2011 NBA Playoffs: Thank You Dallas; Mavericks Win NBA Title, Beat LeBron And The Heat 105-95

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'Eureka' Is Such A Mild Word; Mavericks Send LeBron Packing, 105-95

The Dallas Mavericks have answered the prayers of every true Cavaliers’ fan and defeated the Miami Heat in Game Six of the NBA Finals to deny LeBron James of a title yet again.

Dallas led by only two at the half at 53-51 but outscored Miami in the third quarter by seven to lead 81-72 going to the fourth, then held their own down the stretch to bring the Mavs their first NBA title.

And LeBron? He did put up 21 points tonight, but missed three-of-four free throws to help Dallas’s cause. James led five Heat in double figures, but that was trumped by Jason Terry with 27 off the bench for Dallas, to go along with Dirk Nowitzki with 21.

One thing that stands out immediately in the box score is that Miami shot 15 more free throws — but made only eight more, missing 13 of 33.

Obviously a lot more will be said about this game, but for now, Cleveland fans can exult at some vindication for being abandoned by James last year in a seedy ESPN special.

For full commentary and coverage of what is being said and opined, check out SB Nation's complete coverage of the Finals and its aftermath.

Go Mavericks!

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Can Dallas Bring Jubilation To Cleveland On Sunday Night?

(Sports Network) – Fate can certainly be a cruel mistress.

Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James were already superstars coming into these NBA Finals but one is going to be elevated at the expense of the other in the coming days by finally securing the game’s biggest prize.

Nowitzki has the first chance tonight as his Dallas Mavericks visit Miami with a chance to capture the franchise’s first NBA championship in Game 6 tonight.

"That’s just a part of the game if you’re the star or the face of the franchise," Nowitzki said at practice on Saturday. "If you win, it’s great for you, and everybody looks at you. And if you lose, you’re going to get hammered. It’s just part of the business. I think we understand that, we’ve been around long enough. I got the hammered the last 13 years, basically. So hopefully this year I can make the hammering go away for a year."

Nowitzki has had James’ number so far in the series, especially in the clutch. The German star, who absolutely craves the ball in tight situations, has 52 points in the fourth quarter during the five games in this set compared to a paltry 11 for LeBron.

"I think the game of basketball can be pressure," James said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s the finals or the conference finals or first round. Playoff basketball is all about pressure, how you can handle it."

The Mavs handled it well in Thursday, putting the Heat on the brink thanks to a late surge in Game 5. Dirk scored 29 points in that one to help Dallas earn a 112-103 win, and take a 3-2 series lead in the process.

"Yeah, I mean that was a big win for us, obviously," Nowitzki said. "We didn’t want to go to Miami and give them basically two shots to close us out … And now we have to go down there and basically approach Sunday’s game as Game 7."

Jason Terry made a huge three-pointer with 33.3 seconds left to give the Mavericks a chance to win the title tonight in South Florida. Terry ended with 21 points and six assists off the bench.

J.J. Barea finished with 17 points and five assists for Dallas, which went 13- of-19 from beyond the arc. Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler both chipped in with 13 points.

"We’ve got to continue to work the process … We understand where we’re at, but we also understand what got us here, so we have to stay in the moment," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade suffered a bruised left hip late in the first quarter, but ended with a team-leading 23 points. Wade came in and out of the game following a collision with Dallas big man Brian Cardinal, who was called for blocking on what was a very physical play.

"He’ll be ready to go," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade on Saturday.

James, who had just eight points in an 86-83 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, responded with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 5. Chris Bosh added 19 points and 10 boards.

"We put ourselves in a position to win," James said. "They made a few more plays than we did."

The Mavs pulled away late to prevent another close finish. The previous three games were decided by three points or fewer.

"We were a little bit sloppy against their pressure, and that’s normally what we do to other teams. We definitely have to handle the ball better," Spoelstra said.

LeBron has acknowledged that he hasn’t been as aggressive in the fourth quarter, largely because Wade has been playing so well, and that a lot of people have been disappointed in him.

"I had a bad game in a lot of people’s eyes. I understand that," James said of his performance in Game 5.

Wade, however, is still confident in his teammate.

"He’s one of the best players in the world," D-Wade said. "I want him to play and feel confident."

Nowitzki knows first hand what LeBron is feeling. Often labeled as soft like many European players, Dirk has been tagged with nicknames like "No-win-ski" and "No-ring-ski" over the years. Heck, he was even lambasted earlier this week by James and Wade, who were seen mocking his recent illness in a video clip.

Nowitzki called their antics "a little childish, a little ignorant," but has kept his eye on the prize.

"We’re one win away from my dream, what I’ve worked on for half my life," the All-Star said. "This is really all I’m worried about, this is all I’m focusing on, and not really the off-the-court stuff that happened."

On the injury front for Dallas, backup center Brendan Haywood will be a game- time decision as he continues to deal with his ailing hip.

"I feel a little better, but it’s one of those situations where you feel better doing things that aren’t basketball related," Haywood said at shootaround on Sunday. "It’s something totally different when you’re trying to chase down one of the NBA’s elite athletes."

Haywood originally strained his right hip flexor prior to the NBA Finals and aggravated it in Game 2. He missed Game 3, played three minutes in Game 4 and sat out again in Game 5.

The series is a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade and the Heat beat Nowitzki’s Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the series. It was the only other time either franchise made the Finals.

Game 7 of set, if necessary, will be Tuesday in Miami.

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Dallas Moves To Brink Of NBA Title With Yet Another Comeback; Mavs Win 112-103

Dallas, TX (Sports Network) – The Dallas Mavericks are one win away from the franchise’s first championship thanks to a late surge in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 29 points to help Dallas beat Miami, 112-103, and take a 3-2 series lead in the process.

"Yeah, I mean that was a big win for us, obviously," Nowitzki said. "We didn’t want to go to Miami and give them basically two shots to close us out … And now we have to go down there and basically approach Sunday’s game as Game 7."

Jason Terry made a huge three-pointer with 33.3 seconds left to give the Mavericks a chance to win the title on Sunday in Miami. Terry ended with 21 points and six assists off the bench.

J.J. Barea finished with 17 points and five assists for Dallas, which went 13- of-19 from beyond the arc. Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler both chipped in with 13 points.

"We’ve got to continue to work the process … We understand where we’re at, but we also understand what got us here, so we have to stay in the moment," Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade suffered a left hip contusion late in the first quarter, but ended with a team-leading 23 points. Wade came in and out of the game following a collision with Dallas forward Brian Cardinal, who was called for blocking on what was a very physical play.

"We have an extra day [of rest] and we’ll see if that’s enough," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade’s status for Sunday.

LeBron James, who had just eight points in an 86-83 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, responded with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Chris Bosh added 19 points and 10 boards.

The Mavs pulled away late to prevent another close finish. The previous three games were decided by three points or fewer.

The series is a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, when the Heat beat the Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the series. It was the only other time either franchise made the Finals.

Dallas took a lead into the fourth quarter for the first time in the series. An 84-79 margin to start the final period quickly grew to 88-81, but Miami turned the tables moments later.

Trailing by seven, 90-83, the Heat ripped off five straight points to make it a two-point contest.

It remained a tight contest, and Nowitzki made two free throws with under seven minutes to go for a 95-90 edge.

Miami used some good passing and nice defense on an ensuing 9-0 run. Udonis Haslem made a layup off an assist from James to spark the flurry. Wade then stole the ball from Shawn Marion and made a layup at the other end. Haslem’s slam and Wade’s three-pointer from the top of the arc gave the Heat a 99-95 lead with over 4 1/2 minutes to play.

But Terry and Nowitzki led the Mavericks on a 17-4, game-ending run. Nowitzki, playing in his 123rd playoff game, made two free throws to spark the burst.

"We put ourselves in a position to win," James said. "They made a few more plays than we did."

After Bosh went 1-of-2 from the line, Terry made a three-pointer to make it a 100-100 game. James then missed a jumper, which led to Nowitzki getting past Bosh and putting home a slam.

James was called for a charge at the other end of the floor. Over a minute later, Kidd made a three-pointer to give Dallas a 105-100 margin with 1:26 left.

Bosh made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe to make it a four-point game, but Terry sent the crowd into a frenzy with a three-pointer.

James kept Miami alive with a layup, but Dallas went 4-of-4 from the foul line down the stretch to seal the victory. Terry tallied eight points during the late surge.

"We were a little bit sloppy against their pressure, and that’s normally what we do to other teams. We definitely have to handle the ball better," Spoelstra said.

The Mavericks created some distance early on with a 9-2 flurry. Kidd sparked the spurt with a three-pointer, and after a slam by James, Nowitzki made a pair of jumpers. Marion capped the burst with a hook shot to give Dallas a 13-6 edge with 7:21 left in the first quarter.

The margin stayed around six points until Miami put together a period-ending 10-3 run. Mario Chalmers, filling in for an injured Wade, bookended the spurt with a pair of three-pointers to give the Heat a 31-30 lead after 12 minutes of action. Chalmers’ second trey came from half court at the buzzer.

Wade came back with 8:52 left in the second quarter, and helped Miami take a 50-44 lead with 5:45 remaining.

Just moments later, the Mavs responded with six straight points to make it a 52-52 game. A close first half came to a close on a Nowitzki jumper, which gave Dallas a 60-57 lead.

The second half started with Wade in the locker room, but Mike Miller got the frame started with a three-pointer to make it 60-60.

The game was tied at 65 after James made a jumper with nine minutes left. But a Nowitzki jumper and trey gave the Mavericks a five-point margin.

A Kidd three-pointer and Chandler slam around a Bosh turnover put Dallas ahead by nine, 80-71, with 3:46 to go.

The Mavs held onto their lead and took an 84-79 margin into the fourth.

Dallas Mavericks backup center Brendan Haywood missed the game due to a hip injury that’s bothered him much of the series…Each team made 21 free throws…Haslem had 10 points off the bench for Miami, which went 8-of-20 from beyond the arc…Wade also had eight assists. He came back into the game for a second time with about 4 1/2 minutes to play in the third quarter…The Heat outrebounded the Mavs by a 36-26 margin.

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Dallas Plays Last Home Game With A Chance To Go Up 3-2 On Miami

(Sports Network) – The NBA Finals will resume tonight in Dallas, as the Mavericks host the Miami Heat in the critical Game 5.

The Mavs rallied behind a sick leader to knot the series at two games apiece with a thrilling 86-83 triumph on Tuesday. It wasn’t just Dirk Nowitzki’s hand that was ailing in Game 4, it was the rest of his body, too.

"I just battled it out," said Nowitzki, who played despite suffering from a sinus infection and a fever that reached 101 earlier in the day.

Nowitzki scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter in Game 4, including eight during a big run that gave the Mavericks the lead.

Jason Terry scored four straight points to spark the 17-4 spurt that pulled the Mavericks out of a nine-point deficit in the fourth. Terry had six total points during the surge, and later hit a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds left to give Dallas its final margin of victory.

The Mavs survived a last-second shot by Miami’s Mike Miller, who ended up with the ball on the high right side only after Dwyane Wade let the inbounds pass hit off his hand and float toward the backcourt.

"It didn’t look good," Nowitzki said of his team’s deficit in the last quarter, "but our energy and defense really picked us up."

Terry ended with 17 points off the bench, while Shawn Marion had 16 and Tyson Chandler scored 13 with 16 rebounds for the Mavs.

Wade, again the Heat’s go-to scorer, poured in 32 points to lead all players, but Miami got just eight points from LeBron James on 3-of-11 shooting. Chris Bosh had 24 points in the loss.

"This series is a jump ball, every single game," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "And they out-played us in the fourth quarter, obviously."

Playing again with a splint on his injured left middle finger, Nowitzki was just 4-of-13 for 11 points through three quarters — he missed a free throw for the first time in the Finals, too — and said he was "just a little under the weather."

"I didn’t really have a good night’s rest," he said.

When it came down to it, though, Nowitzki again was everything his team needed him to be.

Mirroring the move he made to win Game 2, the 7-foot German held the ball on a late possession and drove right past Udonis Haslem for a layup that made it 84-81 with 14.4 seconds left.

Slashing to block the shot, Wade got there a split-second too late. But he dribbled past Chandler on the other end for a dunk that got the Heat within a point.

Terry made his free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining, again putting the Mavs ahead by three points, but the Heat couldn’t get a clean shot off after their timeout, settling for Miller’s off-balance try.

Nowitzki labored, sitting until the end of every timeout to conserve his energy in a performance reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s "Flu Game" in the 1997 NBA Finals. He looked anything but festive after the big win, sniffling through his post-game press conference.

But, as Chandler put it afterwards: "It’s always better when you win."

"He’s one of the greatest ever. He wants the ball and he wants the responsibility of winning or losing the game," said Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. "We make every effort of putting him in those situations."

