Remember Matt Bonner? He was tall and had red hair and played two years for the Toronto Raptors from 2004-06. His nickname was the Red Rocket thanks to his hair colour and his propensity for riding transit around Toronto.
Even though Bonner left the Raptors for San Antonio in 2006, his heart has remained in Hogtown. He lives in Toronto in the off-season, and his wife and daughter have Canadian citizenship. Despite all that, though, Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun reports that Bonner still can’t get approval to become a Canadian citizen as well.
The issue, it seems, is Bonner’s place of principal residence (that’s a fancy immigration term for “where he usually lives”). Because he’s in Texas with the Spurs most of the year, he hasn’t been able to establish residency in Canada. It’s a situation that’s frustrated Leo Rautins and the brass at Canada Basketball.
“Trust me, we’ve tried everything,” said Rautins. “I feel bad for Matt. I don’t know if there’s anybody who wants to play more (for Canada) than he does.”
It’s no wonder he’s frustrated; the issue’s been going on for years now. In 2009, Bonner and Canadian officials thought he’d finished up the paperwork to make him eligible to play in the 2010 world championships. But Bonner couldn’t fast-track his citizenship application back then, and he’s hitting regulatory hurdles again.
It’s a tough position for Canada basketball fans; especially those who became close to Bonner during his time in Toronto. He’s a fan favourite, but that’s not a good enough reason to expedite his paperwork. Canada’s national teams could use a helping hand here and there, but bending federal rules to give an athlete a leg up in order to qualify for a national team is a slippery slope we may not want to slide down.
Rautins hopes Bonner’s approved in time to help Canada qualify for the 2012 Olympics. We humbly suggest that in the interim, Bonner could use his clout as a vice president of the NBA Players Association to make sure Steve Nash, Jamaal Magloire, Tristan Thompson, Samuel Dalembert and everyone else he can find reports for duty for the qualifying tournaments, so he’ll have a team to play for come 2012.
NBA union chief Billy Hunter said Thursday afternoon that NBA owners are locking out the players after failing to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s obvious the lockout will happen tonight,” he said.
With this latest action, two of four major professional sports in the United States are locked out. The NFL locked out its players in March, and the two sides have been in discussions this week, trying to work toward a new deal.
Despite a three-hour meeting Thursday, the NBA and its players could not close the enormous gap that remained in their positions. The CBA is expected to expire at midnight.
Hunter said the union made a “moderate” new financial proposal, but it wasn’t enough to keep the two sides at the bargaining table.
“The gap is too great,” Hunter said.
Hunter said the two sides plan to meet again in the next two to three weeks.
“The negotiations ended without a resolution. The NBA informed us they are making a recommendation to their labor relations committee to start a lockout at midnight,” union outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler told ESPN’s Kelly Naqi. “The players want to continue to play basketball and are very disappointed.”
All league business is officially on hold, starting with the free agency period that would have opened Friday, and games eventually could be lost, too. The last lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to just a 50-game schedule, the only time the NBA missed games for a work stoppage.
“We tried to avoid the lockout; unfortunately, we couldn’t reach a deal,” union executive committee member Matt Bonner said.
The sides remained far apart on just about every major issue, from salaries to the salary cap, revenues to revenue sharing.
Players, who previously offered to reduce their salaries by $500 million over five years, considered the owners’ proposal for a “flex” cap, where each team would be targeted to spend $62 million, a hard cap. Although the league said total player compensation would never dip below $2 billion over the life of its proposed 10-year deal, that would amount to a pay cut for the players, who were paid more than $2.1 billion this season in salaries and benefits.
Owners also wanted a reduction in the players’ guarantee of 57 percent of basketball revenues.
ESPN senior NBA writer Chris Sheridan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Source: Fourth-Place Medal
Beijing’s famed Water Cube is now a massive water park opened to the public. Athens’ beach volleyball complex was recently populated by gypsies. The Lake Placid athlete’s village is a correctional facility.
