(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.
"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.