- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The first two games of the NBA Finals have been as captivating as a 1-nil outcome in the World Cup and a typical baseball exercise involving all the pharmacists.

Erick Dampier outplayed Shaquille O’Neal in Game 2, which is the NBA equivalent of the sun rising from the west.

Dampier is an overpaid lug who sometimes gets in the way of an opponent, in this case O’Neal, who evaluates his performances according to the number of touches with the ball.

The number became moot after O’Neal was planted on the bench for the last 15-plus minutes of the second half.

O’Neal and the Heat look old and tired, as they have looked on a number of occasions in the postseason.

The look becomes especially pronounced on the road. They now have lost six games on the road in the playoffs, starting with two to the Bulls, hardly giant-killers.

O’Neal and the Heat either win Game 3 tonight or begin the offseason process of assessing their incriminating birth certificates.

A 3-0 deficit would assure the unsettling sight of Jerry Stackhouse posing in front of the championship trophy.

Stackhouse has reinvented himself in Dallas after committing a player-control foul against a real estate woman and shutting it down on Eddie Jordan. Those were his last two moves with the Wizards, neither as worthy as his 3-point barrage near the end of the first half in Game 2.

The credit, like it or not, goes to Mark Cuban, who had the foresight not to re-sign Steve Nash two summers ago and remake the team.

Not that his every move was beyond reproach.

But being right all the time is not the standard.

If it were, we all would be out of business.

So this is Cuban’s apparent vindication if O’Neal remains anemic.

The Big Anemia was speechless after Game 2, which led to a $10,000 fine, the customary response of a league office that salutes the Talk to Achieve policy.

Silence, unlike talk, is not cheap in the NBA.

The absence of a competitive series prompts the wistful thought of the Pistons and Spurs, the two teams many believed would advance to the NBA Finals going into the playoffs. That was a fear, too, because of their inability to secure acceptable television ratings.

As compelling as their seven-game series was last June, it was embraced by only the truly devoted.

Yet this series is hardly transcendent at this point unless you are enthralled with the gloveless Gary Payton.

Perhaps David Hasselhoff could be solicited to enliven the proceedings, with either the talking car or a reworked rendition of “Looking for Freedom and Shaq.”

The growing relevance of Hasselhoff is connected to the growing reputation of Dirk Nowitzki, who actually has surprised a few observers with his upgraded play.

The surprise is that anyone would be surprised.

If you are determined to bet on the superstardom of an athlete, wouldn’t it be reasonable to bet on a 7-footer who has the skills of a polished perimeter player?

Nowitzki is what Kevin Garnett was envisioned to be before Garnett’s postseason came to be littered with heartache and the bad ideas of Kevin McHale.

Nowitzki and the Mavericks have demonstrated a beneficial versatility in these playoffs. Nowitzki has lost his obsession with the 3-point shot, and the Mavericks are deep enough to employ various lineups that respond to the pace of a game and the matchups of an opponent.

Of course, none of the accolades would have been possible if not for Manu Ginobili’s inexplicable foul on Nowitzki in the waning seconds of regulation in Game 7 of the Mavericks-Spurs series.

Nowitzki converted a three-point play to send the game into overtime, and the Mavericks have been exceedingly thankful ever since.

If the Mavericks do end up claiming the championship, they would be remiss in not acknowledging the assists from both Ginobili and Hasselhoff.

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