During the Olympics, viewers across the world inevitably wonder, “What happens to these sparkling facilities once the Games leave town?” London won’t have to worry about that question in regards to its 2012 basketball arena.
The structure, completed last week, is a temporary venue that will be torn down once the Games are complete. Organizers boast that it’s one of the largest ever constructed at an Olympics. The 12,000-seat arena will be torn down following the Paralympic Games next summer and its materials will be used in other projects across Europe.
It may look like a bubble, like the one that collapsed over the Metrodome or ones that cover swimming pools and tennis courts in the winter, but the venue is actually made of 1,000 tons of steel framing surrounded by 20,000 square meters of stretchable PVC membrane. The seats at the stadium are painted orange and black to resemble a basketball. Much like the swimming facility in Beijing, the exterior of the building will be used as a canvas for light shows during the Games.
Men’s preliminary basketball games will be held at the facility, in addition to the women’s quarterfinals and all medal matches in handball. The rest of the men’s basketball tournament will be held at the larger O2 Arena in London.
For Dirk Nowitzki, the resume is complete. He’s an NBA champion.
For LeBron James, the agonizing wait continues for at least one more year.
A season that began with Miami celebrating the signings of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — along with the promise of championships — ended on the very same floor, with the Dallas Mavericks hoisting the title trophy for the first time in their franchise history after beating the Heat 105-95 on Sunday night. The Mavericks won four of the series’ last five games, a turnabout that could not have been sweeter.
“I really still can’t believe it,” said Nowitzki, who had 21 points and took home finals MVP honors.
He and Jason Terry, who led the Mavs with 27 points, were the two remaining players from the Dallas team that lost to Miami in the 2006 finals.
“Tonight,” Terry said, “we got vindication.”
James did not. Not even close, and a year unlike any other ended they way they all have so far — with him still waiting for an NBA title.
He scored 21 points for Miami, shook a few hands afterward, and departed before most of the Mavs tugged on their championship hats and T-shirts. Bosh had 19, Mario Chalmers 18 and Wade 17 for the Heat.
“We worked so hard and so long for it,” Nowitzki said. “The team has had an unbelievable ride.”
So did the Heat. Unlike Dallas, theirs wasn’t a joyride.
“It goes without saying,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You’re never really prepared for a moment like this. … Neither team deserved this championship more than the other, but Dallas earned it.”
Make no mistake: Miami lost the finals, but the blame will be directed at James. Even he knew that after the way he left Cleveland with “The Decision” and all the animus that generated not just in Ohio but around the entire league, the only way he could silence some critics was with a title.
“It doesn’t weigh on me,” James said. “At all.”
Still, he got even more criticism — and a thinly veiled jab from his former owner with the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, who reveled in the moment on Twitter.
“Mavs NEVER stopped & now entire franchise gets rings,” Gilbert wrote. “Old Lesson for all: There are NO SHORTCUTS. NONE.”
And the winning owner, Mark Cuban, took what may be perceived as a jab as well: “I could care less about the Heat,” he said.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle joined a highly elite group, those with NBA titles as both a player and a head coach. Only 10 other men are on that list, including the presumably retired-for-good Phil Jackson, one of Carlisle’s mentors in K.C. Jones, and Heat President Pat Riley — who led Miami past Dallas in 2006, and was the mastermind of what the Heat did last summer by getting James, Wade and Bosh on the same team with an eye on becoming a dynasty.
It might still happen, of course.
But even after 72 wins this season, including playoffs, the Heat lost the last game. And that means this year was a disappointment — except to just about everyone else in the NBA, or so it would seem.
“This is a true team,” Carlisle said. “This is an old bunch. We don’t run fast or jump high. These guys had each other’s backs. We played the right way. We trusted the pass. This is a phenomenal thing for the city of Dallas.”
Hating the Heat became the NBA’s craze this season, and the team knew it had no shortage of critics, everyone from Cleveland (where “Cavs for Mavs” shirts were popular during these finals) to Chicago (the city James and Wade both flirted with last summer) and just about every place in between lining up to take shots at Miami.
