Heat on verge of elimination, Mavericks in must-win game

Apr 29, 2007 - 5:08 PM By PA SportsTicker

The Miami Heat's reign as NBA champions is on the verge of ending in embarrassment.

The Heat host the Chicago Bulls in Game Four of their Eastern Conference series Sunday, needing a win to avoid becoming the first defending champion in 50 years to be swept out of the first round of the playoffs.

Not since the 1956 Philadelphia Warriors, who were eliminated in a best-of-three first-round series a year later, has a champion made such a defense devoid of fight.

However, the Heat have shown to be no match for the Bulls, who have used their youth and quickness to grab a 3-0 series lead.

The Heat aren't the only finalist from a year ago that is in trouble. The Dallas Mavericks, who won 67 games during the regular season, face a daunting 3-1 deficit if they cannot win at Golden State on Sunday night.

Other matchups have the Los Angeles Lakers trying to even matters with the Phoenix Suns in the West and the Toronto Raptors looking to do the same against the New Jersey Nets in the East.

But no team is in a deeper hole than the Heat, who face the most overwhelming trend in NBA history: In 79 tries, no team has rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.

After losing the first two games in Chicago, Miami came home intent on turning the series, just as it did in the 2006 Finals against Dallas. However, the Heat stumbled down the stretch in a 104-96 loss as the Bulls made all the key plays.

Leading the way for Chicago have been emerging stars Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, who have outplayed Miami's superstar tandem of Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal. Deng is averaging 27.7 points and Gordon 26.0 in the series.

Should the Bulls win, they will advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 1998, when led by Michael Jordan they went on to win the last of their six championships in the 1990s. Awaiting them will be the top-seeded Detroit Pistons.

The Mavericks are not facing elimination but are facing a formidable foe in the Warriors, whose small, quick lineup has presented plenty of problems for one of the better defensive teams in the league.

In the first postseason game at Golden State in 13 years on Friday, the Warriors rolled to a 109-91 victory behind 30 points from Jason Richardson and 24 from Baron Davis.

"We were just a step slow," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "I just didn't see that look in our guys' eyes. We have to consistently get our swagger back. We have to get it quickly and it better be consistent."

Dallas needs a big game from superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki, who has been too quiet thus far, averaging 19 points on 38 percent shooting.

Facing the Suns in the first round for the second straight year, the Lakers need another home win to have a realistic chance of winning the series. A year ago, they owned a 3-1 lead but dropped the last three games.

Behind 45 points from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers turned the momentum with a 95-89 victory Thursday night. They will need another big game from the NBA scoring champion to avoid going back to Phoenix in a 3-1 hole.

The Raptors need a win to regain home-court advantage from the Nets, who took a 2-1 series lead with Friday's 102-89 victory. Former Raptor Vince Carter erupted for 37 points after being limited to 36 in the first two games.

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