Mavs struggle to beat undermanned Heat

DALLAS, TX -- In the final minutes of a game the Miami Heat seemingly had no business being so close to winning, coach Pat Riley called a timeout. Trailing by a single point, what play did Riley call?

Alexander Johnson driving straight at Dirk Nowitzki.

With Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Williams wearing suits, Miami was practically out of playmakers. Yet the ragtag bunch the Heat sent out Friday night were the better team for most of the game, until Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks pulled out a 94-89 victory in the closing seconds.

The final score is misleading. While Nowitzki hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 5:28 left, the Mavs led by only a point with 14 seconds to go when Miami's Ricky Davis drove for a go-ahead layup and missed. No foul was called, despite lots of contact. The Heat still had a chance for a tying 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds left, but the inbounds pass was stolen by Dallas' Devin Harris, leading to a finishing-touch layup by Josh Howard.

"We got a great game out of these guys. We played hard enough to win," Riley said. "We've played hard all year. But we haven't played well enough. We always seem to have those spells at the end of games."

Of all teams, the Mavericks should've known best not to overlook a barely hanging-on Heat team. Yet they apparently still haven't learned from what happened in the 2006 finals.

Back then, Dallas won the first two games and held a big lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3, then must've started thinking about a sweep because the Mavs wound up losing that game and the next three, sending Miami to its first title.

This time, Dallas was coming off its most lopsided win of the season, a vengeful victory over Golden State, the team that humiliated the Mavs even more in the '07 postseason. Dallas also was on a 7-2 roll.

While Mavs starting center Erick Dampier was out with a knee injury and key reserve Jerry Stackhouse sprained his right thumb and didn't play in the second half, it still didn't seem like a fair fight considering the Heat had dropped five in a row and seven of eight.

And, consider this: With rookie Daequan Cook making his first start, Miami's first five had a combined scoring average of 46 points. Nowitzki and Howard alone average 43.1 for Dallas.

Yet the Heat led 56-48 at halftime, then went up by 10 early in the third quarter. Three straight baskets by Mark Blount, Shaq's fill-in, at the end of the quarter sent Miami into the final period leading 74-71.

"We came out hard and focused on what we had to do," said Blount, who scored a season-high 17 points. "We were right there all the way. But turnovers and missed free throws hurt us at the end. ... We knew what we had to do. We got stops and everybody contributed."

Davis had 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds on a rare night when all five Miami starters scored in double figures.

Udonis Haslem had 16 points and nine rebounds. Cook had 15 points and Chris Quinn had 10 points and seven assists.

Nowitzki had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Howard scored 11 of his 18 points in the final period. Eddie Jones scored a season-high 17 -- matching his total for the last seven games -- and Harris had 15.

Jones was so fired up to face his former team that he made his first four shots, all 3-pointers. But his biggest play was going to the ground to grab a rebound that led to a 16-foot jumper by Nowitzki, which gave Dallas an 89-84 lead with several minutes left.

It was one of many plays that seemed likely to turn away the Heat, but didn't.

"We just had a tough three quarters and we were able to bring it together in the fourth," Howard said. "We kept fighting."

Wade is nursing all sorts of injuries (shoulder, knee, pinkie), so he missed his first game since sitting out the first seven recovering from offseason surgeries.

"It was tough, but it wasn't my decision," Wade said.

O'Neal missed his fourth straight because of bursitis in his left hip. Williams has knee inflammation.

The Mavericks used a 16-4 run to regain the lead in the third quarter, then needed a streak of 12 stops on 14 Miami possessions in the fourth quarter.

A non-call on Davis' reverse layup, in which he drove by Nowitzki then Howard closed on him, might've made the difference.

"I thought Josh hit me in the head a little bit," Davis said. "But it was a tough call. I've just got to take it to the basket tougher and make the play."