It’s a best-of-three series now with tonight’s Game 5 in North Texas acting as a swing game before things shift back to Miami for Game 6 on Sunday and, possibly, a winner-take-all Game 7 next Tuesday night.

With the stakes so high James knows he must turn up the intensity on the offensive end tonight.

"I think it’s that time that I try to get myself going individually, but at the same time still play my game," said James. "And when I say be more aggressive, that doesn’t mean be more aggressive and have to shoot the ball. It just means being more aggressive and looking for opportunities to get a look."

"Sounds good to me," Wade said.

James shot just 3-of-11 from the field and the eight points was more than 20 points below his career playoff average. The two-time former MVP did managed to collect nine rebounds and seven assists but also turned the ball over four times, and was regretful on Wednesday for not being more assertive.

"I didn’t play well, especially offensively. I know that," James said. "I’ve got to do a better job of helping this team win basketball games, especially late, no matter what it is. If that’s getting an offensive rebound, like I said, making a couple of baskets, being more aggressive to give my guys opportunities to get open looks. I have to do that. That’s what my job."

Dallas’ DeShawn Stevenson attempted to up the pressure on the embattled James, saying LeBron "checked out" in the fourth quarter of Dallas’ Game 4 win.

"DeShawn, he’s been talking for a long time, since our Washington-Cleveland days," James said. "I don’t let that get to us. Those guys are playing well. We’re playing well. It’s a three-game series. Talk is cheap."

Nowitzki, meanwhile, was still coughing on Wednesday, but looked livelier and will be ready to go for Game 5.

The series is a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade and the Heat beat Nowitzki’s Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the series. It was the only other time either franchise made the Finals.

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Miami Lets 4th Quarter Lead Slip Away As NBA Finals Becomes A Best-Of-3

Dallas, TX (Sports Network) – The Dallas Mavericks rallied behind a sick leader and evened the NBA Finals at two games apiece.

This time, it wasn’t just Dirk Nowitzki’s hand that was ailing. It was the rest of his body, too.

"I just battled it out," said Nowitzki, who played despite a fever that reached 101 earlier in the day.

Nowitzki scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday, including eight during a big run that gave the Mavericks the lead in an 86-83 victory over Miami in Game 4.

Jason Terry scored four straight points to spark the 17-4 spurt that pulled the Mavericks out of a nine-point deficit in the fourth. Terry had six total points during the surge, and later hit a pair of free throws with 6.7 seconds left to give Dallas its final margin of victory.

The Mavs survived a last-second shot by Miami’s Mike Miller, who ended up with the ball on the high right side only after Dwyane Wade let the inbounds pass hit off his hand and float toward the backcourt.

"It didn’t look good," Nowitzki said of his team’s deficit in the last quarter, "but our energy and defense really picked us up."

Terry ended with 17 points off the bench, while Shawn Marion had 16 and Tyson Chandler scored 13 with 16 rebounds for the Mavs, who will also host Game 5 on Thursday.

Wade, again the Heat’s go-to scorer, poured in 32 points to lead all players, but Miami got just eight points from LeBron James on 3-of-11 shooting. Chris Bosh had 24 points in the loss.

"This series is a jump ball, every single game," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "And they out-played us in the fourth quarter, obviously."

Playing again with a splint on his injured left middle finger, Nowitzki was just 4-of-13 for 11 points through three quarters — he missed a free throw for the first time in the Finals, too — and said he was "just a little under the weather."

"I didn’t really have a good night’s rest," he said.

When it came down to it, though, Nowitzki again was everything his team needed him to be.

Mirroring the move he made to win Game 2, the 7-foot German held the ball on a late possession and drove right past Udonis Haslem for a layup that made it 84-81 with 14.4 seconds left.

Slashing to block the shot, Wade got there a split-second too late. But he dribbled past Chandler on the other end for a dunk that got the Heat within a point.

Terry made his free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining, again putting the Mavs ahead by three points, but the Heat couldn’t get a clean shot off after their timeout, settling for Miller’s off-balance try.

Nowitzki labored, sitting until the end of every timeout to conserve his energy in a performance reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s "Flu Game" in the 1997 NBA Finals. He looked anything but festive after the big win, sniffling through his post-game press conference.

But, as Chandler put it afterwards: "It’s always better when you win."

"He’s one of the greatest ever. He wants the ball and he wants the responsibility of winning or losing the game," said Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. "We make every effort of putting him in those situations."

Bosh scored 16 of his points in the first half, leading Miami to a 47-45 edge at the break. Bosh, who hit the go-ahead shot in the final minute of Game 3, went 5-for-5 in the second quarter for 10 of his points.

Neither team led by more than three in the third quarter until the Heat finished it on an 8-1 run to go ahead by as many as five. They carried a 69-65 lead into the fourth.

Miller hit a three-pointer and Haslem knocked down a jumper to cap an overall burst of 13-1 that gave Miami its nine-point lead, 74-65, with 10:11 remaining in the game.

After a timeout, Terry made a layup and a jumper to start Dallas’ run.

"I don’t think any [lead] is commanding in this series," said James. "We just have to continue to execute offensively and grind defensively."

Terry also scored the go-ahead layup during the burst, making it 79-78 with about five minutes remaining. Nowitzki hit two free throws to end the run and give Dallas an 82-78 lead with 2:16 left.

Bosh made two foul shots for Miami’s first points in 5 1/2 minutes, and Wade went to the line with a chance to tie the game after he was mauled under the basket by Jason Kidd on a long pass.

But Wade only made 1-of-2, and Nowitzki banked in his driving layup at the other end for some distance.

Carlisle tinkered with his lineup, starting J.J. Barea at guard in place of DeShawn Stevenson. Barea had eight points, while Stevenson scored all 11 of his points in the first half…Mavs backup center Brendan Haywood was active after missing Game 3 with a right hip flexor injury. He played just 3:05 off the bench, all in the first half…The Heat lost despite outshooting Dallas 42.7 percent to 39.7 percent.

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Chris Bosh Hits The Game Winner As The Heat Reclaim Home-Cout Advantage In Game 3

Dallas, TX (Sports Network) – The biggest shot of Game 3 came from a different big man.

Chris Bosh buried the go-ahead jumper with 39.6 seconds left Sunday, and the Miami Heat survived another late shot from Dirk Nowitzki to beat Dallas, 88-86, and take a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals.

After Dwyane Wade had scored seven straight points for the Heat, Bosh worked his way into a wide-open position on the low left side to set up his shot.

Guarded closely, LeBron James gave the ball up, settling for the go-ahead assist instead of the go-ahead points.

"It was the right play. We’ve been making the right plays," said Bosh. "We trust each other. This is as big as it gets and when you can trust someone like that, I think it’s great."

"I saw C.B. wide-open," said James. "I don’t care if he’s missed 15 (shots) in a row. That’s his sweet spot."

Following a timeout, Nowitzki got the inbounds pass above the three-point arc and dribbled Udonis Haslem down to the foul line, stepping back for a fadeaway that bounced high off the rim as time expired.

"We found ways to make plays on both ends of the court, to grind this game out," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

The Heat rebounded from a demoralizing loss in Game 2, when Nowitzki scored his team’s final nine points to lead the Mavericks back from a 15-point deficit in the final six-plus minutes, making the winning layup with his injured left hand in the final seconds.

"You can’t lose a game like that and come and lose Game 3," said Wade. "And we made enough plays to win the ballgame."

Still playing with a small splint on his left middle finger, Nowitzki poured in 34 points Sunday, including 12 in a row to end the game as the Mavs continued to look for their 7-foot jump shooter on the offensive side.

"Dirk is doing his part," said Mavs guard Jason Kidd, "but everybody has to pitch in."

Nowitzki hit a 13-foot fadeaway floater over Haslem to tie the game at 86-86. His final missed shot was his 21st of the game. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter.

"We’d like to make it easier on him," said Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, who played Nowitzki nearly 42 minutes. "But tonight was tough. Tonight was not one of those nights."

Wade scored 29 points to lead the Heat, while Bosh added 18 and James scored 17. Miami shot 43.6 percent and won despite being outrebounded 42-36, including a 12-9 deficit on the offensive glass. Wade also led the Heat in rebounds with 11.

Jason Terry had 15 points off the bench for Dallas, but scored just five after halftime. Shawn Marion chipped in 10 points, while Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler pulled down 11 rebounds apiece. Kidd had 10 assists and nine points in the loss.

The Mavs went on a 17-3 run in the third quarter, taking a 59-58 lead on Terry’s 17-footer. But James and Mario Chalmers hit back-to-back threes to stop the bleeding and the Heat carried a 67-64 lead into the fourth.

Among Nowitzki’s 12 straight points was a backdoor dunk after Kidd found him near the baseline with a good pass. Wade hit a 20-footer at the other end for the last of his seven straight points, making it 86-84 and setting up Nowitzki’s game-tying floater.

"This series is turning out to be a series of endurance," said Spoelstra.

Game 4 is Tuesday in Dallas — and if history is any indicator, the Mavs may have played themselves into trouble.

Since the NBA went to a 2-3-2 series format, the winner of Game 3 after a split in the first two games has gone on to win the title all 11 times.

The Mavs won every quarter except the first Sunday in a game that was more back-and-forth than a metronome.

About that first quarter: Chalmers buried a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer to give Miami a 29-22 lead, throwing up the shot just a couple steps past midcourt.

Replays showed Chalmers’ foot on the halfcourt line around the time he received the pass, a possible backcourt violation.

"That’s a great play for them," said Carlisle, "and it’s a tough one for us."

The series is a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade and the Heat beat Nowitzki’s Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the series. It was the only other time either franchise made the Finals.

Dallas played without backup center Brendan Haywood, who was ruled out because of the right hip flexor injury he sustained in Game 2. Carlisle stressed that it would be important for Chandler, the starting center, to stay out of foul trouble with Haywood sidelined. Chandler finished with just two personal fouls, both in the second half.

Both teams endured long runs in the game. The Heat used a 12-0 run in the second quarter to snap a tie before the Mavs countered with seven straight points. Wade scored the next four points on a layup and dunk and the Heat built their lead to a game-high 14 on a pair of James free throws with 3:03 left in the first half.

Dallas countered with an 11-2 run to end the half trailing 47-42, capped by a Kidd free throw. Kidd pump-faked Wade into the air near the three-point line on the left side, and Wade came down on Kidd’s shoulder before tumbling into the seats.

"We’re always reacting. Obviously, it takes a lot of energy for us to fight back," said Nowitzki. "We have to be a little sharper at the beginning and not let them get their rhythm."

Chalmers had 12 points off the bench…Third-string Mavs center Ian Mahinmi played eight minutes…Nowitzki entered the game averaging 9.7 points per game in the fourth quarter this postseason…The Mavs shot 40 percent, but committed 14 turnovers that led to 19 Miami points.

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Dallas Sends A Message, Rallies Past Miami 95-93 To Send The Finals To Dallas All Even

Miami, FL (Sports Network) – To finish off a remarkable comeback, Dirk Nowitzki went to his injured left hand.

It was the right move.

Nowitzki spun around Chris Bosh and lurched to the basket for a go-ahead lefthanded layup in the final seconds, lifting the Dallas Mavericks to a thrilling 95-93 victory over Miami in Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Thursday.

Despite playing with a splint on his left middle finger, Nowitzki scored the final nine points for his team and the Mavericks ended the game on a 22-5 run to erase a 15-point deficit with six-plus minutes remaining.

Nowitzki also made a game-tying layup with his injured off-hand in the final minute, ending with 24 points as Dallas improbably evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

Dwyane Wade, stealing the show for Miami until the final minutes, missed a long, gliding three-point try at the buzzer with a chance to win the game for the Heat.

He led all scorers with 36 points, scoring 21 of them in the first half, while LeBron James had 20 points and Bosh 12.

Nowitzki all but willed his team to victory. He tore a tendon in the finger late in Tuesday’s Game 1 when he lunged to swipe the ball from Bosh, and played all of Game 2 with a small splint he hoped wouldn’t get in the way.

It didn’t much. Nowitzki was 10-of-22 shooting, including 4-of-7 in the fourth quarter.

"I played with (Larry) Bird for three years when he was the best player in the world. Guys like [Bird and Nowitzki] don’t feel pain right now," said Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle. "If you’re feeling pain, you make yourself numb so you don’t feel pain."

Guarded mostly by Udonis Haslem, Nowitzki drew Bosh near the left elbow on Dallas’ final play. Using his body to create some distance, Nowitzki first looked right, then spun left and took two long steps to the basket.

Slashing over to help at the last moment, Haslem got there a little too late, and Nowitzki banked the go-ahead basket in.

"He does the move that he always does. He uses his body well," said Bosh. "I got caught up in trying to cover his drive, and that’s what he wanted. I just played bad defense for a couple of seconds, and it cost us two points."