“We could feel it,” Carlisle said, noting he was repeatedly told during the finals that “billions” of people wanted to see Dallas topple Miami.
Given their newfound popularity, meet the new America’s Team.
Sorry, Cowboys — your long-held moniker might have to be ceded to your city’s NBA club. When it was over, Cuban ran onto the court to hug Carlisle, then punched the air and whooped.
“I’m so happy for him. I’m so happy for Dirk,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle said Riley came down to congratulate the Mavericks after the game, showing “unbelievable class.” Nowitzki and Wade exchanged texts at night’s end, after Wade couldn’t find him during the on-court celebration to shake his hand.
“Their time will come,” Carlisle said. “But now, it’s our time.”
When the Mavericks took a 2-0 lead in Dallas during the ’06 finals, plans for their victory parade were announced. The Mavs didn’t win another game in that series.
Now, that parade will finally happen. And when it’s over, then the league’s uncertainty will truly begin. Labor strife likely awaits, and although more talks geared toward movement on a new deal are scheduled for this week, both owners and players are bracing for a lockout to begin once the current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30.
Late Sunday night, the CBA was the last thing on the mind of the new champions of the NBA, whom Carlisle called “the most special team I’ve ever been around.”
Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, got his first championship. Nowitzki got his at 32, Terry at 33. They were featured on the video screen in their building in Dallas during this series on what seemed like a constant loop, each posing with the NBA trophy and looking longingly at it, standing mere inches from it, as if to say “so close, yet so far away.”
It’s theirs. And for the second time, James went to the finals, only to see the other team celebrate. San Antonio won in Cleveland in 2007, and four years later, he saw the Mavs party on his new floor.
“It was a failure in ’07 when we lost to the Spurs when I was in Cleveland,” James said. “It’s a failure now.”
Nowitzki sealed it with 2:27 left, hitting a jumper near the Miami bench to put Dallas up 99-89, and some fans actually began leaving. Nowitzki walked to the Mavs’ side slowly, right fist clenched and aloft.
He knew it. Everyone did.
“We feel it,” Wade said. “We’ll feel it even more tomorrow.”
Spoelstra implored his team to foul in the final minute, and even then, they couldn’t catch the Mavericks.
“All I remember is telling those guys that they deserved it,” Bosh said. “Hands down, they were the better team in this series. … All we can do is just admit it and move forward.”
What happens with the next deal may affect the Heat more than anyone. Some owners will insist on a hard cap, rolled-back salaries and, potentially, trying to bust some current deals — which could break up the Big 3 before get another chance to win a title together.
A gloomy end to the season may bring an even gloomier offseason for Miami.
“Every situation has felt like it was an our-back-against-the-wall situation,” James said Sunday morning, hours before Game 6 began. “We’ve been able to figure it out and find our way through and scratch our way through. This is the last test. This is the last pop quiz for us that we need to pass in order to make it all worth it.”
They didn’t pass.
So therefore, it wasn’t all worth it.
“We give credit to the Dallas Mavericks,” Wade said. “They’re a helluva team. … We ran into a team that at this time is obviously better than us.”
Miami had chances to take command and wasted them all. The Heat missed 13 of their 33 free throws, let the Mavericks score 27 points off turnovers and simply could not get a rebound in the final minutes.
Nowitzki finished 9 for 27, and the Mavs still won. He was 1 for 12 in the first half, and they were still ahead, 53-51, thanks largely to Terry’s 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
“Was he unbelievable tonight or what?” marveled Nowitzki.
Down the stretch, Terry made another contribution. He grabbed Nowitzki during a time-out, telling him, “Remember ’06.” The final minutes belonged to Dirk and the Mavs, and a few German flags waved in Miami’s arena during the postgame celebration.
“This feeling, to be on the best team in the world, it’s just undescribable,” Nowitzki said.
After James got off to such a fast start, he had two points in the final 19-plus minutes of the half.
James didn’t score in the second half until a layup with 1:49 remained in the third — his first field-goal attempt since 1:05 remained in the half. Kidd made a 3-pointer late in the period, pushing the Dallas lead to 79-71, and it seemed like the only people standing in the arena were the players, referees, Cuban and a few guys around the Dallas bench.
