01/04/2008 Mavericks vs. Miami
The Mavericks couldn’t have expected to be in that position, needing to make two stops in the final 15 seconds to hold off the injured-ravaged Miami Heat. But that’s exactly where they were Friday night before 20,357 anxious bodies at American Airlines Center.
The Mavs did summon up enough for a solid defensive stand and a steal, preserving an unexpectedly-tough 94-89 victory over the Eastern Conference’s last-place team. Dallas (22-11) has won three straight and eight of 10, while Miami (8-25) dropped its sixth in a row.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Josh Howard, a crucial part of the late stand. “They’re an NBA team. We had a tough three quarters and were able to bring it together in the fourth.”
Holding a 90-89 lead and the ball with 14.5 seconds left, the Mavs turned it over on an inbounds pass from Howard to Dirk Nowitzki. Heat forward Udonis Haslem was guarding Nowitzki closely on the play, as the ball bounced off Nowitzki’s hands and into the Miami bench.
Heat forward Ricky Davis tried to drive on Howard on the next play, flipping the ball over his head as he flew past the rim. Nowitzki helped defend and Howard grabbed the miss, was fouled and knocked down two free throws with 6.7 seconds left.
A timeout ensued, as Miami coach Pat Riley drew up a play for a game-tying 3-pointer. The Heat never got that chance, as Devin Harris stole the inbounds and passed ahead to Howard for a game-ending slam.
“We made some plays down the stretch when we needed to,” Mavs coach Avery Johnson said. “We try to just concentrate on playing our game. I think the more that we can concentrate on playing our game, and our goals and what we’re trying to meet, we can beat almost anybody.”
The Mavs prepared for the complete Miami Heat. At least that’s what Johnson promised when asked about certain stars possibly sitting. Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal never donned shorts, instead taking their seats in cream-colored suits at the end of Miami’s bench. The rest of the Heat, also without Jason Williams, apparently didn’t need them much.
Miami’s remaining lineup, a collection you’d be hard pressed to find on anyone’s fantasy team, held strong against one of the top teams in the Western Conference. All five starters scored in double figures, including four with at least 15 points. Davis and Mark Blount each scored 17.
The Mavs, without injured center Erick Dampier, certainly put their two All-Stars to good use, especially with the game hanging in the balance. Nowitzki and Howard helped author the game-turning kick that avoided the unsightly upset.
The Mavs began their final push with less than 10 minutes left. During a 13-5 run that turned a 79-76 deficit into a 89-84 advantage, Dallas held Miami scoreless on 12 of 14 possessions. Nowitzki and Howard combined for 11 points during that stretch, including go-ahead shots from each.
“My shot just wasn’t falling tonight, but I stuck with it along with Dirk and we just finished the fourth quarter off,” said Howard, who scored 11 of his 18 points in the final period.
Miami showed it came to play right from the start. Its makeshift starting lineup accounted for all 24 first-quarter points, tying the Mavs after 12 minutes. Rookie point guard Chris Quinn scored seven in the quarter, matching Nowitzki.
If the first quarter was disappointing, the second was downright revolting. Miami shot 67 percent in the frame and scored 32 points to take a 56-48 lead into the locker room. The Mavs were torched inside, giving up 14 points in the paint and scoring just six.
“We didn’t meet hardly any of our goals in the first half,” Johnson said.
The Mavs made a methodical third-quarter climb. Dallas took its first lead of the second half (64-62) on Nowitzki’s 3-pointer. He airmailed his previous jumper.
Nowitzki, coming off possibly his best all-around game of the season against Golden State, had game highs in points (24) and rebounds (10). Eddie Jones scored a season-high 17 and made five 3-pointers, reaching double figures for the first time with Dallas with 12 points in the first half.
Harris added 15 points, nine assists and four steals. Diop filled in admirably for Dampier with six points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
Jerry Stackhouse strained the right thumb on his shooting hand in the first half, but the injury isn’t considered serious. Trenton Hassell responded with his first significant minutes since Dec. 12. He had registered eight DNP-Coach’s Decisions since then.