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Home, sweat, home

By Gary Washburn
June 5, 2011

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DALLAS — Judging from media availability yesterday at American Airlines Center, it appeared the Miami Heat were the ones who stole Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

The Heat were relaxed, unfazed, and rather reflective about their Game 2 collapse Thursday that allowed the Mavericks to rally from a 15-point deficit with 6:19 left and win, 95-93.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks were tense. They realize they have played about 15 solid minutes in the series, and all the right things had to occur to avoid coming home down two games. With this 2-3-2 series format, the Mavericks have the so-called luxury of three consecutive home games, starting tonight. But that could allow for complacency.

Just ask the Celtics, who won Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals at Los Angeles and returned to TD Garden flat and lost Game 3. All the momentum generated by Ray Allen’s 3-point barrage in Game 2 had vanquished and suddenly the Celtics were trailing again and playing under intense pressure. Although the Celtics won the next two games, they were forced to win one game in Los Angeles, and they couldn’t.

Although the Mavericks have “stolen’’ home-court advantage, that term is deceptive. One loss at home over the next three games will force Dallas to have to win in Miami.

The Heat said they felt quite comfortable about the possibility of getting back to South Beach and needing to win two games. So perhaps that’s why LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were smiling yesterday.

“Obviously, we understand this is a very big game,’’ Wade said. “Obviously, because Dallas did what they came to do. They got a split.

“Now we come and we have to do what we came to do and it’s to win Game 3. It’s going to be a tough game to win for both teams.

“We understand we’re a team that can do it. If we played defense the way we did at the end of Game 2, we won’t win. If we play Miami Heat-style defense, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to win. That’s all you can ask for.’’

The Heat were nearly as good on the road (28-13) as home (30-11) in the regular season. There seems to be a sense of confidence among the players. With two home games waiting next week, the Heat’s task here in Dallas isn’t as daunting.

The Mavericks’ road to the title remains arduous. They played about two respectable quarters in Game 1 and struggled in Game 2, looking exhausted until that shocking run. Nowitzki returned to postseason form in the final seven minutes but he is still just 17-for-40 shooting in the series.

Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Jason Terry have had two subpar games. A third will most likely lend to the belief that Dallas can’t score consistently against Miami. Nowitzki referred to the Heat’s defensive execution as “stifling’’ before the game-ending run, and the Heat have been stellar during the postseason at game-to-game adjustments.

For example, the Celtics shot 43 percent in their Game 4 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals compared with 50 percent in their Game 3 win.

“I think they do a great job defensively really swarming me,’’ Nowitzki said yesterday. “The first two games I think every time I put the ball on the floor there were two or three guys around me. They’re so athletic.

“On the perimeter when I kick the ball to the shooter, somehow they’re still there. They’re still there to run our shooters off to contest the shots. They’re really good defensively.’’

So the onus is on Dallas to be better. The Heat have played in more hostile postseason environments — such as Boston. Although detractors may have taken delight in their Game 2 collapse, it’s difficult to fathom that the Heat’s three superstars will breakdown again. It’s difficult to fathom James scoring 2 points in the final 12 minutes and Chris Bosh completely whiffing a defensive assignment, as he did against Nowitzki, or Erik Spoelstra botching his timeouts so he has none during a critical sequence.

The Mavericks were astute to be so cautious about returning home. There shouldn’t be a sense of relief, only measured confidence.

They will have to do more than play seven strong minutes to win Game 3 and the series. And until they play a complete game, there should be a sense of insecurity.

The Dallas veterans have been around long enough to realize they remain in a precarious position.

“We’re coming home, but we know that’s no guarantee of anything,’’ said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “We’ve lost at home this year in the playoffs. Now Miami has as well. The venue has significance, but it never guarantees anyone anything.

“We have a great crowd, just like Miami does. We need that energy. But they’re not going to be out there running back on defense and trying to execute pick-and-roll coverages and those kinds of things. We’ve got to do that.

“The mistake that we’re not going to make is feel like coming home is going to be something that helps get us over the hump. It’s not going to be like that.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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