Dallas took control in the second half after some wild back-and-forths in the opening two quarters. Miami took its last lead of the game — the season — just 64 seconds into the second half, lost it 16 seconds later and chased the Mavericks the rest of the way.
They never caught them.
“I can’t believe the journey,” said Kidd, who lost two previous finals trips with the New Jersey Nets. “The journey, the character of my teammates telling me they wanted to get me a championship. Tonight they came out and played well. I came here twice, this being my third time so third time was the lucky charm.”
It was 81-72 entering the fourth, after Ian Mahinmi made a foul-line jumper as time expired in the third, just his third basket of the entire series.
None were bigger. The Mavs could taste a title.
“We had no champions on this team,” Mavs center Tyson Chandler said. “And we walked away with a team full of champions.”
Of the principal characters from the 2006 series, only Cuban, Nowitzki and Terry remain from the Mavericks’ side, and for them, the beginning of this championship celebration seemed sweeter than even they could have imagined. Terry won’t have to get his tattoo — the one of the NBA championship trophy — removed, which he vowed to have done if Miami won this series. Nowitzki will never be in the conversation of ‘Best player without a title’ again.
James is clearly the one with that most-unwanted label now.
As the night wore on, the smell of champagne permeated from the Dallas locker room, while Miami’s was cleaned and vacuumed quickly, towels picked up, shower shoes stacked neatly before each player’s locker. Nearby, in the team’s usual postgame interview room, the Mavericks posed with the championship trophy, whooping in joy as Miami players filed out in stunned disbelief.
The offseason started earlier than the Heat ever imagined.
“The Greater Man upstairs know when it’s my time,” James tweeted. “Right now isn’t the time.”
NOTES: Carlisle improved to 11-3 as a coach with a chance to close out an opponent. … James got a 21-minute rest in the second quarter in real time, thanks to a midcourt dustup and the referees taking several minutes to look at replays before doling out the technicals. … Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, then took a courtside seat near the Heat bench.
Source: The Post Game
Written by: Les Carpenter
To Popeye Jones this had to be a phase. His sons wanted to play hockey? At first he smiled when the subject came up after he returned home from an NBA season away. Sure, he liked watching hockey and he noticed that the neighborhood children played it outside their suburban Denver home. But he was an NBA basketball player, after all, a forward well into an 11-year career. Didn’t basketball players’ kids want to be basketball players too?
He looked at his three sons, amazed.
“You want to play ice hockey?” he asked.
They were standing in the middle of a sporting goods store, more than 10 years ago now. All around them lay piles of skates, sticks, helmets and sweaters. His credit card was out, the register was buzzing. Suddenly he felt an anger welling inside. He had a certain cache in being Popeye Jones. He was a 6-foot-8, a power forward, not a superstar but known enough to be recognized wherever he went. Now his kids were telling him they wanted to become hockey players?
How did they even learn how to skate?
Popeye chuckles at the memory. He’s had time to adjust. His oldest son Justin, 20, just finished a season with a junior team near his Dallas home called the Texas Tornado. His youngest boy Caleb, 14, is showing promise too. But it is his middle son, 16-year-old Seth, whom hockey people are talking about. They say Seth, a tall, rugged defenseman who plays for the U.S. Under-17 team, might be a top 10 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Popeye doesn’t know much about hockey, not like basketball where he is an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets. Over the years, he has stood in the back of rinks, a giant of a man trying to hide as he watched his sons skating across the ice. He calls out encouragement. He has learned the game but not enough that he can break down their performances.
Once, at the Pepsi Center in Denver, he bumped into Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.
“My sons want to play hockey, what do I do?” he asked.
Sakic stared at the man towering before him.
“They’ll probably be big,” Sakic replied.
Popeye can tell Seth is going to be very good. It doesn’t take the trained eye of a hockey expert to realize he has skill. He’s a defenseman, 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, physical but not intimidating. When Popeye watches Seth play, he sees a leader. The first word that comes to mind is “intelligent.” He glides with purpose, weaving through players, never firing the puck too hard or too soft.