Miami had a foul to give, but didn’t use it, and now faces a tied series after what seemed like a surefire 2-0 lead just minutes before.

"I actually drove a little earlier than I would have knowing they had a foul," Nowitzki said.

"We never gave up," he said. "In this league, you gotta play to the end. You can be down 20, you gotta keep plugging."

Game 3 is Sunday in Dallas.

"That’s about as tough a fourth quarter as you can have. When it started to slide, it just kept going," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Miami, down nine at one point in the second quarter, used a 29-10 run that bled into the third quarter to take a 10-point lead. But it was nothing compared to the fireworks the Mavs produced in the fourth quarter.

Carrying a 75-71 lead into the period, the Heat went up 88-73 with 7:14 remaining when Wade, after two unselfish passes from James and Mario Chalmers, buried a three-pointer from the right corner.

Wade left his right hand dangling in the air for the whole building to see, and he celebrated with James in front of the Dallas bench. The Mavs called a timeout.

Some Dallas players said the celebration bothered them, others didn’t see it.

"There was no celebration at all," James said. "I was excited that he hit a big shot and we went up 15."

Said Wade: "Every team does something. That’s the game. It won’t be the last time if we make a great play that we do something."

Then, Wade walked to the huddle and the Heat reminded each other that the veteran Mavs are capable of making up a 15-point deficit quickly.

Which they did.

After wilting under the Heat’s potent offense, Dallas turned to its star down the stretch. Hopeful for a better outcome than the last time these teams met in the Finals, Nowitzki responded with a defining finish.

The Mavs finally took the lead when Nowitzki, after collecting a rebound at the other end, drained a wide-open three-pointer to make it 93-90. Chalmers responded with a three at the other end, tying the game and setting up Nowitzki’s shot.

"We pride ourselves on the defensive end," said Wade, "and they were able to break us down."

Shawn Marion scored 10 points in each half for Dallas, while Tyson Chandler added 13 and Jason Terry scored 16 off the bench. Nowitzki also had a game- high 11 rebounds.

The series is a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade and the Heat beat Nowitzki’s Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the series. It was the only other time either franchise made the Finals.

The teams were knotted 28-28 after the first quarter and Wade hit a three- pointer in the final moments of the second to cap a 9-0 run and keep the score tied, 53-53, at halftime.

Dallas, after being out-rebounded by the Heat in Game 1, turned the tables with a 41-30 advantage on the glass in Game 2. The Mavs also won the battle on the offensive glass, 11-6…Mike Bibby had 14 points for the Heat, but their bench was outscored 23-11.

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Miami Gets The Early Jump On Dallas, Wins Game One 92-84

Miami, FL (Sports Network) – Like they have so many times this season, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade found just the right moments to pick up their play.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks didn’t have an answer.

James, Wade and Chris Bosh combined to score 65 points Tuesday and the Miami Heat pulled away in the second half for a 92-84 victory over the Mavericks in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Nowitzki scored 27 points despite tearing a finger tendon in his non-shooting hand, including 10 in the fourth quarter as he tried to keep his team close. But the Mavericks were held to an uncharacteristic 37.3 percent shooting for the game.

James scored 24 points, Wade had 22 with 10 rebounds and Bosh cooled down in the second half to score 19.

The Heat didn’t shoot much better — 38.8 percent for the game — but they were a little bit better in the second half, hitting at 41 percent as they jammed their foot on the pedal for some distance.

"We just needed to lock in," said James.

Punctuating the win was a no-doubt-about-it field goal: Wade, driving against Jason Kidd on the right side, floated an alley-oop that James slashed to grab on the left side of the basket, throwing it down for a thunderous dunk.

"It was a grind. We didn’t get into an offensive flow the entire game," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "This was more of a defensive battle."

The three Heat stars were good on that side of the ball, too. Minutes before he found James for the alley-oop, Wade blocked Mavs forward Shawn Marion on a jumper, then hit a three-pointer on the left side that gave Miami an 82-73 lead with barely three minutes to play.

"Two-way player. That’s what we expect of him," said Spoelstra.

The Heat, who trailed by as many as eight points in the third quarter, went ahead by as many as 12 down the stretch.

Two other highlights came when James drove past Marion and split the lane for a dunk as he was fouled, turning it into a three-point play, and a rebound that Wade converted into a long pass to Bosh for a dunk.

Both plays gave the Heat a 10-point lead. And although the teams were close in most aspects on the stat sheet, Miami earned a 46-36 edge in rebounding, including a 16-6 margin on the offensive glass.

"We got to play better overall. We have to be opportunistic," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "They were more opportunistic than we were. And that’s been one of the traits of our run."

"What really killed us were the offensive rebounds," said Nowitzki. "We were out of position a lot. Especially in the fourth quarter, there were two or three in a row. That really hurt us."

Nowitzki said he had an X-ray on his left hand, that nothing was broken but that he will need to wear a splint on the middle finger. He was injured while lunging to swipe the ball from Bosh late in the fourth quarter.

"I’ll be all right," he said. "It’s on my left hand."

The series is a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, when Wade and the Heat beat Nowitzki’s Mavericks in six games after falling behind 0-2 in the series. It was the only other time either franchise made the Finals.

Game 2 of this set is Thursday in Miami, and Spoelstra said his team is "already moving on." The Heat snapped a 10-game losing streak to Dallas that dated all the way back to the ’06 Finals.

The spell included both of their meetings this past season. Those losses — on November 27 and December 20 — were the only setbacks during a 22-2 run in the schedule that helped Miami erase the feeling of a slow start to the season.

The Heat had to overcome a slow start to this game.

Nowitzki scored 13 points in a tight first half and the Mavericks carried a 44-43 into the locker room after a slow-going 24 minutes for both teams on the offensive end.

There were nine lead changes and six ties in the half and neither team shot better than 39 percent.

Both teams shot just 28.6 percent in the first quarter, with the Mavs squeezing out a 17-16 edge heading into the second.

Kidd hit back-to-back three-pointers in the quarter to get Dallas within 13-11, while James knocked down a three to halt a two-minute Miami drought and put the Heat up by four.

The Mavs scored five straight points to end the quarter with the lead, then let it go early in the second on Bosh’s putback dunk.

Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the way until halftime and the Mavs remained in front after Mike Miller missed a three-point try at the buzzer.

James scored nine points in the third quarter, including a three-pointer at the buzzer that gave the Heat a 65-61 lead heading into the fourth. Earlier in the third, the Mavericks went ahead 51-43 on DeShawn Stevenson’s three-pointer — the largest lead by either team until that point.

Wade said James’ buzzer-beating three gave the team momentum.

"We all made plays down the stretch to help us win the ballgame," he said.

The two Heat-Mavericks series are the only NBA Finals since 1998 that didn’t feature either the Los Angeles Lakers or the San Antonio Spurs…The Heat beat all of their previous three opponents this postseason in five games: the 76ers in the first round, then the battle-tested Celtics, then the Derrick Rose-led Bulls to capture the Eastern Conference title…The Mavs beat the Trail Blazers in six games, swept the Lakers in four and ousted the upstart Thunder in five to win the Western Conference.

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Heat Rally To Beat Bulls 83-80, Advance To NBA Finals Against Mavericks

Chicago, IL (Sports Network) – LeBron James and Dwyane Wade rallied the Heat from a late deficit and carried Miami into the NBA Finals with an 83-80 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Trailing by 12 with a little over three minutes to play, Wade and James shared the load during a game-altering 16-2 run, which included James putting in a go-ahead jumper with 29.5 seconds remaining.

Derrick Rose had a chance to tie it at the free throw line, but missed his second try at the stripe. Chris Bosh drained two free throws for an 83-80 lead with 16.8 ticks left, and a poor possession led to Rose getting hounded behind the arc and James blocking the league MVP’s three-point attempt at the buzzer.

The dramatic come-from-behind win sets up a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, as the Dallas Mavericks wrapped up the Western Conference on Wednesday. Game 1 is set for Tuesday in Miami.

Wade, silent over the first three quarters as he nursed an apparent shoulder injury, poured in 10 of his 21 points in the fourth. James finished with a game-high 28 points — 12 in the fourth — to go with 11 rebounds, and Bosh chipped in 20 and 10, fitting numbers for the vaunted triumvirate.

Rose shot just 9-of-29 for 25 points, while Luol Deng totaled 18 points and seven boards for the top-seeded Bulls, who lost four straight after winning Game 1 by 21 points.

"Everything is on me: turnovers, missed shots, fouls," said a dejected Rose, whose team did not lose more than twice in a row during the regular season. "I just have to learn from it and do better next year…We’re sad we lost, but we’ll take a lot from it."

The series looked headed back to Miami when Ronnie Brewer’s three-pointer off a Kurt Thomas offensive rebound resulted in a healthy 76-64 Bulls lead with 3:53 left.

But the Heat’s lightning-quick comeback started after the teams traded free throws.

"We honestly don’t know what happened. It went so fast," James said. "I want to go back and watch the last four minutes."

Wade, who earned MVP honors in leading the Heat to their only title five years ago, got inside for a pair of buckets to start the rally ahead of James’ three-pointer.

Chicago called timeout in an attempt to halt the momentum, and Rose did as such on the next possession, creating space with a spin-move in the lane and dropping in a one-handed fadeaway.

But just as quickly as he got the United Center crowd back into it, he made a critical mistake by fouling Wade as he was shooting a three.

"I got a little space and Rose hit me on my elbow. That changed the momentum a little bit," Wade said.

Wade made the shot and the ensuing free throw for a one-possession game, 79-76, and James followed Rose’s missed floater with a pull-up three from the left wing, tying the game with 1:01 showing.

The tide kept swinging in Miami’s favor when James picked off a Rose pass to set up his jumper from the top of the key, giving Miami its first lead since there was 3:48 remaining in the first quarter.

With the game on the line late in regulation in Game 4, Rose missed a pair of long jumpers with James guarding him, and Miami pulled out the win in overtime.

Rose opted to drive the right side of the lane this time, and James was called for a foul with 26.7 seconds to go.

Rose, an 86-percent free-throw shooter in the regular season, made the first but had the second rim out. Bosh got the rebound, then made the key free throws prior to Miami’s defense forcing Rose into an impossible shot at the buzzer.

"This was emblematic of everything we’ve been through this year," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We had to go through the fire again. The majority of the game was not going our way, but we’ve built up a lot of resiliency and we made enough plays down the stretch."

The Bulls went on a 12-1 spurt late in the first quarter to go on top, 22-16. Deng highlighted the run with a dunk over James in transition, and the two traded three-pointers in the final 1:07 of the quarter for a 25-21 contest.

Chicago never trailed in the second, going up as many as 12 when Carlos Boozer hit a jumper at the foul line for a 37-25 lead near the midway point.

The Heat shot 37 percent in the first half to trail, 45-38, at the break, and both teams struggled shooting in the third, making just five field goals each.

Free throws kept Miami in it, though, thanks in part to emotion getting the better of the Bulls. During a late 9-1 Miami run, Boozer was whistled for a flagrant foul for landing an elbow to James’ face and Taj Gibson was handed a technical for visibly objecting a foul called on Joakim Noah.

As a result, Chicago’s 13-point cushion with five minutes left in the quarter dwindled to 62-57 heading to the fourth.

Rose drained a three to open the fourth-quarter scoring, and the 38-year-old Thomas, filling in for the injured Omer Asik, put in a pair of jumpers around a Bosh bucket to push Chicago’s margin to double digits, 69-59.

The Bulls were still ahead by 10 as James went to the line with 4:22 remaining. He hit the first for a 73-64 game, then missed the second to end his streak of 32 consecutive makes at the line.

Dallas won both meetings against Miami in the regular season, but they came before the turn of the calendar year…Miami made 8-of-16 from the field in the fourth quarter after shooting 36 percent over the first three frames…Wade had a game-high nine turnovers…Thomas, playing for the first time since Game 2 of the East semis, chipped in four points and eight rebounds in replacing Asik, who was out with a fractured left fibula…Boozer and Noah were held to five points each…The Bulls led the NBA with a 36-5 home record but lost twice in front of the home crowd in this series…The only other time Miami beat Chicago in their five previous playoff meetings was in the first round of its 2006 title run.

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Heat Prevail In Overtime To Take Commanding 3-1 Series Lead Over Chicago

Miami, FL (Sports Network) – LeBron James led all scorers with 35 points and shut down Derrick Rose with the game on the line in regulation, as the Miami Heat pulled out a 101-93 overtime victory in Game 4 to take total control of the Eastern Conference finals.

Chris Bosh dropped in 22 points and Dwyane Wade made up for a quiet scoring night with two blocks in OT for Miami, which is one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals in the first year of its roster upheaval.

