MIAMI (AP) - LeBron warming up. Is it too late?
He went up on the glass to stick back a rebound. Came around to catch the ball at the elbow and confidently drain a jumper.
And you can see he wants the ball, which is why he looked so frustrated after a poor decision by Mario Chalmers on the break. With James running with him but Mavs players back, Chalmers needed to either pull it out and set up the offense, or throw it up and see if James could go get it.
Instead he took a poor shot that was blocked, adding to the problem by committing a foul afterward and leaving the Heat down 94-87 with 5:32 to play.
LeBron wanted the ball. And for one of the rare fourth quarters in this series, the Heat needed to give it to him.
The NBA will go to the video tape on that altercation in the second quarter.
Here's the statement from the league:
"A player will not automatically be suspended for leaving the bench if he has already left the bench because a timeout was called. However, we need to review the circumstances of this particular incident, which we will do, after the game."
The teams were in a timeout when they mixed it up, but no players were thrown out because time had been called, so players had already left the bench area, as they normally do.
I've always hated "leaving the bench" rule. It killed the Knicks in 1997 and the Suns in 2007. To me, there has to be a way to define intent, because not everyone who leaves the bench is looking for trouble. It's the same one-game minimum penalty for throwing a punch as it is leaving the bench, and only one of them is always malicious.
The Heat's Joel Anthony clearly came from the bench area, and it sure looked like it wasn't in the name of peace.
Well, we know what comes now.
Either LeBron James ends his fourth-quarter futility, or he's going to have one of the most uncomfortable press conferences ever.
The Heat trail 81-72 heading to the final 12 minutes, the moment in the game when they need to rely on their superstars to save them.
Except they haven't been able to count on James at all down the stretch in this series. The stat has been repeated hundreds of times by now: 5 games, 11 total points in the fourth quarter.
He's got 14 through three tonight. All that matters is what he does in the 4th.
As Dallas continues to hold a slim lead, we move closer what would be the eagerly awaited moment when David Stern hands the trophy to Mark Cuban.
One of them could definitely have something good to say.
Stern loves the passion Cuban has for the Mavericks, loves that the Mavs have one of the best in-game experiences in the league. And he hates that Cuban sometimes has too much to say about the league and has often made him pay for it in the wallet.
Cuban has racked up well more than $1 million in fines, and Stern nailed him for $250,000 during the 2006 finals for a series of embarrassing actions. But he's been quiet lately, a silent stretch that might finally end if the Mavs hold on to win.
And if it does, the first words he speaks might be to Stern.
Back for the second half, and Dirk Nowitzki is back in the scoring column.
Nowitzki hit his first shot of the second half, then another short jumper as the Mavs opened a five-point lead early in the third quarter.
He was just 1 for 12 for three points in the first half, a shockingly poor performance considering how good he's been in this series and throughout the postseason.
Meanwhile, LeBron James has two points since scoring nine of Miami's first 14.
You have to figure one of these two former MVPs will turn it around in the second half.
The way this series has gone, the logical pick would be Dirk.
If you're the Dallas Mavericks, you're thrilled you're up two with next to nothing from Dirk Nowitzki.
Or maybe you're mad that you let a big lead get away so quickly.
It's 53-51 Mavs at halftime, thanks mostly to 19 points off the bench by Jason Terry.
Nowitzki is 1 for 12 for three points, so Steve Nash is definitely a better passer than predictor. He tweeted earlier today that he thought the German would have a monster game.
Well, It's ugly, but definitely not a monster.
And that's part of the reason the lead is so little. The Mavs were up 12 early in the second quarter but quickly gave it all away by allowing a 14-0 run _ while LeBron James was on the bench.
A lead on the road at halftime of an elimination game is something you gladly take.
The Mavs just could have taken more.
That might've been a season-saving run for the Heat, and if so Eddie House gets plenty of the credit.
And the Mavs weren't happy about it.
The Heat were down 40-28 before House opened and closed a 14-0 run with 3-pointers that put them right back in the lead at 42-40.
And when it forced a second Mavs timeout, DeShawn Stevenson objected to Udonis Haslem being in his path toward the bench and gave it little shove. That led to lots of shoving, two technicals on the Heat and one on the Mavs, allowing Dallas to end the run on Dirk Nowitzki's technical free throw.
House just found his way back in the rotation, with Erik Spoelstra benching Mike Bibby for Mario Chalmers, then passing over Bibby for House.
So far, good move.
Maybe even season-saving.
DeShawn Stevenson is a pretty good trash talker, and at this point it wouldn't be surprising if he went up to Jason Terry at some point and announced that HE was going for the Sixth Man award next season.
Stevenson just hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend Dallas' lead to 40-28. He also had one in the first quarter, one of the reserves that helped the Mavericks quickly turn this around after Miami's quick start.
Not bad for what's known as a defensive specialist.
