MIAMI (CBS4) - The White Hot Miami Heat hope to make it two in a row as they take on the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami won the opening game 92-84 and faces the prospect of the next three games in Dallas. All eyes will be on Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki on Thursday night; he tore a tendon in the middle finger of his left, non-shooting hand in the first game. Nowitzki insists it's no big deal. He woke up Wednesday without throbbing or soreness in the torn tendon in his fingertip and he keeps emphasizing that it's his non-shooting hand.
The Mavericks will need Nowitzki at his absolute best if they're going to even the series against the Heat, and anything that involves tears and splints can't help.
"If he gets hit, he's going to feel that," said teammate Brendan Haywood, who had the same injury last season. "At the same time, he still made some great shots after he got hurt, so I don't think it'll be too much of a problem."
The Mavericks had fun teasing Nowitzki about his injury. During stretching before practice, backup forward Brian Cardinal turned to a trainer and said, "Cut it at the knuckle. Like Ronnie Lott," referring to the NFL great who chopped off a wounded fingertip so he could keep playing.
Nowitzki was hurt trying to strip the ball from Chris Bosh with a little under 4 minutes left in the opener. He knew something serious was wrong because he couldn't straighten the tip. The injury is known as a "mallet finger" and generally takes six to eight weeks to heal.
With only quick, courtside treatment, Nowitzki managed to hit 1 of 2 shots and all four free throws after the incident. He was 6 of 16 while healthy.
How much of a nuisance the injury is could depend on how bulky his splint is.
"We're going to make it as small as we can," trainer Casey Smith said.
When shooting, Nowitzki uses his left hand to guide the ball, while the right does most of the work.
But he likes to drive to his left, dribbling hard to get to his favorite shooting spots or taking it all the way to the rim. It also could affect him on defense; don't expect him to swipe down on the ball with the ferocity he did on the play when he was injured.
"I think once the game starts, the adrenaline starts flowing, I don't think it will really slow me down much," Nowitzki said. "I'm not really worried about it."
Maybe he should be. The Heat are certainly going to swipe at his hands more than ever, knowing that even if they don't snatch the ball, they might rattle the splint.
"Somebody's going to swat down on it, whether they want to or not," Bosh said. "It's painful."
Teammate Jason Terry said some shooters actually benefit from hand injuries because "it helps you lock in even more." He echoed the words of all his teammates when he emphasized how certain he was Nowitzki would still carry Dallas' offense.
"I think Dirk can shoot the ball with his eyes closed, with no hands, if he had to, especially in a game of this magnitude," Terry said.
With the Mavs joking about an injury to their best player, it's clear they aren't too uptight about losing the opener of the NBA finals, ending a five-game road winning streak or being down in a series for the first time this postseason.
Besides, the Mavs made so many mistakes in Game 1 they figured they deserved to lose.
Their biggest concern was getting outrebounded by 10. Coach Rick Carlisle called it losing at the line of scrimmage, saying, "The guys that hit first and hit most aggressively and with the most force are going to have the most success. And they did it better than we did last night."
The Heat were especially good at chasing their own missed shots. They got 16 of them, leading to 13 more shots than Dallas.
Miami got comfortable behind the arc, hitting 11 3-pointers, three more than any Mavs foe this postseason. Some of their attempts were so uncontested "they had time to set their feet, check the temperature in the gym and then let it fly," Haywood said.
Dallas, meanwhile, made a playoff-low 37.3 percent of its shots and got a measly 17 points from the bench. Terry scored 12, but all in the first half as he was smothered by LeBron James; it was a surprise move by Miami because the Mavs were expecting him to be the secret weapon against Nowitzki.
Despite it all, the Mavs led after the first and second quarters and were up by eight points in the third quarter. They weren't really out of it until the final five minutes, when Dwyane Wade, James and
Bosh put on the kind of show their fans wanted to see.
Each superstar made plays that sent the white-clad fans to their feet, hollering and celebrating as if it was 2006 all over again — only better, because if Miami can win it all in the first season of their trio of collaborators, imagine how much better the Heat could be once the guys get more experience playing together.
People around the country are certainly interested, too.
Game 1 drew the highest overnight figures for an NBA finals opener since the 2004 series between the Pistons and Lakers. It was up 15 percent from the start of the 2006 series between these same teams.
While everyone saw James win a finals game for the first time in his career, and Wade dominate the second half much like he did during his MVP romp in '06, the Heat came away seeing plenty of room for improvement.
They made only 38.8 percent of their shots and didn't get rolling until the middle of the third quarter. They were slowed by Dallas' defense switching from man-to-man to zones.
"I think once we understood they were going to do that, we just said, let's just run our offense," Wade said.
The Heat felt better Wednesday about their injury concern, too. Mike Miller practiced after leaving the arena the night before with his left arm in a sling.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.