Mike Miller scored nine of his 12 points in a seesaw fourth quarter, and the Heat, up 3-1 in the series, can close out the top-seeded Bulls on Thursday at United Center.

"We’re going to try to play as desperate as we’ve played the last three games," James said. "We’re not taking anything for granted."

Miami has won a franchise-record nine straight home postseason games dating back to last season.

Chicago, touted as the team with more depth coming into the series, used its starters extensively in the must-win game.

Rose, in particular, appeared to have tired legs when it mattered most, making just one field goal after the third-quarter buzzer. Rose’s line saw him score 23 points, hand out six assists and commit seven of the team’s 22 turnovers.

"It’s not over. We still have games to play," said Rose, whose club was coming off consecutive double-digit losses after rolling to a 21-point victory in Game 1. "They are beatable."

For the first time this season, the Bulls have lost three in a row, though they nearly evened the series in the final minute of the fourth.

Rose had the ball with the game tied, 85-85, but James played perfect defense and forced the league’s MVP into a stepback jumper that rolled off the rim.

James was whistled for an offensive foul when he tried backing down Ronnie Brewer on the right wing, jabbing an elbow up high into the defender.

The Bulls called timeout with eight seconds left, and the result was the same as their previous possession, with James locking down on Rose and causing an airball from 17 feet.

Bosh put in the extra period’s first points at the free throw line, after he missed a dunk while getting fouled with 3:23 remaining.

After Carlos Boozer missed inside, Bosh got open off an inbounds play at the top of the key and canned a jumper for an 89-85 lead.

Chicago had some fight left, as Rose drove the baseline to open up Brewer for a much-needed make from behind the arc.

Wade answered with his first points after halftime with a baseline jumper, and Boozer went 1-of-2 from the line prior to James getting a left-handed scoop to drop for a 93-89 cushion with 1:36 to play.

Luol Deng, who along with Boozer netted 20 points, threw away the ensuing inbounds pass, and Rose turned it over the next time down. Wade’s driving score and block on Deng sealed the tough victory and put Miami on the brink of its first NBA Finals appearance since 2006, when they defeated Dallas for the title.

"This series is an absolute bloodbath. This game was a grind," Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It’s challenging for any team to get into an offensive flow. It’s as competitive and physical as it can be. But it was about enduing and making whatever game-saving plays we needed to."

Both teams struggled offensively in the opening quarter. Wade bricked a fastbreak dunk early on and James missed four straight shots on one possession to exemplify Miami’s woes.

The Bulls scored on four straight touches at one point, going on top, 19-8, on Brewer’s reverse layup, then went scoreless in the final four minutes when they began settling for three-pointers.

Miami inched within 19-16, tied the game on Bosh’s three-point play on the first possession of the second quarter and went ahead on Mario Chalmers’ three-pointer the next time down.

Wade’s acrobatic layup near the midway point gave the Heat their biggest lead at the time, 37-28, only to have the Bulls respond with 15 of the next 20 points to take the lead right back.

Rose, after missing 10 of his first 12 shots, capped the stretch with two thunderous dunks while being fouled, the last a two-handed slam over Joel Anthony.

Chicago scored nine straight points in the early stages of the third, with Rose’s jumper yielding a 57-48 advantage.

With Wade on the bench, James turned up his game late in the third quarter, scoring six straight to pull Miami within 65-63 on a dunk over a retreating Deng in the final minute.

Rose’s three-pointer gave the Bulls a five-point lead heading to the fourth, but Miami took its first lead of the second half, 70-69, on Miller’s long jumper two minutes into the final stanza.

That was the first of seven lead changes in the fourth, the last coming when Bosh’s baseline jumper gave the Heat an 85-84 lead with 1:14 to go.

Rose had an open lane closed up by three defenders and was fouled. He missed the first and rattled in the second for the quarter’s fifth tie.

Wade was too hard off the glass on a shot in the lane prior to James coming through on the defensive end in the final minute.

"I think you learn from each game. Hopefully we can study, learn, correct, grow and get ready for the next one," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Wade ended with 14 points…Joakim Noah, fined $50,000 by the league after hurling an anti-gay slur to a fan during the first quarter of Game 3, pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds…Miller and Udonis Haslem each had nine boards for the Heat…Miami outscored Chicago at the free throw line, 32-17…The Bulls had 44 points in the paint to Miami’s 24…Miami has taken one of the previous five postseason meetings between the teams, with its lone victory coming in the first rebound of its ’06 championship run.

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Miami Can Put A Stranglehold On Eastern Finals In Game 4

(Sports Network) – Top-seeded Chicago hopes to even the Eastern Conference finals when they visit the Miami Heat in Game 4 on Tuesday.

A Game 1 rout by the Bulls is now ancient history after Tom Thibodeau’s club dropped two in a row, the latest of which was a 96-85 Miami triumph in Game 3 on Sunday. Chris Bosh went 13-of-18 from the field en route to 34 points in that one as the Heat pulled away in the fourth quarter.

"It’s the Eastern Conference finals and it’s coming down to will and determination," Bosh said. "I want people to know I want it."

LeBron James added 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for Miami, which built off its 85-75 win last Wednesday to take a 2-1 series lead. Dwyane Wade tallied 17 points and nine boards as the Heat earned their eighth straight postseason win at the American Airlines Arena.

History is now on Miami’s side. Since 2006, when the Heat won their lone NBA crown, the winner of Game 3 of the East title series has advanced to The Finals each time.

"There is absolutely nothing easy in this series, and it’s still all about enduring, sustaining and finding a way to grind it out," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And the last couple games we’ve been able to do that at the end."

Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulls, who lost consecutive games for the first time since February 5-7. Derrick Rose donated 20 points, five boards and five assists.

"It’s definitely frustrating. Our will wasn’t there tonight, where they still found a way to win playing good basketball," Rose said. "We just got to find a way to win the next game."

Ahead by four, 78-74, with 6 1/2 minutes to play in the game, Miami put the game away with a 9-0 run. After Udonis Haslem, who had eight points off the bench, made a driving layup, Wade followed with four free throws prior to a Rose turnover. James was fouled on a layup at the other end. The old-fashioned three-point play gave the Heat an 87-74 lead with 5:07 left.

Chicago never got closer than seven the rest of the way as it struggled in the half-court set against a very tough Miami defense.

"They’re a great defensive team," Thibodeau said. "The first thing we have to do is rebound the ball and get out in transition, try to get some easy baskets. And then if their defense is set, you can’t dance and hold the ball. The ball has to move. Players have to move."

Off the court issues are also swirling around the embattled Bulls. Rose was under the microscope after allegedly saying a number of NBA players use performance-enhancing drugs and then claiming he was misquoted. Meanwhile, Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 by the league after hurling an anti-gay slur in to a fan during the first quarter of Game 3.

"Thibs always talks about walking through a fire together," Noah said. "That’s what it’s all about. You win Game 1, there is a lot of love after the game. You lose two, it’s like the end of the world. But if we can get this one on Tuesday tied up going home, that would be a good position to be in."

Chicago, which finished the regular season an NBA-best 62-20, hasn’t lost three in a row all season.

"We just got each other. This is a family. We’re just trying to stay together knowing that it’s definitely harder now," Rose said. "But we’re going to get through this. And this summer we’re going to laugh about it later on."

On the injury front, Bulls backup center Omer Asik is battling a lower leg injury.

"It’s day to day," Thibodeau said of Asik’s injury. "Kurt [Thomas] is always an option because of his ability to defend, rebound and hit the spot upshot. He’s a great screener. He can make your offense very effective."

The Bulls swept a three-game season series with Miami this season, taking two in the Windy City and another in South Beach. All three contests were won by razor-thin margins, however, with Chicago winning by three, four and one, magnifying the Heat’s biggest weakness in the regular season, the inability to close out tight games.

The clubs have met in the postseason five previous times with Chicago taking four of those sets. The Bulls swept Miami in the first round in the 1992, ’96 and 2007 playoffs. Chicago also took the Heat in five games in the ’97 East finals while Miami earned a six-game triumph over the Bulls in the first round of the ’06 postseason.

Game 5 in the series will be Thursday back in Chicago.

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The 'Forgotten' Member Of The Heat Trio Of Stars Goes Off As Miami Grabs Series Advantage

Miami, FL (Sports Network) – Chris Bosh went 13-of-18 from the field en route to 34 points, as the Miami Heat pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 96-85 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

LeBron James added 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Heat, who built off their 85-75 win on Wednesday to take a 2-1 series lead. Dwyane Wade tallied 17 points and nine boards.

History is now on Miami’s side. Since 2006, when the Heat won their lone title, the winner of Game 3 of the East title series has advanced to the NBA finals every time.

"There is absolutely nothing easy in this series, and it’s still all about enduring, sustaining and finding a way to grind it out," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And the last couple games we’ve been able to do that at the end."

Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds for the Bulls, who lost consecutive games for the first time since February 5-7. Derrick Rose donated 20 points, five boards and five assists.

Game 4 of the series will be Tuesday, also in Miami.

"It’s definitely frustrating. Our will wasn’t there tonight, where they still found a way to win playing good basketball," Rose said. "We just got to find a way to win the next game."

The Heat put together the first real run of the game midway through the third quarter, and it proved to be crucial. With the score tied at 53-53, Mike Bibby made a three-pointer to spark a 7-0 flurry. Miami then forced Luol Deng and Joakim Noah into consecutive offensive fouls. Bosh and Wade followed with jumpers around Keith Bogans’ missed three-pointer to give Miami a 60-53 lead with 3:56 left.

Chicago cut the gap to five, 62-57, but Udonis Haslem made back-to-back jumpers for a 66-57 Heat margin with 1:24 remaining. The Bulls kept the game from slipping away by closing out the period on an 8-2 spurt. Deng bookended the burst with a pair of three-pointers to make it a 68-65 game after three quarters.

Ahead by four, 78-74, with 6 1/2 minutes to play in the game, Miami put the game away with a 9-0 run. After Haslem made a driving layup, Deng turned the ball over. Wade followed with four foul shots prior to another Chicago turnover. Rose turned the ball over this time, and James was fouled on a layup at the other end. James made his foul shot to complete the three-point play for an 87-74 lead with 5:07 left.

The Bulls never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

The game started out as a tight hard-fought battle, with neither team pulling away. Miami ended up with an 18-15 lead after 12 minutes of action.

The Heat tried to create some distance in the second stanza, but Chicago had an answer every time. Miami led by as many as six in the period and took a 43-40 edge into the locker room.

The Bulls used a 9-3 spurt early in the third to grab a 51-50 lead. Wade stopped the bleeding with a free throw to tie things up, and Miami started to take control from there.

The Heat have now won eight straight home postseason games at the American Airlines Arena…Miami shot 50.7 percent from the field, while the Bulls made 41.6 percent of their shots…Haslem had eight points off the bench…Chicago outrebounded Miami by a 41-32 margin.

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Bulls Go Into Miami Looking To Cool The Heat In Game 3 Of Eastern Finals

(Sports Network) – The scene shifts from the Madhouse on Madison to the shores of Biscayne Bay on Sunday as the Miami Heat entertain the Chicago Bulls in the pivotal Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

LeBron James scored nine of his 29 points in the closing minutes during a physical affair in Chicago on Wednesday, but it was the Heat’s defense that allowed them to defeat the Bulls, 85-75, and even the set at a game apiece.

Miami limited Chicago to just two points in the final seven minutes, closing Game 2 on a 12-2 run. In fact, the Bulls’ only points in that stretch came on a well contested layup by Taj Gibson.

The suffocating effort sits in stark contrast to the series opener three days earlier, when Chicago ended the game on a 46-24 run to come away with a 103-82 victory.

James pulled down 10 rebounds while Dwyane Wade, despite suffering a nasty gash on his right arm, had 24 points and nine boards for the Heat, markedly better performances than Game 1, when they combined for 33 points.

"They respond and often play their best when their back is against the wall, under adversity," said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Miami also got 13 points and five rebounds off the bench from Udonis Haslem, who played for just over 23 minutes in his biggest performance of the postseason. Haslem, who missed most of the regular season with a foot injury, hadn’t played more than 4:12 in two previous games during the playoffs.

Derrick Rose had 21 points, eight assists and six boards for the Bulls, but made just seven of his 23 shots — many of them he said he would normally make. Luol Deng finished with 13 points.

"I think I was just missing shots or flipping the ball up, not going strong (to the basket)," Rose said. "It was just one of those nights."

However, it was also Miami’s defense, which played a big part in limiting the MVP to just two points in the fourth quarter.

As lopsided as the final result was, Chicago was still in the game with 7:16 to go, when Gibson dunked to make it a 73-73 game. But the final result also was an indication of how dominant the Heat were down the stretch.

"You’ve got to give them credit, their defense was outstanding," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "They fought us; their ball pressure was great."

