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NBA Finals 2011: Dirk's Finger and The Absentee Bench

There are devastating losses, and then there are palatable ones. I believe that Tuesday's loss to the Heat in game one falls into the latter category for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it was a road game in front of a rowdy crowd against a surging team, and the game was close up until the final moments. Secondly, on a night when the Mavericks shot miserably and the bench failed to show up for the game, the score stayed close until the final moments. And lastly, the team had a wrench thrown in their game plan, namely LeBron James guarding Jason Terry, and yet they managed to keep it close despite Terry being virtually ineffective.

Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but I don't see those three things being a problem in game two. I base this on recent history, with the Mavericks bouncing back after tough losses throughout this playoff season. The players themselves seem relatively confident that they see where mistakes were made and they intend on fixing them before Thursday. Jason Terry commented on the vast disparity in offensive rebounds (as did the rest of the players) and said, "When you give up as many points as we did on second chance opportunities, then that doesn't allow us to get into our transition game." When asked what adjustments he would make to James guarding him, however, he coyly told us, "I don't want to give away all my secrets." Let's hope he actually has a plan and isn't just using a smoke screen.

As for whether or not Dirk Nowitzki's torn tendon in his left middle finger will even be a factor in the remainder of the series, not one player on either team seemed to think his game would be adversely affected, including the Big German himself. Literally every player was asked about Dirk, and they all said essentially the same thing: "He'll be alright. He's a soldier" (that one was DeShawn Stevenson). Terry smirked when asked and said, "It's his left hand. He don't use that one anyway." Dirk was less matter-of-fact, and said that the only part that concerned him was his ability to move the ball around on the floor. But he wasn't too discouraged, reminding us all that, "This is not my first injury I've played through in my career. And I'm not really worried about it." Gotta love that swagger.

So should Nowitzki and the Mavs have swagger after dropping the first game of a series for the first time this post-season? Monday, before practice, Dirk told the media what he had been saying to the team all season long: you can't get too high on the highs, or too low on the lows. When I asked him if that still rang true after Tuesday's loss, he said, "The mood is not great after a loss, but that's natural. We're a veteran team that's seen a lot in this league, and that was a tough loss. It was right there, I mean as poorly as we played on both ends of the floor, we were only down four with a couple of minutes left. There were some positives to take out of this game and we've just got to be a little sharper tomorrow... we've got to come back and be better, so hopefully our guys take the challenge."

Game two will be same time, same place, 8:00pm CT on ABC. Look for the bench to be back on their game, and for the offense to adjust to James guarding Terry. The rebounding will definitely be a focus, and both Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood will probably be hurling themselves at the offensive glass. As for Nowitzki and his bum finger, we won't know until we see him play whether he's right about not worrying.