Heat index hitting critical

Jun 13, 2006 5:30 AM

The NBA Finals shift to Miami for Game 3, which has become critical if the Heat have any chance of winning the championship.

Miami will also host Games 4 and, if necessary, 5. Dallas earned a tightly contested win in Game 1 before totally dominating the Heat in Game 2, following a fairly even first quarter. Given the 2-3-2 format, Miami is faced with sweeping the Mavericks at home.

All that Dallas has done to this point is hold serve, winning both of its home games as the Mavs were favored to do. Now Miami gets to benefit from the home court, but a loss in Game 3 would make it very difficult. Only twice in NBA Finals history has a team rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win the title.

As it is, Miami still needs to win at least once at Dallas, but that is far from the mind of Coach Pat Riley and his team as they prepare to make this a series Tuesday.

Both Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal were horrible in Sunday night’s Game 2 loss and can be expected to perform at a much higher level back home. Wade has not been 100 percent since missing a couple of days of practice last week. By Tuesday night, he should be back close to full strength. Udonis Haslem injured his shoulder in Game 2 and his status is uncertain as we go to press.

Still, Miami is a team loaded with veterans and can be expected to give a much better effort back home in Game 3. The preferred strategy would be to play Miami as a four point favorite in Game 3 to draw within 2-1 before backing Dallas in Game 4 to extend to 3-1.

The Mavericks are also a play in Game 4 if looking for the sweep, provided they are not favored in such a spot. If down 3-1 Miami would be a play in Game 5 if not favored by more than 4. Dallas would be the Game 5 play if the series is tied 2-2 and the Mavs are not more than a one-point favorite.

The concern for backing Miami in Game 3 is a questionable ability at the foul line. If Miami has a small lead late in contest, Dallas is likely to foul and force the Heat to extend their lead at the line. But the play on Miami in Game 3 is predicated more on expecting a fully focused and perhaps dominating effort, especially on defense when the game and point spread result may not be in doubt in the waning moments.

If Miami’s free throw woes are a great concern, a partial play of Miami on the Money Line might be an appealing alternative or supplement to laying the points. Look for Shaq to bounce back from a career playoff low five points in Game 2 to at least temporarily shift momentum to the Heat.

The UNDER is still the preferred totals play, having cashed in each of the first two games. We saw an adjustment downward from an opening line of 195 in Game 1 (which produced just 170) to a closing line of 188 ½ in Game 2 when the teams combined for 184.

The value in playing the UNDER is lessened as the total line drops. Still, the preference is to bet UNDER 190 or higher. We may not see that high a total until or unless a game exceeds that number in Miami.

Miami needs to win twice on their home court for a further evaluation of the series to be made in next week’s issue. Dallas could win this series as early as Thursday, if completing a sweep or on Sunday if Miami is able to win either Game 3 or 4. The prediction heading in was for Dallas to win in six, so the expectation is that there will be one more NBA column for the 2005-06 season next week.