The long layoff figures to help the banged-up Heat, who aren’t quite as deep as Chicago.

"Fortunately, we were able to have some days to recuperate," Spoelstra said. "Our guys, they’re not shying away from it. Neither team is. Both teams have built these habits for the entire season. We’ve proven we’re an aggressive, attacking, physical defense that rebounds the basketball. They’ve proven to be the same. So you have two things colliding into each other."

The Bulls, meanwhile, haven’t lost consecutive games since Feb. 5-7.

"Don’t jinx us like that," Rose said.

"We have to execute a lot better," Thibodeau added. "We have to screen better. We have to keep the ball moving. But we have to get some easy baskets, too."

The Bulls swept a three-game season series with Miami this season, taking two in the Windy City and another in South Beach. All three contests were won by razor-thin margins, however, with Chicago winning by three, four and one, magnifying the Heat’s biggest weakness in the regular season, the inability to close out tight games.

The clubs have met in the postseason five previous times with Chicago taking four of those sets. The Bulls swept Miami in the first round in the 1992, ’96 and 2007 playoffs. Chicago also took the Heat in five games in the ’97 East finals while Miami earned a six-game triumph over the Bulls in the first round of the ’06 postseason.

Game 4 in the series will be Tuesday, also in Miami.

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Mavericks Roll To Big Early Lead, Then Hold Off Thunder To Reclaim Home-Court Advantage

Oklahoma City, OK (Sports Network) - The Dallas Mavericks jumped out to a big lead in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals and held off the slow-starting Oklahoma City Thunder, 93-87, to take back home-court advantage.

Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion both posted 18 points and Jason Kidd chipped in 13 to go with eight assists, helping the Mavs take a 2-1 series lead.

Dallas held Oklahoma City to 29 percent shooting in the first half and led by as many as 23. The Thunder mounted a comeback, but a 1-for-17 showing from three-point range sealed their fate.

"It was a great defensive effort early on. It set the tone for us," Nowitzki said. "We just played off our defense and executed well ... We had more aggression to our play."

Russell Westbrook came alive late and ended with 30 points in defeat.

Kevin Durant had 24 points on 7-for-22 shooting, and the Thunder reserves netted 16 just two days after outscoring Dallas' vaunted bench, 50-29.

"They doubled a lot more off pick-and-rolls and post-ups. They made it tough for us," Durant said. "We have to figure out ways to have a better start."

Game 4 of the series will also be in Oklahoma City on Monday.

Scott Brooks made a tough decision to bench a struggling Westbrook in the fourth quarter of Game 2, and the Thunder backups came through in a 106-100 victory to tie the series.

Brooks stayed with Westbrook on Saturday, and the All-Star point guard responded with 14 points in the final quarter.

Westbrook's personal 8-2 run cut the deficit to single digits for the first time in the second half, and two James Harden free throws near the midway point made it a six-point game, 80-74.

Nowitzki briefly quieted the suddenly erupting crowd with a pair of buckets, but the Thunder were still within six, 84-78, coming down the stretch.

The hosts had three chances to inch closer, but Westbrook and Daequan Cook each missed from long range and Westbrook coughed it up on a drive to the lane, the sixth of seven turnovers for the 22-year-old.

Jason Terry ended the scoreless stretch with a short pull-up jumper to extend Dallas' lead with 1:42 showing. The closest it got from there was four, and the Mavs sealed the win by hitting 5-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 33.6 seconds.

Oklahoma City Arena was hosting its first-ever game in the conference finals, but the home team came out infinitely less fired up than its fans.

An eager crowd watched Marion get inside for two buckets and toss an alley-oop pass to Chandler on Dallas' game-opening 9-2 run.

The electricity amongst the blue-clad fans dwindled significantly when the Mavs ended the opening quarter just as strong as they started it, as Peja Stojakovic and Kidd each drained three-pointers to spark a 12-4 flurry.

The run yielded a 27-12 lead, which ballooned to 23 following eight straight Dallas points to open the second.

"[The Mavs] came out and did a great job with their defensive pressure. They took us out of our sets and trapped the basketball, just got us playing on our heels," Brooks said. "I give our guys a lot of credit, they made it a game in the fourth quarter."

Free throws were the only thing keeping the Northwest Division champs relatively close, making 12-of-13 from the stripe in the second frame alone.

The halftime score, 52-36, still heavily favored Dallas despite Nowitzki only tallying four points, and Oklahoma City went scoreless for the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third to go back down by 22.

The Mavs, who won both regular season meetings at Oklahoma City Arena, held the Thunder under 100 points for the first time this series...Terry totaled 13 points and six assists off Dallas' bench, which scored 28 points in all...Chandler pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds, while Durant led the Thunder with 12 boards...The Thunder outscored the Mavs at the foul line, 32-14...Harden went 2-for-9 from the field for seven points after exploding for 23 points to spark Oklahoma City in Game 2.

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Game 3 In The Western Finals Finds OKC At Home Against Dallas

(Sports Network) – The Western Conference finals will resume tonight in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder host the Dallas Mavericks in the pivotal Game 3.

Kevin Durant got plenty of help from the bench on Thursday when OKC topped the Mavs, 106-100, in Big D to even the series at a game apiece.

Durant ended with 24 points and was backed by James Harden’s 23, Eric Maynor’s 13 and Nick Collison’s defense on Dirk Nowitzki as Oklahoma City swiped homecourt advantage in the set.

"I was just trying to play off those guys. They really won the game for us," said a humble Durant, whose 40 points went for naught in Game 1.

Nowitzki, fresh off an incredible 48-point effort in the series opener, netted 29 on 10-of-17 shooting, though he missed a key free throw late in the game after making 39 in a row from the foul line, including an NBA record 24 straight in Game 1 on Tuesday,

The loss was Dallas’ first at American Airlines Center this postseason and snapped the club’s franchise record seven-game postseason win streak.

Tyson Chandler pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds but scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half, while Jason Kidd totaled 13 points and seven assists for Dallas.

"We really never got into rhythm offensively," Mavs guard J.J. Barea said. "We started strong but didn’t keep it going. They did a good job defensively."

Despite scoring 18 points in the first three quarters, Russell Westbrook did not play in the fourth for the Thunder as head coach Scott Brooks went unconventional by sticking with his reserves in crunch time.

"I thought [Maynor] did a good job. [Westbrook] is an incredible player. He’s our starting point guard, but we weren’t getting a lot of things done," commented Brooks.

"We had a good lead, playing good defense, we couldn’t mess that chemistry up," explained Durant. "Coach [Brooks] made a good decision … Russell understands that. From a leader that’s what you like to see."

Westbrook did not reveal any hostility after watching the deciding quarter from the bench, after all Oklahoma City became the first NBA team to get at least 50 points from the bench in a road playoff win since Cleveland turned the trick in Washington back in May of 2006.

"Not when we’re winning. I’m good," Westbrook said. "I think as a team we did a good job of staying together."

Westbrook remained calm at practice Sunday.

"He’s [Brooks} the head coach and he makes the decisions on the floor, and he made the best one yesterday," the All-Star said. "My main focus is we got this far because the team is doing well, not if I’m doing good or bad."

The Mavs, meanwhile, hope Game 2 serves as a bit of a wake up call.

"We didn’t deserve to win last night," Chandler said on Sunday. "I’m not going to say a loss is ever good because I never like to lose. It doesn’t do well for my sleep pattern. But you know, sometimes you need to get hit on the chin and get woke up, and last night they hit us on the chin, and hopefully that woke us up.

"We fooled ourselves in the first game because we outscored them so much, we felt like we’ll just throw the ball in to Dirk and watch. "But we can’t do that. We’ve got to play basketball."

Dallas won two of three over Oklahoma City in the regular season. Interestingly, the Mavs won both games in OKC while the Thunder took the lone contest in north Texas. Nowitzki, however, didn’t play in the Thunder win.

The teams have met just twice in the postseason when OKC was based in Seattle but haven’t squared off since 1987. In 1984, Dallas took a first round set while the Sonics returned the favor in ’87.

Game 4 of the series will also be in Oklahoma City on Monday.

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Thunder Downs Mavericks 106-100 In Game Two Of Western Finals

Dallas, TX (Sports Network) - Kevin Durant didn't need to carry Oklahoma City in Game 2, as the league's leading scorer got plenty of help from the Thunder bench to beat the Dallas Mavericks, 106-100, and even the Western Conference finals.

Durant ended with 24 points and was backed by James Harden's 23, Eric Maynor's 13 and Nick Collison's defense on Dirk Nowitzki to send the series back to Oklahoma City tied, 1-1. Game 3 will take place on Saturday.

"I was just trying to play off those guys. They really won the game for us," said a humble Durant, whose 40 points went for naught in Game 1.

Nowitzki, fresh off an incredible 48-point effort in the series opener, netted 29 on 10-of-17 shooting, though he missed a key free throw late in the game after making 39 in a row from the foul line.

The loss was Dallas' first at American Airlines Center this postseason and snapped the club's seven-game win streak.

Despite scoring 18 points in the first three quarters, Russell Westbrook did not play in the fourth as head coach Scott Brooks went with his reserves in crunch time.

Westbrook did not reveal any hostility after watching the deciding quarter from the bench.

"Not when we're winning. I'm good," Westbrook said. "I think as a team we did a good job of staying together."

While Tuesday's showdown was a free throw clinic -- the teams went a combined 71-of-79 from the line -- Thursday's contest was a testament to depth and unconventional coaching decisions.

Westbrook was pulled after committing his fourth turnover and first foul in the final minute of the third quarter. After two Jason Kidd free throws gave the Mavs a 76-73 lead, Harden hinted at a sign of things to come by draining a three-pointer while taking contact from Jason Terry with 7.5 seconds left.

His free throw yielded a one-point advantage, and the Thunder never trailed from there, nor did they go back to their All-Star point guard.

"I thought [Maynor] did a good job. [Westbrook] is an incredible player. He's our starting point guard, but we weren't getting a lot of things done," commented Brooks.

Durant agreed.

"We had a good lead, playing good defense, we couldn't mess that chemistry up," explained Durant. "Coach [Brooks] made a good decision ... Russell understands that. From a leader that's what you like to see."

A major reason they had that good lead was Harden, who began his 10-point fourth quarter with a three and hit another from long range for a 91-87 lead with 7 1/2 minutes remaining.

J.J. Barea, an unlikely catalyst for the Mavs throughout the playoffs, answered with a deep make of his own, but the Thunder responded with 11 of the next 13 points to take a double-digit lead.

In a span of three Mavs possessions during the pivotal stretch, Collison blocked Nowitzki at the basket and picked the German sharpshooter's pocket near the foul line.

The result of the latter turnover saw Harden connect on a long jumper with the shot clock winding down, capping the flurry for a 102-92 cushion with 3:15 remaining.

A pair of Nowitzki baskets and two DeShawn Stevenson free throws pulled Dallas within four with just over a minute to play, but that was as close as it got.

Collison made up for a pair of missed free throws on the previous possession by hitting 2-of-2 for a 104-98 lead. Then he fouled Nowitzki shooting a three the next time down.

Nowitzki, who set an NBA record by hitting all 24 of his free throws on Tuesday, failed to make it a one-possession game when he missed his second attempt.

The Mavs, down 104-100, still had a chance by forcing a shot clock violation with 12.7 seconds to go, but Peja Stojakovic missed a quick three, and the Thunder held on from there.

"We really never got into rhythm offensively," Barea said. "We started strong but didn't keep it going. They did a good job defensively."

The final stanza was much different than the first, when the Thunder came out sluggish.

Kidd and Tyson Chandler hooked up on back-to-back alley-oops to end a string of 10 straight Mavericks points midway through the opening frame.

The dunks gave the hosts a 21-11 lead, and Dallas led by as many as 11 before the Thunder awoke from their slumber with a rare highlight-reel take to the hole by Durant. Best known for his perimeter prowess, Durant drove the right side of the lane and challenged Brendan Haywood, skying over the seven-footer for a "slam" -- he released the ball just short of the rim -- while getting knocked to the ground.

Effectively sparked, Oklahoma City eventually trimmed its deficit to 31-26 by the end of the first and scored 10 consecutive points early in the second to take a 40-35 lead on a Daequan Cook three-pointer three minutes in.

The teams traded punches from there, and Westbrook drained a three in the final minute of the half for a 59-57 cushion at the break.

The Mavs did not allow 100 or more points in any of their first 10 playoff games. They have done so in both games this series...The Thunder also lost Game 1 of their quarterfinal series with the Grizzlies before pulling it out in seven games. They have not lost two in a row this postseason...Chandler pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds and scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half...Kidd totaled 13 points and seven assists...After turning the ball over 13 times in the first three quarters, Oklahoma City had just two in the final 12 minutes...The Thunder shot 56 percent overall, compared to Dallas' 44 percent performance.

