DALLAS — Perhaps the Miami Heat is just off to a slow start, or only needs a home-court boost to get going in the NBA Finals.
Regardless, Miami is working uphill now.
The Dallas Mavericks are playing at a level the Heat hasn't reached, and they're halfway to winning the franchise's first championship after a 99-85 blowout victory Sunday night at American Airlines Center.
All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki continued to take charge for the Mavericks, leading everyone with 26 points and 16 rebounds. Guard Jerry Stackhouse came off the bench to score 19 points, and had one of the Mavericks' two rare four-point plays.
Dallas led by as many as 27 points in the second half and limited the Heat to 41.4% shooting, following its strong closing act in Game 1 with an overall stellar performance in front of another sellout crowd of 20,459 that attended what might have been the team's final game of the season here.
Miami was unable to keep pace inside or on the perimeter with its deeper and more versatile opponent, and the All-Star tandem of center Shaquille O'Neal and guard Dwyane Wade were off in particular.
Wade scored 23 points but missed 13 of 19 shots from the field and wasn't sharp with the ball or in his decision-making.
O'Neal, frustrated he wasn't more involved in the offense in Game 1, took only five shots in 28 minutes Sunday. The three-time Finals MVP missed six of seven from the free-throw line, grabbed only six rebounds and scored five points — his lowest total in 173 career playoff games.
That was too much for the rest of the Heat players to overcome with the heights the Mavericks are reaching together, so now Dallas is in a great position.
In the previous 59 Finals, only the Boston Celtics in 1969 and Portland Trail Blazers in 1977 overcame 2-0 deficits to win titles. And since the NBA adopted a 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, the previous nine teams that won Games 1 and 2 on their home courts won the series.
That could be good news for the Mavericks as the series shifts to Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena for Game 3 on Tuesday, and another problem on a growing list for the Heat.
"Well, we don't care if it's 2-2-1-1-1 or 2-3-2 they did what they had to do," Miami Coach Pat Riley said. "Obviously, we have to play the game a lot better than we played it here in Dallas. And definitely, whatever adjustments we make over the next couple of days are going to have to work."
It seemed everything worked for the Mavericks after the opening quarter Sunday. Dallas led, 18-17, to start the second, and neither team appeared ready to break the game open. But after trailing, 28-23, Dallas closed the half with a 27-6 run — including 13-0 in one stretch — to take a 16-point halftime lead that brought the crowd to its feet.
In a final 11-0 spurt, Stackhouse connected on a three-pointer, was fouled by Wade and made the free throw for the four-point play. (Josh Howard also had a four-pointer in the third quarter — the second of only eight in Finals history.)
Stackhouse's three-pointer with 2.5 seconds left gave the Mavericks a 50-34 halftime lead.
The performances of Nowitzki and Howard were among many encouraging signs to that point for the Mavericks.
Those two had only seven field goals and 21 missed shots combined in Thursday's 90-80 victory in Game 1, but shot well in the first half Sunday while scoring in double figures. Howard finished with 15 points.
In the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, Nowitzki scored 50 points in Game 5 after scoring 11 on three-for-13 shooting in Game 4.
"Boy, he came back tonight," Dallas Coach Avery Johnson said. "We tried to move him around a little bit."
That was part of the plan for O'Neal, but it didn't work as well for the Heat.
The Mavericks were effective with their double teams, and the Heat often made poor decisions while passing to the post.
O'Neal appeared frustrated when teammates missed shots after he passed the ball back to them.
O'Neal sat out the final 15 minutes 13 seconds. The NBA fined him $10,000 for declining to speak with reporters after the game, and the Heat $25,000 for failing to persuade O'Neal to comment.
"We just tried to give him defensive looks in the defensive scheme," said Dallas reserve center Erick Dampier, who had six points and 13 rebounds. "We just put together a good defensive effort tonight."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times