- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

MIAMI — One day after an individual performance that already is being called one for the ages, the Miami Heat have another concern.

Had it not been for a miraculous performance by Dwyane Wade, who scored 14 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, the Heat would never have rallied from a 13-point deficit to gain a 98-96 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Tuesday night’s Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

But moments after reducing the Heat’s deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-1, Wade was limping as he came to the podium to address the media. His left knee took a big hit when Shaquille O’Neal’s 330 pounds came down on it in the third quarter.

Wade, who has battled the flu and sinus problems for nearly two weeks, did not practice yesterday — one more reason to suspect that the Mavericks are still in control of the series. Wade indicated he will be available for tonight’s Game 4, but it is uncertain how much of a factor he will be.

“Going to bed last night and waking up, it’s very stiff and very sore,” said Wade, who also pulled down 13 rebounds in Game 3. “So the only thing I can continue to do is do what I’m ordered to do, and that’s a lot of icing and [stimulation] all day. I’m confident that our training staff will get me as close as I can be to 100 percent by tomorrow.”

Also uncertain is the status of the Mavericks’ collective psyche.

They overcame a nine-point halftime deficit by outscoring the Heat 34-16 in the third quarter and appeared to be cruising to a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead. But they blew a 13-point edge in the last six-plus minutes and their best player, forward Dirk Nowitzki, missed the second of two free throws with 3.0 seconds left — with the Mavericks down by one after previously making 26 of 28 in the series.

“It’s hard,” Nowitzki said. “Obviously, last night wasn’t easy to sleep on. I know I didn’t get a lot of rest. But saying all of that, it’s a quick turnaround. You’ve got to look forward to a game tomorrow. You can’t live in the past, so there’s nothing we can really do about it.”

Said Mavericks coach Avery Johnson: “This is a seven-game series. Whether we’re up 2-0, down 0-2, up 2-1, down 1-2, it really doesn’t matter. It’s about grinding out this whole series.”

The Mavericks, who closed out their previous three playoff opponents on the road, rather easily handled the Heat in the rebounding department in the first two games. On Tuesday, the Heat returned the favor 49-34. Yet Miami needed a huge effort from Wade to improve to 9-1 on its home court in the postseason.

So did the Heat simply escape the inevitable?

“You have to give us credit,” center Alonzo Mourning said. “I couldn’t say that we escaped. I’d say that we did what we had to do to get the win, plain and simple. We played good defense. They turned the ball over. We made plays at the other end. If anything, they didn’t put us away.”

Not yet anyway.

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