Stevenson went to the bench before Game 4 when Dallas coach Rick Carlisle decided to put J.J. Barea in the starting lineup. The move has worked out brilliantly so far, with Stevenson's play off the bench allowing the Mavs to spell Shawn Marion, the primary defender on LeBron James.
Terry is a former Sixth Man winner who is one of the NBA's best reserves.
So far tonight, Stevenson is right there with him.
The Mavericks sure turned that around in a hurry.
Miami seemed ready to deliver the early knockout punch, racing to a nine-point lead and sending Dirk Nowitzki to the bench with two fouls.
Instead, the Mavericks closed the first quarter with a 17-5 finish after the big German sat down to take a 32-27 lead.
The biggest concern for the Heat has so far been true. Dallas' shooters gained confidence with their 112-point performance in Game 5, when they shot 56.5 percent and made 13 of 19 3-pointers. Now Jason Terry came off the bench to hit his first four shots, fellow reserves Brian Cardinal and DeShawn Stevenson hit 3s, and the Mavs are in a groove.
And three quarters from a championship.
Dirk Nowitzki had to go to the bench, but no problem for the Dallas Mavericks the way Jason Terry came off it.
Terry came in and hit a jumper and a 3-pointer on his first two attempts, pulling the Mavericks within 22-20 with 4:10 remaining in the first quarter.
Nowitzki went to the bench with 5:11 left after picking up his second personal foul. Brian Cardinal replaced him, and Terry entered at the same time.
Terry struggled for most of four games, kept telling everyone eventually the shots would start falling, and they did in Game 5, when he hit two late 3-pointers among his 21 points.
Apparently he's still in rhythm.
Great start for LeBron James.
Of course, all people want to talk about are his finishes.
He's got nine points in the first 4:15, powering the Heat to a 14-10 lead. Best part for the Heat is his outside shot is falling. He nailed a 3-pointer to open the scoring and just hit a long 2-pointer that sent Dallas into a timeout.
James seemed to be losing confidence in his jumper while the Heat lost the last two games. But when it's falling, the way it was against Boston and Chicago in the last two rounds, he is perhaps the most unguardable player in the game.
Yet, none of this matters too much until we see what he does in the fourth quarter. He's got only 11 points in five games in that period, the biggest story in this series.
If he keeps up this pace, maybe the fourth quarter won't matter tonight.
Struggling with the idea that this could be the last game of the season.
It's been a thrilling finals and one more game would be great, but that's not necessarily the reason.
It's more that nobody wants to think about what comes next.
These finals are such a contrast to last year's in that regard. People couldn't wait to get started on the offseason after the Lakers and Celtics finished, because it was going to be historic. Last summer's free agency season, which of course ended with LeBron James and Chris Bosh coming here to join Dwyane Wade, was maybe the biggest story of the year in sports. Questions of whether LeBron would stay in Cleveland, or come save New York, or pick up where Michael Jordan left off in Chicago, or team up with Wade had been talked about for months, if not years.
Now it's the labor situation, and nobody is looking forward to that.
Should the finals end tonight, it's back to work Tuesday in New York for Commissioner David Stern, when players and owners meet again. Then the draft next week is considered lackluster, in part because some top players stayed in school due to the uncertainty about next season.
After that, it's all bargaining, all the time until they get a new deal, or until the lockout starts July 1.
So let's hope for at least one more good game before having to worry about that.
This series is so close, it's impossible to predict what's going to happen tonight.
Through five games, Dallas has scored 463 points and Miami has 459, so a blowout seems unlikely.
Then again, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both could be unstoppable, and the Heat could win easily to even the series and force things to a seventh game on Tuesday night.
And perhaps they can get a boost with what's probably a long-overdue lineup change. Mario Chalmers is getting the start at point guard, bumping the struggling Mike Bibby to the bench.
Or maybe the Mavericks, who were a blistering 13 for 19 from 3-point range in Game 5, keep it rolling from the outside and shoot their way to a championship.
Our prediction before the series was Mavs in 7, so we'll assume a Heat victory tonight.
For another prediction, we turn to a certain former Mavericks star.
"I have a feeling The German will have Monster game tonight," Steve Nash wrote this afternoon on Twitter.
Dirk Nowitzki certainly can make that prediction come true.
There is a noticeable amount of Mavericks blue sprinkled in among all the white shirts that surround the arena here.
A large German flag was being waved behind the basket as Dirk Nowitzki was shooting at during pregame warmups, and plenty of fans are wearing his jerseys in the seats.
When Nowitzki finished his shooting and went to the locker room, team owner Mark Cuban took over the court. Fans booed as he started shooting, then chanted, "Let's Go Heat."
Mavericks franchise founder Donald Carter and his wife, Linda, a former high school basketball player who inspired him to bring the NBA to Dallas, were among the fans in the stands. He was of course wearing the white cowboy hat that was part of the club's original logo. He still owns a portion of the club.
The blue might not stand out as much once the rest of Miami's late-arriving fans show up. But some of them might be surprised to find themselves sitting next to someone dressed in blue.
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney
By Elaine Donnelly
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