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Heat Bounce Back With D; Even Series With Bulls 85-75

Chicago, IL (Sports Network) - LeBron James scored nine of his 29 points in the closing minutes, but it was the Heat's defense that allowed them to beat the Bulls, 85-75, and even their Eastern Conference Finals series.

Miami limited Chicago to just two points in the final seven minutes, closing the game on a 12-2 run overall. And the Bulls' only points in that stretch came on a well contested layup by Taj Gibson.

The suffocating effort sits in stark contrast to the series opener three days ago, when Chicago ended the game on a 46-24 run to come away with a 103-82 victory. It also puts Miami in position to grab the series advantage Sunday at home in Game 3.

James pulled down 10 rebounds while Dwyane Wade had 24 points and nine boards for the Heat, markedly better performances than Game 1, when they combined for 33 points.

"They respond and often play their best when their back is against the wall, under adversity," said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Miami also got 13 points and five rebounds off the bench from Udonis Haslem, who played for just over 23 minutes in his biggest performance of the postseason.

Derrick Rose had 21 points, eight assists and six boards for the Bulls, but made just seven of his 23 shots -- shots he said he would normally make.

"I think I was just missing shots or flipping the ball up, not going strong (to the basket)," Rose said. "It was just one of those nights."

However, it was also Miami's defense, which played a big part in limiting the MVP to just two points in the fourth quarter.

As lopsided as the final result was, Chicago was still in the game with 7:16 to go, when Gibson dunked to make it a 73-73 game. But the final result also was an indication of how dominant the Heat were down the stretch.

After a series of missed shots, James broke the deadlock with a three-pointer, then used a pump-fake to knock down a jumper from the right elbow with 3:15 on the clock.

Bulls sharpshooter Kyle Korver had a three-pointer rim out at the other end, and after James was called for traveling, Gibson was credited with a layup. He went up for the basket against three Miami defenders, and the ball appeared to drop through the netting after it hit the back of Joel Anthony's hand.

It pulled Chicago within a possession, but the Bulls didn't score the rest of the game against Miami's defense.

Luol Deng drove toward the right side of the basket before James knocked the ball away, giving the Heat a chance to put the game away. James took advantage, grabbing his own rebound to knock down a short put-back jumper and extend Miami's lead to 82-75.

After Wade blocked Rose's jumper, James secured the victory with a fall-away from just above the foul line with 47.3 seconds to go.

"You've got to give them credit, their defense was outstanding," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "They fought us; their ball pressure was great."

The Bulls held the lead after the first quarter despite missing a number of shots early. They grabbed seven offensive rebounds to generate some second chances, and also had success penetrating the paint late in the period.

Deng closed the quarter by drilling a shot from several yards beyond halfcourt, making it a 26-19 game.

But the Heat closed the gap shortly into the second quarter, when they scored six points in less than a minute. Wade had four, including a dunk off an alley-oop from James to tie the contest at 32.

Miami carried a 48-46 edge into the break, then built its lead up to 11 in the third quarter after having success in the paint. The Heat brought a 71-65 advantage into the fourth quarter, but it quickly disappeared after Gibson opened the period with a pair of jumpers.

Neither team shot well from three-point range. Chicago made 3-of-20 from beyond the arc, while Miami was 3-of-13...The Bulls made 34 percent of their shots overall...Deng finished with 13 points...Haslem, who missed most of the regular season with a foot injury, hadn't played more than 4:12 in two previous games during the playoffs...Chris Bosh had 10 points and eight boards for Miami.

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Bulls Entertain Miami With Chance To Go Up 2-0 In Eastern Finals

(Sports Network) – LeBron James certainly looked relieved when he was finally able to exorcise a demon called the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

But maybe the real demon in James’ life is Tom Thibodeau, the current head coach of the Chicago Bulls and a former assistant in Boston when the C’s gave the former MVP fits.

James and his Miami teammates will hope to bounce back from a drubbing at the hands of Thibodeau and top-seeded Chicago when the Eastern Conference finals resume at the United Center on Wednesday.

Derrick Rose scored 28 points while Luol Deng had 21 and played lockdown defense on James as the Bulls pulled away for a 103-82 win over the Heat in Game 1 on Sunday.

"We took it on the chin," sighed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

Miami had a one-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, but the Bulls ended the game on a 46-24 run, showing up as the better team on both sides of the court and firing the opening salvo in this anticipated series.

"We got a little bit of a cushion," said Thibodeau, the NBA’s Coach of the Year. "Then our defense picked up."

Chris Bosh scored 30 to lead the second-seeded Heat, but Chicago held Dwyane Wade to 18 points and James to just 15. The Big Three’s 63 points were matched by Rose, Deng and Carlos Boozer, who scored 14 for the Bulls.

Although only three Bulls scored in double figures, they got help from all over. Especially from second-year big man Taj Gibson. The reserve forward provided a spark at both ends, dunking on Wade in the first half and blocking James on a drive in the second. Though he scored just nine points, Gibson also provided the game with its signature moment.

Leaping for a rebound in front, his right arm stretched back 45 degrees, Gibson threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk for the last of Chicago’s 103 points.

"There’s wins and losses in the playoffs, and nothing else," said Spoelstra.

It started on defense for Chicago. The Bulls held Miami to just 13 field goals in the second half, and they did it cleanly. The Heat, with slashing scorers like Wade and James, didn’t even get to the foul line in the third quarter.

"We have to get better," said Spoelstra, "and we’ll make those adjustments."

While they took care of business on the defensive end, the Bulls used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to take control of a red-hot Miami team fresh off a five-game victory over battle-tested Boston in the semis.

Armed with a 19-point lead late in the game, Thibodeau took Rose, the reigning league MVP, out of the game with 2:14 left. After sweeping the Heat in a three-game series during the regular season, the Bulls pushed their advantage to 4-0.

"We just believe in each other," said Deng. "I think that’s what’s making us a great team this year."

To rebound tonight, Miami will have to find a way to score in transition and that means doing a better job on the backboards. The Heat were outrebounded by a gaudy 45-33 margin in Game 1.

"We’ve been able to bounce back this year no matter if it’s been the regular season or the postseason," said James on Tuesday. "Learn from mistakes in the previous game and then move on. We’ve done that. We’re looking forward to the challenge, we’re excited about tomorrow’s opportunity to be here and try to steal homecourt."

James will also need to find a better way to deal with Thibodeau’s vaunted defensive schemes that rely on Deng’s perimeter skills along with weakside help coming from a host of lengthy players like Joakim Noah and Gibson.

"You got be patient," James said. "It’s harder to attack on the front side of their defense because they load on the strong side. You’ve got to be able to get the ball from one side to another and then attack their defense. They got a lot of length and athleticism."

That’s easier said than done since Chicago outrebounded opponents by an NBA- best 5.74 per game this season and are the top defense team left standing. Still, Thibodeau doesn’t want his club resting on its press clippings.

"Miami’s been a good ball-movement team all year," Thibodeau said. "They have players that when the ball comes back to them, they can go one-on-one. That’s what makes them so dangerous and tough to guard."

The Bulls swept a three-game season series with Miami this season, taking two in the Windy City and another in South Beach. All three contests were won by razor-thin margins, however, with Chicago winning by three, four and one, magnifying the Heat’s biggest weakness in the regular season, the inability to close out tight games.

The clubs have met in the postseason five previous times with Chicago taking four of those sets. The Bulls swept Miami in the first round in the 1992, ’96 and 2007 playoffs. Chicago also took the Heat in five games in the ’97 East finals while Miami earned a six-game triumph over the Bulls in the first round of the ’06 postseason. Overall, Chicago is now 17-5 against the Heat in the postseason.

Game 3 in the series will be Sunday in Miami.

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Dallas Shakes Off Rust To Beat OKC In Game 1 Of West Finals, 121-112

Dallas, TX (Sports Network) – Dirk Nowitzki outdueled Kevin Durant, scoring 48 points on just 15 shots Tuesday to lead the Mavericks over the Thunder, 121-112, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Two days after an emotional Game 7 win over Memphis, the Thunder had no answer on defense for the 7-foot Nowitzki, who scored 27 of his points in the second half and set an NBA playoff record by hitting all 24 of his free throws.

"I thought Dirk was pretty good," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, tongue planted firmly in his cheek. "He’s been doing it for many years against a lot of good players.

"He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at that position offensively. A lot of shots you don’t think he has a chance to make, but he does."

But it wasn’t just Nowitzki.

Late in the game, Oklahoma City struggled to guard the 6-foot J.J. Barea, who poured in 12 straight points to help Dallas build a 15-point lead.

Durant scored 40 in the game, hitting a pair of free throws after he was fouled hard by Nowitzki on a break to get the Thunder within five points at the end of a 10-0 run.

"We made it a game. We just have to keep pushing," said Durant.

But with fresh legs from an eight-day layoff they earned by sweeping the Lakers, the Mavs held on down the stretch. They got eight points from Nowitzki in the final 2 1/2 minutes and won their franchise-record seventh straight playoff game.

"I was in the gym a lot every night and it paid off," Nowitzki said of Dallas’ layoff. "I looked for my shot a lot early and was able to get into a good rhythm."

Game 2 is Thursday in Dallas.

Jason Terry had 24 points off the bench for the third-seeded Mavs and Barea, also a reserve, scored 21 in just 16 minutes. But Nowitzki carried the team most of the way. He was 12-of-15 from the floor and set the league postseason record for free throws without a miss.

"That’s part of his greatness. He’s so good, that in an effort to prevent him from getting the ball he draws fouls," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "That kind of number is possible, but there are very few guys in the league who can do that.

"Unfortunately for us, one of the other guys is Durant."

The NBA’s leading scorer each of the past two years, Durant went 10-for-18 from the field and was almost as good as Nowitzki at the line, missing just one of his 19 foul shots.

But guard Russell Westbrook, although he scored 20 points, went 3-for-15 shooting and had just three assists for the fourth-seeded Thunder.

They took 43 foul shots, making 37, while the Mavs made 34 of their 36 attempts in a game that was more stop-and-start than a rush hour traffic jam.

"This series is going to be in large part about the free throw line," said Carlisle. "We were fortunate tonight. We had a lot of loose possessions that we’re going to have to clean up."

The Mavs went on a 16-1 run near the end of the second quarter to build a seven-point lead at halftime and pushed it to double digits in the third quarter.

If the series comes down to a scoring battle between Nowitzki and Durant, then Round 1 went to the Mavs forward. Scoring early and often, he rarely missed.

Nowitzki pump-faked tough defender Kendrick Perkins, then knocked down a jumper over James Harden to give Dallas a 75-64 lead in the third. Brooks drew a technical foul and Nowitzki made the free throw for a 12-point lead.

Nowitzki pushed the lead to 15 moments later and the Mavs took a 90-79 advantage into the fourth, where they found a spark from their smallest player on the floor.

Barea scored 12 straight points for the Mavs, including a three-pointer and step-back jumper that gave them a 104-89 lead inside seven minutes. Overall, the Dallas bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 53-22.

"Those guys have gotta be ready for anything," said Carlisle — and Barea showed up at exactly the right time. With All-Stars Durant and Westbrook running the show, the Thunder can never be counted out.

"They were always right there," said Nowitzki. "The main thing is we were able to find a win."

The Mavs opened the game on a 10-3 run, but Oklahoma City controlled the last eight minutes of the first quarter. Durant went 5-for-5 and scored 13 points, guiding the Thunder to a 27-20 lead heading into the second.

They went up by nine, but Dallas followed with a 9-0 run capped by Terry’s three-pointer and four straight points from Nowitzki to tie the game.

Terry and Peja Stojakovic buried three-pointers during the Mavs’ 16-1 run later in the quarter, which gave them a 55-46 lead. They were ahead 55-48 at halftime behind Nowitzki’s 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Durant scored 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting.

Dallas forward Shawn Marion was the only player who fouled out…Asked why Nowitzki is so tough to guard, Durant answered simply: "He’s a 7-foot jumpshooter." Brooks said: "We have to do a better job of guarding him. Hopefully he misses a shot here or there."

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Thunder In Texas As OKC Heads To Dallas For Game 1 Of Western Finals

The Oklahoma City Thunder invade the Lone Star State tonight for game one of their Western Conference Final against the Dallas Mavericks at 9 p.m. eastern time.

Dallas has not played since completing a sweep of the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers on May 8, and thus the Mavericks will be well rested, But could that translate into some rust against the Thunder, who have just come off of a hard-fought seven game series with the Memphis Grizzlies?

We will find out beginning tonight.

Here is a link via NBA.com to a complete preview of this game between two teams separated only by Interstate 35, and which are closer together than are Cleveland and Cincinnati, to give some perspective to just how special this series could end up being.

