Heat return home facing 2-0 deficit

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Mavericks turned in a dominating performance in Game 2.

MIAMI -- Roughed up on their road trip to Texas in the NBA finals, the Miami Heat are in familiar surroundings again. But unless they make some drastic changes -- like maybe sinking their free throws -- Shaq and his crew won't be traveling again this season.

"We can't get down 3-0," guard Gary Payton said. "We have to focus on Game 3 and get that one."

Or else.

By double-teaming Shaquille O'Neal's every touch and congesting Dwyane Wade's routes to the hoop, the Dallas Mavericks dominated Game 2 on Sunday night, winning 99-85 to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series that has hardly been close.

Game 3 is tonight at 8 p.m.

So far, the Mavericks have been superior in every phase. They've displayed an overlooked depth, an unmatched perimeter game and have exuded absolute confidence in moving within two victories of their first NBA championship.

They're playing like they want one.

"We haven't really done anything," said forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had 26 points with 16 rebounds in Game 2. "We won two games at home. We know they are a different animal at home."

To this point, the Heat have been, well, lukewarm. Two tepid performances in their first finals have them in a desperate situation.

O'Neal and Wade, the club's resident superstars, are out of sync and Miami's bench hasn't given them enough help. The Heat and their fans awakened Monday to an 0-2 deficit and a gloomy start to their work week as some southerly bands from Tropical Storm Alberto shrouded the city in a humid, depressing gray blanket.

The forecast is for heavy rain. The Mavericks' arrival could be stormier.

Still, the prospect of a comeback -- only the 1969 Boston Celtics and 1977 Portland Trail Blazers have recovered from an 0-2 hole to win an NBA title -- remains a possibility, albeit a long one.

"We have been in situations like this before," Heat center Alonzo Mourning said. "We have been down. I'm very confident we're going to find a way to get ourselves out of this. I'm confident we'll come out and give a better showing on Tuesday."

The team's charter flight didn't arrive in Miami until 4 a.m., and the Heat didn't practice Monday. Instead, coach Pat Riley ran a film session to study what went wrong in Game 2.

Watching the remake of "The Omen" might have been less horrifying. For the Heat, there were plenty of scary sights:

--O'Neal, all 7-foot-1, 325 pounds of him, taking just five shots and scoring only five points -- a career-playoff low -- in one of his worst games as a pro. With Miami being embarrassed in the third quarter, O'Neal was replaced and spent the entire fourth quarter watching from the bench.

--Wade, perhaps still fighting the flu, went 6-for-19 from the floor, made four turnovers and was called for a technical foul. Except for two highlight-film breakaway dunks in the second quarter he did nothing to pick up O'Neal's slack.

--Forward Udonis Haslem left Dallas' arena with his left arm in a sling after landing awkwardly on his shoulder in the first half. X-rays revealed a strain and bruised shoulder. The team said Haslem, who has played with assorted injuries, is expected to play in Game 3.

If that wasn't enough, the normally loquacious O'Neal skipped the postgame interview session. The NBA fined him $10,000 and the Heat $25,000 for not making a player available.

Miami's plan going into Game 2 was to pound the ball inside to O'Neal, who complained about not seeing it enough in the opener when he took 11 shots. The Heat explored the paint on Sunday, dropping the ball down low to O'Neal. However, he was usually the center of a thick, Maverick sandwich and had to pass it back out.

Riley felt his big man did all he could against Dallas' swarm.

"He made the passes he was supposed to make," Riley said. "They know who to stay home on, and they know who to leave open. The question right now is: Who's going to be stepping up and making shots off double teams?"

Riley's remark was a not-so-subtle challenge to every one of his players not named O'Neal or Wade. The master motivator needs production from his reserves. It also would help if the Heat improve their atrocious foul shooting -- 27-of-51 (53 percent) through two games.

The Heat have responded before in these playoffs, where they are 8-1 at home. In the first round, they were tied 2-2 with Chicago before putting the Bulls away in six games. They lost the series opener to New Jersey and won four straight. And, Miami lost twice to Detroit in the Eastern Conference and then sent the Pistons packing.

At this point, getting even with Dallas seems to be asking a lot. However, the Mavericks are now the ones on the road, where things aren't always as comfortable.

"They did what they had to do," Riley said. "Everybody's written our team off, even in Chicago. We lost two games to Chicago, then we got buried by New Jersey in the first game. We were history, and then we were history against Detroit -- even when we were ahead 3-1.

"I'm sure we're history now, so we'll see what happens at home."

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