The grand story of the Miami Heat, built on a July evening that had a country glued to their TVs and hating every minute of it, could see its first chapter written on Sunday, as the Heat face elimination against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Miami dropped two of three in Dallas after taking a 2-1 series; LeBron James performed far below his standard in each of the losses, and the Mavericks were able to excel in the closing minutes to capture victory.
The Heat's only loss at home this entire postseason came to Dallas in Game 2; Miami is 9-1 at home for the playoffs. The Game 2 loss came on a magical Dirk Nowitzki-led comeback, which is hardly a surprise after what the perennial All-Star has done all postseason. Miami needs to stop him two more times to come back itself. Otherwise, Dirk can help the Mavericks clinch an NBA Championship five years after he left Miami heartbroken in the 2006 Finals.
Dwyane Wade has been extraordinary in the series, and Jason Terry and J.J. Barea came around for Dallas in Game 5. Tyson Chandler has also proven integral, and Jason Kidd does so many Jason Kidd things a game it's hard to keep count. But in the end, what LeBron does will take precedence, appropriate because no small number of casual NBA fans is watching this series because of LeBron.
Will he be aggressive all game long? Will he resort to jumpers and deference? Will Miami's offense thrive down the stretch, or crumble? If it's the latter, that'll be it for Miami, and that first of seven predicted championships will have to wait at least a year.