“When he’s playing I see a calmness,” Popeye says. “I see the ability when he is on the ice that more often than not he will make the right decision.”
Or as his ex-wife Amy, the mother of his three boys says: “Seth sees things the others don’t.”
At USA Hockey they love Seth. The coaches there notice the same things that are so obvious to the father. The Under-17 team coach, former NHL player Danton Cole, calls Seth “a point guard.”
“When it needs to go fast he speeds it up,” Cole says. “When it needs to go slow he slows it down. His poise and maturity are an interesting combination. He’s a tremendously mature young man as well.”
“That kid was born to play hockey,” he says.
Any hope Popeye had of converting his middle son to some other sport died soon after Seth first started playing hockey at about age five. When Amy realized the children loved the game, she took them for skating lessons. After that Seth wanted nothing more than to be a hockey player. Popeye tried to get him to fall for another game. There was basketball, of course. And when Seth turned out to be left-handed, Popeye — who grew up playing baseball in addition to basketball — thought maybe he could make his boy a pitcher. No chance. Seth wanted hockey.
“Since I started playing this is what I have wanted to do,” Seth says. “It’s just the speed and the intensity of the game.”
He is in Ann Arbor, Mich., when he says this by phone. He moved there over a year ago when the U.S. team called, leaving his mom and his brothers behind to live with a host family and attend high school far away from the suburban Dallas home where his family relocated a few years ago. It is a lonely life in a way. “A different life,” Seth calls it. But it might also be the greatest gift his father could have provided: An ability to focus completely on a sport, locking himself into it for weeks, even months at a time.
Through the years, Popeye brought his children around to the practices and locker rooms and games of whatever team he happened to be with at the time. From a young age they all noticed how it was a job to the players, how they had to work for hours lifting weights and practicing jump shots. It wasn’t lost on Seth, for instance, that Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki took hundreds of jump shots alone in an empty gym just to be able to make 10 in a game.
Basketball took Popeye away for months at a time. For a few years, whenever he changed teams, the family moved along, following him from Dallas to Toronto to Boston and eventually Denver. When he signed with the Washington Wizards in 2000, they stayed behind in the Denver suburbs. Popeye played in Washington and moved back when the season ended. That’s when the hockey started.
Popeye and Amy agree this is the way it had to be. Basketball was not something Popeye could fake and the nomadic life of a basketball player bouncing from team to team does not give the children a stable life in which they could stay in the same schools or keep the same friends. When hockey came along, everyone in the family says, it was Amy who had to drive the boys to practice, sit for hours in frigid rinks watching workouts and games until she could detect flaws, and tell her son about them the moment he was off the ice.
Asked if Popeye was the kind of father who came to games, yelling at the referees and harassing the coaches, Seth laughs. No, he says. When his father came, he’d stay in the back, out of the way. It was his mother who yelled. “She’s been a great role model,” he says.
But, of course, the story is always about Popeye because this is something most people can’t believe. In some ways it is a racial thing. Popeye Jones is black and while there have been more African American hockey stars in recent years, it is still seen as very much of a white game. With Popeye being so visible, a man most people have some kind of mental picture of, the fact his boys play hockey can create mild confusion.
“A lot of people do double-takes,” Popeye says of his trips to the rink.
Amy is white, however. And maybe because of this and the fact the children were so good, the comments that might have been made in the past have never come up. Almost nobody makes mention of Popeye on the ice. Cole says he noticed Seth was asked a lot by the U.S. teammates and officials about his famous father. He answered the questions and then the conversation went somewhere else. “That’s only going to go so far in a locker room,” Cole says.
Popeye has a lot of funny stories about the cultural divide between his life and his sons. He remembers returning home from his seasons away and sitting down to watch basketball playoffs on television only to be overruled by his wife and kids determined to watch hockey. “I got banished to another room to watch basketball,” he says.
