Mavs face tall task on home court
Dallas regained home court with but the Heat will respond with stingy D
After 19 seasons, Shaquille O'Neal retires as one of the greatest NBA centers
More topics: Shawn Marion's shot, Ricky Rubio to Minnesota, top centers
The two opening games of the Finals have confirmed what we knew already. We knew Miami was more athletic and superior defensively, and we knew the Dallas was the more cohesive team based on its years together and its refusal to give in this season as it has so many seasons before.
We knew both teams were hungry -- the Mavericks because their best players have spent so many years seeking a championship, and the Heat because their stars' only reply to the criticism and scrutiny of the last 11 months is to win a title this year.
The Mavs' 15-point comeback in the fourth quarter of Game 2 served to escalate the series in a dramatic way. Miami has been the better team for most of the eight quarters, yet the Mavs now hold the home-court advantage. The question is how long will they be able to retain it?
The most obvious prediction is for them to split Games 3 and 4 in Dallas, because the Mavs are unlikely to sweep their home games based on the run of play so far. It's likely to come down to a crucial Game 5 that Dallas must win in order to take a 3-2 lead back to Miami.
The Mavs can find plenty of room to grow in their games at home. They can start by holding onto the ball and avoiding a recurrence of the 20 turnovers that led to 31 points for Miami in Game 2. They were stubborn in continuing to believe in themselves even as Miami put together a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter; in the games ahead, Dallas must turn that stubbornness into patience. Attack the basket if only to continue to draw fouls, and control the boards as the Mavs did by 41-30 on Thursday.
The radical swing in their play -- from a team that flowed to a team that couldn't develop a decent shot in the final minutes -- rejuvenates the questions that dogged the Heat for much of the regular season. Who are they in this initial year of getting to know one another? Based on their work in the fourth quarter of Game 2, have the Mavs figured out how to break up Miami's nascent teamwork and turn defensive stops into quick scores at the other end? Or will that collapse galvanize Miami to build on its play of the first three-plus quarters?
"I thought we were doing a good job," said Dwyane Wade. "They had 73 points with [7:14] left in the ballgame. We put ourselves in a great position.
"Offensively I thought we did a great job of getting turnovers and rebounding and getting out in transition and getting easy baskets. That's how we were able to get the lead. Most importantly, the reason we had that was because of our defense. And the reason we lost the game is because of our defense."
Their defense suffered because of poor offense and turnovers that put Dallas in the open floor. Amid questions of whether Chris Bosh should have been covering Dirk Nowitzki on his game-winning drive, the Heat may decide to trump the debate by assigning the job to LeBron James -- a matchup of strength vs. strength. No one should be surprised if LeBron requests the assignment.
While the Mavs have positioned themselves to win the title by protecting their home court, the truth is they still have a lot of work ahead before they've established their style of play. Look for the Heat to respond to their disastrous loss by seeking to maintain a defensive focus throughout each game, as they were able to do with increasingly reliable success throughout their previous two rounds. The difference, however, is that Dallas is healthier, younger and deeper than the Celtics were, and deeper with shooting options than the Bulls were. They may be able to counterpunch better than any opponent Miami has faced all season.
An interesting week in Dallas lies ahead, with a lot of questions to be answered.
College Football Championship Week roundup: Michigan State spoils Ohio State's BCS hopes
Spartans spoil Ohio State's BCS title hopes