of a turnaround jumper in the face of that noted defensive stalwart, Jason Williams, and a tough 3-pointer with Shaq in his face. Otherwise, they were mostly open looks from all over the floor that should have gone in. If Dirk starts to make his open shots and Johnson finds a way to get him opportunities within his offensive comfort zone, the Mavericks should go back to Dallas with a 3-2 lead.