Jokingly he blames Mike Modano. It was Modano, the former Dallas Stars center who first invited him to a hockey game after they met at a charity function when Popeye was a young player with the Mavericks. Popeye brought his wife and young children. They had so much fun, he remembers they kept going back. Maybe if he had never met Modano, or if they had never gone to the hockey game, things would have turned out differently. His boys would be playing basketball or baseball — something he understood better.
Mostly, though there is pride mixed with a father’s regret of a life lived on the road. So much he missed.
“It tore at my gut to not be able to see him on the (U.S.) team,” Popeye says.
His salvation came from a video company who has an office in the Nets training facility. The company can make a DVD of any game that has been televised anywhere and it found many of Seth’s games for Popeye, burning a recording on a disc and leaving it on his desk for him to watch later. Last year, when the Youth 17 Championships coincided with a Nets game, Popeye found himself sitting in his hotel room at 2:30 a.m. watching recordings of the hockey, amazed by his son’s poise and maturity.
He realizes Seth is so different than himself at that age. At 16 Popeye didn’t even know he wanted to be a basketball player. He played baseball and football in addition to basketball and loved them all. The fact Seth is so devoted to one thing amazes him.
“I know Popeye misses being around it,” Amy says.
But this was the price of a life in basketball, a life that despite the long gaps also gave their children advantages others never had. The children never wanted for much outside of hockey, but there was always money for equipment and rink rental and lessons along with those trips to the NBA locker rooms and the understanding of how much you have to sacrifice to become great.
It’s all worked out for the best.
Except Popeye still has this one thought. Every time he watches his son on the ice it won’t go away, nagging in the back of the coach’s mind. Seth is so tall, so smooth, so in control …
“I still think he’d make a great basketball player.”
Miami: D. Wade 32 Pts, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 Blk
Dallas: T. Chandler 13 Pts, 16 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl
Coughing and wheezing, his temperature spiking to 101, worn out from hardly sleeping the night before, Dirk Nowitzkiwent through three miserable quarters in Game 4 of the NBA finals.
Yet the fourth quarter was his time to shine. Again.
Nowitzki fought through a sinus infection and everything else that ailed him and his team to power a 21-9 run over the final 10:12, lifting the Mavericks to a memorable 86-83 victory Tuesday night.
In the final period, Nowitzki scored 10 of his 21 points — including a driving right-handed layup that spun in off the backboard with 14.4 seconds left — and grabbed five of his 11 rebounds as Dallas pulled off its second stunning finish this series.
“Just battle it out,” Nowitzki said, sniffing throughout his postgame interview with his warm-up jacket zipped all the way up, still in his uniform instead of changing into street clothes like the NBA prefers. “This is the finals. You have to go out there and compete and try your best for your team. So that’s what I did.”
The Mavs avoided going down 3-1, a deficit no team has ever overcome in the finals, and guaranteed the series will return to Miami for a Game 6 on Sunday night.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Dallas, and Nowitzki vowed to be ready.
“There’s no long term,” Nowitzki said. “I’ll be alright on Thursday. … Hopefully I’ll get some sleep tonight, take some meds and be ready to go on Thursday.”
Nowitzki wasn’t as dominant as Michael Jordan when he scored 38 points despite a 103-degree fever in Game 5 of the 1997 finals — but it was that kind of performance down the stretch. With everyone knowing he wasn’t at full strength, the Mavs still ran their offense through him in the fourth quarter, and he delivered, making 2 of 6 shots and all six of his free throws.
If the Mavericks wind up winning their first championship, what Nowitzki’s done this series will go down among the greatest. Remember, in Game 2 he bounced back from a torn tendon in the tip of his left middle finger to score the final nine points in Dallas’ 22-5 rally, including two left-handed layups among his final three baskets.
“The average person, you know, has sick days and battling 100-something (fever), it’s just tough to get out of bed,” Dallas center Tyson Chandler said. “This guy is playing against the best athletes in the world.”
What Nowitzki did grows in stature when compared to how meek a healthy LeBron James played.