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2011 NBA Playoffs Update: Bulls Hammer Heat In Second Half To Capture Game 1 Going Away, 103-82

Chicago, IL (Sports Network) – Derrick Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng had 21 and the Chicago Bulls locked down on defense Sunday while pulling away for a 103-82 win over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

“We took it on the chin,” sighed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

He said it.

Miami had a one-point lead with 7 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, but the Bulls ended the game on a 46-24 run, showing up as the better team on both sides of the court and firing the opening salvo in this anticipated series.

“We got a little bit of a cushion,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Then our defense picked up.”

Chris Bosh scored 30 to lead the second-seeded Heat, but top-seeded Chicago held Dwyane Wade to 18 points and LeBron James to just 15. Their 63 points were matched by Rose, Deng and Carlos Boozer, who scored 14 for the Bulls.

Game 2 is Wednesday in Chicago.

Although only three Bulls scored in double figures, they got help from all over.

Especially from Taj Gibson.

The reserve forward provided a spark at both ends, dunking on Wade in the first half and blocking James on a drive in the second. Though he scored just nine points, Gibson also provided the game with its signature moment.

Leaping for a rebound in front, his right arm stretched back 45 degrees, Gibson threw down a thunderous one-handed dunk for the last of Chicago’s 103 points.

“There’s wins and losses in the playoffs, and nothing else,” said Spoelstra, opening his post-game press conference with a comment probably meant to contradict the truth of what the game turned out to be.

A rout.

It started on defense. The Bulls held Miami to just 13 field goals in the second half, and they did it cleanly. The Heat, with slashing scorers like Wade and James, didn’t even get to the foul line in the third quarter.

“We have to get better,” said Spoelstra, “and we’ll make those adjustments.”

While they took care of business on the defensive end, the Bulls used a 10-0 run in the third quarter to take control of a red-hot Miami team fresh off a five-game victory over battle-tested Boston in the semis.

Rose and Keith Bogans provided the spark with back-to-back three-pointers to make it 63-58. Rose scored five points during the burst, which gave the Bulls a 67-58 lead.

Gibson grabbed an offensive rebound and hit Deng with a pass at the top of the arc for a three-pointer that kept Chicago’s lead at nine points, 72-63, heading into the fourth.

The Bulls kept their foot on the pedal, only letting their lead dip into single digits briefly after James hit a three-pointer early in the quarter.

Later, Rose was fouled hard as he drove for a layup on the left side. He knocked down both free throws and later buried a long jumper after Miami had quickly cut the deficit from 17 to 12 with six minutes remaining.

The reigning MVP wasn’t done, either. After Kyle Korver hit a three-pointer, Rose pushed harder, driving for a one-handed bank shot on the right side that made it 97-80 with 4:12 remaining.

Armed with a 19-point lead, Thibodeau took his star guard out of the game with 2:14 left. After sweeping the Heat in a three-game series during the regular season, the Bulls pushed their advantage to 4-0.

“We just believe in each other,” said Deng. “I think that’s what’s making us a great team this year.”

The Heat led by as many as eight points in the first quarter — Bosh’s layup to make it 19-11 was the biggest lead in the half — and carried a 23-20 edge into the second.

Gibson threw down a two-handed dunk on Wade, rocking the rim despite getting hit in the face, and completed the three-point play to tie the game at 25-25 early in the second quarter.

Later, Deng halted a 7-0 Heat run with a three-pointer in the corner, and the game was tied 48-48 at halftime.

The Bulls were 10-for-21 on three-pointers, while Miami went 3-for-8…Chicago beat Indiana and Atlanta to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1998, when Michael Jordan won the last of his six NBA titles…The Bulls are 4-1 in playoff series against the Heat, including a win in the 1997 conference finals. Overall, Chicago is now 17-5 against the Heat in 22 postseason games.

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2011 NBA Playoffs Update: Chicago Bulls Take on LeBron and the Heat For Eastern Conference Supremacy

Every game this season between the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls was a nail biter, to say the least. They were physical battles, and that should be expected to continue as the two teams take each other on in the Eastern Conference Finals, which begin at 7 PM Sunday night.

The Chicago Bulls boast the league’s best defense and are one of the top rebounding teams in the NBA, especially on the offensive glass. The Heat have a high powered transition attack with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and have three elite level weapons offensively. This promises to be a great series, and could be one of the best rivalries in the NBA for years to come.

It’s been easy for people to hate the Miami Heat all year long. They are quietly one of the “cockiest” teams in the NBA. At the same time, the Bulls are one of the most humble teams in the NBA, and I don’t think there has ever been a more quiet MVP run by a single player, and a more quiet 62 win season in recent NBA history. This is a team that simply dominates defensively, and people continue to say that Rose is the only offensive option Chicago has to fall back on.

Well, in some ways, that is true. Rose is a playmaker and when the ball is in his hands, he is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. He is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic scoring point guards the NBA has ever seen, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls have no other options. Luol Deng is the model of consistency offensively, netting 18-20 points on a given night while shutting down his opponent defensively as the heart and soul of the Bulls’ top ranked defense.

Carlos Boozer has had a rough couple of series in the playoffs so far, but people continue to lose sight of the fact that he was almost always a 20 and 10 guy in the regular season before suffering a turf toe injury that has really hampered him.

Not only that, but the Bulls have Kyle Korver coming off the bench, and Miami Heat fans know about him all too well at this point. Korver hit a game winning three against the Heat earlier this season, and has the most fourth quarter threes of any player in the NBA this season.

The Bulls are not a flashy offensive team like the Heat, but they get offensive rebounds better than most teams, are consistent, and as good as their defense is, you can really never count them out of games.

The Heat are going to have their hands full, but the same is true for the Bulls. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are two of the better scorers in the NBA, so the Bulls will have to focus in on stopping one of them, because I still do not believe the Heat have the front line to contend with the Bulls. The Bulls will also be able to use Derrick Rose in help defense, because unlike the Hawks and Pacers, the Heat do not have a point guard capable of taking Rose to the hole at any given time.

My initial projection was a Bulls-Thunder NBA Finals, and I’m sticking to that prediction, though I think the Heat will certainly give the Bulls a fantastic series. They are one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and are going to be a tough out. Miami has yet to beat Chicago this season, but both teams are very good at home. This is a series that could easily go six or seven games.

With as good as the Bulls play at home, I’m going to say they are the favorites to take game one, especially with the revamped offensive game of Carlos Boozer, who has a chip on his shoulder in this series, to be sure. Boozer’s first option this offseason according to some reports was to play for the Heat, but they opted against him. Boozer had a huge game in the Bulls’ series clinching win over Atlanta, and if he continues to play like that, the Bulls are going to be hard to slow down offensively.

For the Bulls defensively, you have to limit the Heat in transition. They are one of the best teams in the NBA in the open floor, and the Bulls will have to be ready. This promises to be an excellent series, and one that I think the Bulls will win in six or seven.

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2011 NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies Roar Back In Second Half To Silence Thunder; Game 7 Sunday In OKC

Memphis, TN (Sports Network) – Zach Randolph had 30 points and 13 rebounds and the Memphis Grizzlies staved off elimination Friday with a 95-83 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals.

"It ain’t over yet," said Memphis coach Lionel Hollins.

Indeed, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies evened the series at 3-3, pulling away in the fourth quarter of a seesaw contest to force Game 7 in Oklahoma City on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook scored 27 to pace the Thunder, but Kevin Durant got into foul trouble early and was held to just 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting.

"You’re not going to see a lot of games like you did tonight," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said of Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons. "He’s one of the best at bouncing back. I’m expecting a better game."

The fourth-seeded Thunder led by as many as 13 points, but couldn’t hold off a Grizzlies team fighting for its season in front of a hopeful home crowd looking for a diversion from the recent floods in Memphis.

The lead changed hands six times, but never after O.J. Mayo’s layup put Memphis ahead 67-65 with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter. The Grizzlies had to overcome a 10-point halftime deficit to even get into that position.

They took a 72-68 lead into the fourth quarter and steadily padded it. Randolph made two free throws to push it to nine points with 5:13 to play, and Randolph and Mayo both knocked down jumpers to keep it there in the following minutes.

With Durant flashing none of his scoring prowess at the other end — he was scoreless in the fourth — and Westbrook unable to keep the Thunder in the game by himself, Mike Conley’s layup for a 90-79 lead inside two minutes was a dagger.

The Grizzlies pushed their lead as high as 13 points down the stretch. Mayo finished with 16 points, while Conley scored 11 with a franchise playoff- record 12 assists.

"This is where we want to be, playing Game 7. It’s going to be tough to win that game in Oklahoma City, but we believe we can do it," said Randolph.

Hounded by Shane Battier all game, Durant went just 1-of-10 in the second half as Memphis took control of the game. Nine of his 14 shots were three-point attempts (1-for-9) and he finished with five fouls.

"I felt good. I felt like the ball was going to come back around so I was being patient. But the shots weren’t falling," said Durant.

The Grizzlies, after picking up their first playoff win and knocking off top- seeded San Antonio in the first round, are just one win away from becoming the first No. 8 seed to reach the Western Conference finals.

"This is what it’s all about. This is what we play for," said Randolph.

The Thunder, three seasons into their relocation to Oklahoma City, are on the brink of the franchise’s first conference finals since 1996, when the Seattle Sonics beat Utah in seven games before losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.

The teams are vying for the chance to play the Dallas Mavericks, who swept the Lakers in the other conference semifinal.

"We’ll leave it all on the floor in Game 7," said Durant.

Little went the Thunder’s way in a sloppy first quarter. They committed seven turnovers, including four in the first two minutes, and Durant picked up his second foul on a charge just under 4 1/2 minutes into the game.

Despite that, they led by as many as seven points until a 9-0 Memphis run, highlighted by Conley’s game-tying three, pushed the Grizzlies ahead. The Grizzlies led by as many as six — a 13-point turnaround — but it was 23-21 Thunder heading into the second.

Westbrook took over, scoring nine of his 15 first-half points in the second quarter to guide the Thunder to a 54-44 lead at the break. They led by as many as 13 points in the quarter at the end of a 17-5 run sparked by seven points from Westbrook.

Memphis started the third quarter on an 11-2 run to get within 56-55.

The Mississippi River crested far above flood stage earlier in the week, flooding northern parts of Memphis…During the Grizzlies’ first quarter run, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Randolph all received technical fouls on the same play. Westbrook was whistled for a shove on Battier after Ibaka and Randolph got physical under the Memphis basket…Ibaka had eight points for Oklahoma City, while James Harden scored 14 off the bench.

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It's A Dream Eastern Finals Match-up As Bulls Beat Hawks To Advance To Face Heat

Atlanta, GA (Sports Network) – The Chicago Bulls are heading back to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1998. This time around, it’s Derrick Rose leading the charge instead of Michael Jordan.

Rose, the reigning NBA MVP, scored 19 points and dished out 12 assists, as the Bulls handled the Atlanta Hawks, 93-73, in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.

Selected to the All-NBA First Team earlier on Thursday, Rose helped the Bulls improve to 13-1 all-time in playoff series in which they have led 3-2 after five games.

The last time Chicago found itself in the conference finals, Jordan was leading the Bulls to their third straight NBA title and sixth overall.

Rose and the top-seeded Bulls will face the Miami Heat in the conference finals. The Heat took down the Celtics in five games to advance. Game 1 is set for Sunday in Chicago.

"We’re happy to get to the conference finals," Rose said. "But we’re not planning to stop right there."

Carlos Boozer finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls, who tipped the series in their favor with a 95-83 victory in Game 5 on Tuesday.

Joe Johnson and Josh Smith had 19 and 18 points, respectively, for the fifth- seeded Hawks, who shot just 36.5 percent from the field.

The Bulls took an early lead and never looked back. A 7-0 Chicago flurry late in the first quarter gave the visitors a 27-15 lead. The margin was 10, 27-17, heading to second.

Holding a 35-25 edge midway through the second, the Bulls ripped off seven straight points. Boozer’s jumper, Joakim Noah’s three-point play and Luol Deng’s jumper made it 42-25 with under 4 1/2 minutes to go.

It seemed like Chicago was ready to run away with it, but Atlanta made things interesting at the end of the half. Smith was fouled on a one-handed alley-oop jam and made his free throw. Zaza Pachulia then added a free throw before the break to get the Hawks within 45-35.

Ahead 56-45 midway through the third, Chicago essentially put the game away with a 7-1 spurt. A Keith Bogans trey and Boozer’s jumper gave the Bulls a 63-46 margin with 4 1/2 minutes left.

Omer Asik’s three-point play and Boozer’s two free throws later in the period made it a 70-51 game.

Chicago took a 70-53 lead into the fourth and cruised to victory in the final frame.

"They just got on a roll," Johnson said. "Boozer probably had his best game that he has played all series. You have to give them credit."