James made only 3 of 11 shots — a tip-in during the first quarter, then a 15-foot jumper and a breakaway dunk in the third quarter. Not only did he fail to score in the fourth, he took only one shot while playing all 12 minutes.
He finished with eight points, ending a double-figure scoring streak of 433 consecutive games, regular season and postseason. It was his fewest points ever in the playoffs.
“I’ve got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively,” said James, who nonetheless contributed nine rebounds and seven assists. “I’m confident in my ability. It’s just about going out there and knocking them down.”
Dwyane Wade led Miami with 32 points, but missed a free throw with 30.1 seconds left and fumbled an inbounds pass with 6.7 seconds left. He knocked the ball back to Mike Miller for a potential tying 3-pointer, but it wasn’t even close to hitting the rim. Fans jumped to their feet and began roaring as soon as they could tell the ball was off-target.
Dallas players savored it, too, except for Nowitzki, who walked off looking somewhat sullen, obviously ready for a hot shower and a warm bed.
His illness hit Monday night. After struggling to get any rest, he showed up for shootaround but hardly did anything.
His condition was kept a secret, and he helped keep it that way by hitting his first three shots. Then he missed 10 of 11 and it was obvious something was wrong. The biggest giveaway: he also missed a free throw for the first time since Game 4 of the conference finals.
The Heat didn’t know, and didn’t care.
“There is not an illness report before the game or anything,” Miami’s Chris Bosh said. “I’ve never been out there and somebody pointed and said, ‘He’s got a fever!’ ”
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle tried resting Nowitzki as much as he could. During timeouts, he stayed in his chair as long as possible, trying to conserve every ounce of energy.
“You’ve got a guy that’s 7-foot, there’s a different kind of toll it takes on your body when you’re sick,” Carlisle said. “Everyone could tell looking at him that he labored.”
This series is now more fascinating than ever. It just went from two games decided by two points, the first time that happened in the finals since 1998, to being settled by three points.
Coming into this game, the Heat felt they should have been up 3-0. The Mavs felt they should have been up 2-1. This game was all about figuring out whether Miami was going to runaway with the championship, as many have expected since “The Decision” last summer, or if the plucky veterans from Dallas really had what it took to be champs for the first time.
Now it’s 2-2. Both teams are 1-1 at home, and all those stats about who wins under various circumstances seem pretty moot.
The folks in the NBA office and at ABC are loving it the most. Ratings already have been setting records and they’re sure to be up again, with interest for Game 5 higher than ever.
“This series is a jump ball,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “These guys live for these type of moments. It’s about execution and disposition in the fourth quarter, being able to close out. We have a golden opportunity in the next game.”
Miami seemed to have taken control when it went ahead 74-65, its biggest lead of the night. Then Dallas went to a zone and the Heat struggled.
They scored a series-low 14 points in the fourth quarter, committing six turnovers and making only 5 of 15 shots. They actually made their first two, so they missed 10 of their final 13.
Jason Terry — who kick-started Dallas’ Game 2 comeback with six straight points, but was 0 for 7 in the fourth quarter of the other two games — got the Mavs going with consecutive baskets. He capped the winning rally with two free throws with 6.7 seconds left that forced Miami to need a 3-pointer to force overtime.
“These are two teams trying to figure out a way to make plays down the stretch,” James said. “We’ve seen in this series a seven- or eight-point lead is nothing. You just got to continue to execute offensively, continue to grind defensively, and put yourself in the best possible chance to win late.”
Carlisle shook up Dallas’ lineup, starting J.J. Barea instead of DeShawn Stevenson, and made Brian Cardinal the primary backup for Nowitzki, instead of Peja Stojakovic. Like his late move to the zone, these changes worked out quite nicely. He also made an adjustment after Miami grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter; the Heat got just six more.
Stevenson scored 11 points, his first time in double-digits since Feb. 2. Cardinal drew a charge on James early and provided seven solid minutes, giving Nowitzki much-needed rest.
Terry scored 17, Shawn Marion 16 and Chandler had 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Backup center Brendan Haywood returned to the lineup after missing Game 3 with a hip injury, but lasted only 3:05. Chandler could tell he was hurting and jumped off the bench to go back in.
“I told Coach, ‘You have to get me back out there, I will play 48 (minutes) if I need to,’ ” Chandler said.
Bosh scored 24 points. Other than Miami’s three superstars, none of the Heat scored more than six. … Of the last 26 times the finals have been tied at 2, the Game 5 winner has won it all 19 times. Last year was among the exceptions, with the Celtics winning Game 5 and the Lakers taking the last two. … The 2006 finals between these teams also was tied 2-2, but Miami overcame an 0-2 deficit to win four straight. … This was Wade’s fifth 30-point game of the playoffs.
There were no smiley faces. No long text message. No picture. Rather, Grammy-nominated rapper Drake sent his usual encouragement, via BlackBerry Messenger, on game day to his close friend, LeBron James. It simply read: “Tonight is your night.”
While watching enthusiastically from a courtside seat, Drake was proven right as James sparked the Miami Heat with 35 points and helped shut down the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose late in a 101-93 overtime victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night. With the victory, only one triumph stands in the way of James and the Heat from advancing to the NBA Finals as they own a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“I always let him know that it’s his night,” Drake told Yahoo! Sports. “Let’s get it, let’s go out there with a clear mind and forget all the other stuff going on and just stay focused on the task. That ring. Tonight, I told him it was his night. And it was his night tonight.”
James saw something special in Drake and his music, and became a big fan, long before Drake’s debut studio album “Thank Me Later” went platinum last year. The Heat star said the two now have grown to share a familial bond.
“What we have is real family,” James said. “It’s not just because we are successful at what we do. We really care about one another on a day-to-day basis. Anytime you get a friend that can come and support you in what you do, I really respect that.
“He has a busy schedule. I respect that. Anytime I get some free time, I try to support him as well.”
Drake penned and rapped the lead verse on “Forever,” the title track to James’ 2008 documentary “More Than a Game.” One of hip-hop’s most popular rappers also played a role in James’ animated series, “The LeBrons.”
Considering the support James has showed, Drake considered it an honor to give love back by attending Game 4, where he sat courtside across from the Bulls’ bench next to fellow famed rapper Lil’ Wayne.
“That’s my brother,” Drake said of James. “As a person, he’s an incredible guy.”
While Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer were playing well offensively for Chicago, James was more worried about the NBA’s MVP, who already had a team-high 17 points entering the fourth quarter. Heat guard Dwyane Wade was cold for most of the night, too, which added more pressure for James to score and defend at a high level.
James scored 23 of his points in the second half and finished with six rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks. He had a team-high seven points in the fourth to help force OT and took the challenge of guarding the lightning quick Rose midway through the fourth. He was almost Game 4’s goat as he committed an offensive foul with the game tied 85-85 with 8 seconds left in regulation. But James made up for it by limiting Rose to 1-of-5 shooting in the fourth, including smothering defense that caused Rose to miss the potential winning jumper at the regulation buzzer.
“I take pride defensively,” said James, who played nearly 50 minutes. “It doesn’t matter who it is. If it’s Derrick Rose or starting on Luol [Deng], it’s whatever it takes for myself and for our team. If that means me playing extensive minutes guarding D-Rose, then I’ll do it.” Said Rose: “It’s extremely hard when a 6-foot-8 guy can easily defend you.”
All the while, Drake was going nuts with every James basket or big defensive play.
“It’s something about being out there,” Drake said. “I get out of my seat and kneel on the court as if I’m about to get in the game. We’re playing on a similar wave length.”
When James went to the locker room after the final buzzer to celebrate and cool down before changing into some Miami Vice-type gear with the night still young by South Beach standards, a smiling and gracious Drake took pictures with anyone who asked before making a point to hug and talk to his buddy’s friends.
The Heat are still five wins away from a championship, so James can still expect extra motivation from his entertainment pal in the form of a BBM. “I want to see him get this ring really badly,” Drake said.