Hawks guard Jeff Teague left the game briefly in the second quarter after falling hard to the floor. He came back with a sprained right wrist and ended with four points…Deng and Noah had 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the Bulls, who shot 53.2 percent from the field…Jordan won six NBA titles with the Bulls (1991-1993, 1996-1998)

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Boston Beat By The Heat; OKC Closes In On West Finals

The Miami Heat sealed the deal Wednesday night by suffocating the Boston Celtics down the stretch to win in Miami, 97-87, eliminating the Celtics in five games, while out West, the Oklahoma City Thunder made sure there would be no marathon fifth game by crushing the Memphis Grizzlies in Oklahoma, 99-72, to take a three-games-to-two lead in their series.

Boston led Miami 87-81 with less than five minutes to play, but the Heat closed the game on a 16-0 run to give LeBron James the win that eluded him last year with Cleveland.

Bully for him.

Dwyane Wade scored 34 and James scored 33 — including the last 10 points of the game — to set up an Eastern Conference Finals with either the Atlanta Hawks or the Chicago Bulls.

The Hawks and Bulls play in Atlanta on Thursday night.

Out west, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were both able to sit out the fourth quarter as the Thunder produced a laugher after the epic triple-overtime affair between the Thunder and the Grizzlies on Monday.

After Memphis fought their way to a tie at 17 after 12 minutes, Oklahoma City jumped ahead by eleven at the half at 46-35 and pretty much put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Grizzlies 25-17 to lead by 19 entering the final period, and cruising from there.

Game Six in the series will be back in Memphis on Friday night as the Thunder look to move on to a Western Finals date with the well-rested Dallas Mavericks.

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Bulls Move To Cusp Of Conference Finals, Put Hawks On Brink Of Elimination

Needing to win to avoid going back to Atlanta down three-games-to-two, the Chicago Bulls clamped down on defense in the fourth quarter last night in Chicago and outscored the Hawks 26-15 in the final stanza to retain home-court advantage with a 95-83 victory that puts the Bulls one win from the Eastern Conference Finals.

Derrick Rose led the way for Chicago with 33, while Taj Gibson scored 11 in the fourth quarter to give the Bulls an unexpected boost. Luol Deng added 23 points, and the Chicago D made a one-point lead after three look like a laugher on the scoreboard by game’s end.

The Bulls pulled away from a 70-69 lead early in the fourth when they ran off nine straight points, and when Atlanta got back to within six, Chicago scored another eight straight, and it was all over.

Jeff Teague lead five Hawks in double-figures with 21, but Atlanta went only 1-of-12 from downtown and was outscored 21-14 from the line. In a playoff game, those are the things that get you defeated, and now the Hawks have to win in Atlanta on Thursday or their season will be over.

As for the Bulls, they are just that one win away from doing what they have not done since the days of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

It is safe to say that Chicago is ready.

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2011 NBA Playoffs: Bulls and Hawks Face Off in Tie-Breaking Game Five

It’s been a season of consistency for Chicago. That is, until they got to the playoffs. Ever since the Bulls took the court in game one of the Indiana series, something has been way off and they have been unimpressive compared to the way they had played the first 82 games of the season.

One reason the Bulls have struggled so much is because they are so inconsistent offensively. They have had problems turning the ball over as well as simply hitting shots, and in the three games they have lost (6-3 so far in the playoffs), they have been absolutely terrible offensively. This is a team that clearly relies on the limbs of MVP Derrick Rose, which makes sense, otherwise he wouldn’t be the league MVP.

Rose is one of the toughest players in the league, but both he and Carlos Boozer have been dinged up. Joakim Noah also was dinged at the start of the playoffs, so the Bulls have really not had a fully healthy compliment of players up to this point. They seem to be running on fumes at times, but when they are on, boy can they make teams look silly.

That has been the case for two of their four games against the Hawks, but the Hawks have stood their ground. While home court is still in the Bulls’ favor, Atlanta came in game one and showed the Bulls they are not afraid to grit their teeth and grind out a victory on the road.

Atlanta is a team that is capable of big things, especially with their scoring prowess off the bench. Jeff Teague has been a huge spark of energy for these guys, and in their two wins, Joe Johnson has been white hot from the field. The Bulls have done a good job of playing defense on this guy, but they really need to step it up in game five if they are going to take a 3-2 series lead back to Atlanta.

Both teams have good things going for them, and both have depth on the bench, which is why this is such an even keeled series. I think the Bulls know how important this game five is at home, and they are the best home team in the NBA, only losing there six times all season long. The Bulls have the best closer in the game, and probably the best defensive team left in the playoffs. I think Tuesday night’s game is a statement game for the Bulls, though fans will take any type of win they can get.

For the Hawks, the key is going to be limiting the Bulls’ outside shooting like they did in games one and four. Not only that, but the Hawks have to be efficient offensively, because the Bulls love to play those close, low scoring games, because their defense is so stout. I thought Chicago would take this series in five or six, so I’ll stick to that prediction and say the Bulls string together two in a row.

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2011 NBA Playoffs Update: Miami Goes Home Up 3-1, OKC Beats Memphis In Epic To Tie Series

The Miami Heat are one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies played into early morning on Monday night before the Thunder tied their Western Conference series at 2-2.

The Heat held Boston to 13 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a four-point deficit after three, then outscored the Celtics 12-4 in overtime to go up 3-1 in their series with a 98-90 victory.

Miami only had three scorers in double-figures, and — predictably — it was their Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh.

LeBron led the way for the Heat with 35 points to go with 14 rebounds, while Dwyane Wade went 28 and nine. Chris Bosh added 12 rebounds and 20 points to push the Celtics to the brink of elimination.

This one could have gone Boston’s way, as the Celtics had the ball for the final possession of regulation, but could not convert on a shot that rimmed out at the buzzer from Paul Pierce.

Miami owned the overtime, giving Wade his first win in 12 games in Boston, and James just his third win in 16 games.

Out west, Memphis led by 18, fell behind by ten in the fourth quarter, then tied the game on a 3-pointer from Mike Conley to get to the first overtime.

In that first overtime, Greivis Vasquez hit another three to force another five minutes, and in double OT Marc Gasol led the way for Memphis to keep the game going into triple overtime.

But then Oklahoma City took charge as the game passed midnight, outscoring Memphis 14-4 and scoring the final ten points of the game.

Zach Randolph led the Grizzlies with 34 while Kevin Durant scored 35. This series moves back to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night for Game Five with the winner going up 3-2 in the series.

Miami will be looking to eliminate Boston on Wednesday in Florida, but even should the Celtics win on Wednesday, they would have to win in Boston and again in Miami to move on.

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2011 NBA Playoffs Update: Can Celtics Catch The Heat? Will Thunder Scare The Grizzlies?

The NBA playoffs enter a new week with two games on Monday night, both of which are crucial fourth games. At least one of those games will be filled with back-story as well.

The Miami Heat take on the Boston Celtics at 7 p.m. in Boston with the Heat holding a two-games-to-one lead in the series. Needless to say there would be enough drama surrounding that game, but that drama will be amped up with the uncertainty of whether the Celtics' Rajon Rondo will be able to play after being pulled to the floor by Dwyane Wade on Saturday and suffering a horrid elbow injury.

Rondo came back from that injury and contributed down the stretch as Boston got back into the series with a 97-81 win, but Boston also saw Delonte West get dinged up, and West's availability might be limited on Monday.

Obviously the Celtics need this game, to avoid having to go back to Miami looking at a possible elimination. But it is safe to say that the Heat need this game as well. Losing two in a row to Boston would energize the Celtics to the point where the Celtics might be able to go to the Heat's home court and steal a Game Five against LeBron and Company.

After all, we all know that Boston is capable of winning a Game Five on the road against a LeBron James team. We remember it all too well, even if we are now pulling for the Celtics.

Out west, the Oklahoma City Thunder need to bounce back from their stunning fourth-quarter collapse and overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, which game the eight-seed Griz the lead in their series, two-games-to-one.

Of course the situation is not quite as critical for the Thunder in Game Four, except for that intangible known as momentum. Even should they fall behind 3-1 to Memphis, OKC would be returning home for Game Five and would also have a potential Game Seven at home. But when a team is not expected to win and then suddenly is winning, who knows what can happen?

Ask the Lakers. I am sure that they could tell you all about it -- hopefully not right before they planted an elbow in your chest and tried to maim you, as Andrew Bynum did to J.J. Barea yesterday when it was clear that the Mavericks were going to sweep Phil Jackson into NBA history.

It should be an interesting Monday night on the courts. And what would make it an exceptional night would be Rajon Rondo playing, and the Celtics sending LeBron to the locker room with a scowl and a sick feeling in his stomach as he ponders another Game Five in a series tied at 2-2 against the team that ended his 2009-10.

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2011 NBA Playoffs Update: Mavericks Take 3-0 Lead On Lakers, Bulls Take Game Three

The Dallas Mavericks are one win away from sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers. No, you did not read that wrong.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs are playing their best basketbal of the year, and not only did they go on the road in games one and two and absolutely undress the Lakers on their home floor, they made a huge fourth quarter comeback, ignited the home crowd, and took game three to take a 3-0 series lead over the mighty Lakers.

In case you have not heard it 100 times already, no NBA team has ever come back from being down this kind of deficit. The Lakers are certainly a team capable of putting together four straight wins, but the Mavericks are playing to well right now, and they have a chance to close this thing out at home.

I find it hard to believe the Lakers will not win at least one game in this series, as I said on my radio show on Friday, but I also said that the Mavs would take game three. I think the Mavericks are playing some of the best complimentary basketball in the league, and Jason Kidd proved that last night when he went back to the junior high days and told Jason Terry that he was going to box out Pau Gasol who was shooting free throws. Gasol was trying to miss on purpose so the Lakers could keep the game alive, but Kidd stepped right in front of Gasol, stole the ball away, and nailed the coffin with two free throws.

The Mavs are playing really well right now, and the Lakers’ age and depth is really catching up to them. You tend to ignore those kinds of things on a team led by Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson, but it’s extremely relevant right now. They look slow, and even though the Mavs aren’t exactly a youthful team like the Grizzlies or Thunder, they are clearly a more athletic squad than the Lakers, and are most certainly deeper off the bench.

In Atlanta, the Chicago Bulls came into Phillips Arena and made the Hawks’ game one victory look like a complete fluke, and perhaps it was.

In game one, the Hawks were shooting lights out, especially from three point range. Joe Johnson couldn’t miss, Jeff Teague couldn’t miss, and Jamal Crawford was hitting big shots. Teague has continued to play very well offensively, but Johnson and Crawford have been a huge disappointment for Atlanta.

Derrick Rose had 44 points last night for the Bulls, and showed the entire nation of NBA fans why he was named the MVP. Rose had a bounce back in his step that he has not had since before he injured his ankle, and man did he explode on Friday night.

If the Hawks went under a screen for Rose, he would knock down a long range jumper or a three. If they took him over, he would simply burn anyone that tried to guard him and made some of the most acrobatic plays of this season in the paint.

Rose and the Bulls were again white hot from three point range. Deng, Bogans, and Korver combined for six of the Bulls’ 10 three pointers, and Rose hit four of his own. When Rose is hitting outside shots, the Bulls are nearly impossible to beat, but perhaps even more interesting is the story of shooting guard Keith Bogans.

If you have not heard this before, it is absolutely wild. When Bogans does not have six points, the Bulls have lost 20 total games this season including the playoffs. They have lost 22 overall. Is Bogans the X-factor for this Bulls offense? Perhaps not, but whenever he is hitting threes, it seems the Bulls are more likely to win, whether it’s by crazy coincidence or not.

Just as I had predicted, Carlos Boozer saw a significant decrease in minutes on Friday night, and for good reason. Boozer was better from the field, shooting 3-of-6 for 6 points, but he also again had three turnovers, which is unacceptable.

What can the Bulls do to off-set this slump by Boozer? Plop him right on the bench. Taj Gibson is a very, very gifted power forward option for the Bulls, and he received 26 minutes on Friday night, and by no coincidence whatsoever, Gibson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, seven off the glass.

I fully expect the Bulls to continue giving Gibson significant minutes until Boozer can prove he can take care of the basketball and be more efficient offensively.

The Bulls were able to take a 2-1 series lead and turn home court advantage back in their favor, which should be no surprise. The Bulls have the 5th best record in the NBA on the road, and while they are a young team, their superb defense keeps them in every game, regardless of the score. You can never count the Bulls out of a game, and do not count them out of a series. Three of their last four games they have really looked like the team that won 62 games, which is scary good for them.

These two series will resume on Sunday, as the Bulls look to take a 3-1 lead while the Hawks look to even the score before heading to Chicago. The Mavericks want to put the last nail in the coffin for the Lakers and get the sweep, while Los Angeles is just happy to still be alive at this point.

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