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2011 NBA Finals: Dirk Nowitzki Struggles Against Udonis Haslem

If the Dallas Mavericks are to win the NBA Finals this year, they'll have to do it with Dirk Nowitzki playing his best ball. It's an obvious conclusion, sure, but the numbers bear it out: as Mavs Moneyball, SB Nation's Mavericks blog, pointed out Monday morning, >Dallas has outscored the Miami Heat by 23 points with Nowitzki on the floor during the Finals, while Miami has an eight-point edge with Nowitzki resting.

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And the Heat seem to have found a way to stifle the Mavs' best player: send Udonis Haslem at him. The veteran power forward has limited Nowitzki to 39 percent shooting in the Finals, as Heat beat writer Brian Windhorst tweeted on Monday. To further drive that point home, Nowitzki is shooting 50 percent against all other Heat defenders. Tellingly, he drove by Chris Bosh with ease for the winning basket in Game 2, with Haslem checking Tyson Chandler on the weak side and rotating too late to challenge Nowitzki at the rim.

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In Game 3, with Dallas trailing by two points and needing a basket, it again turned to Nowitzki. But Haslem, not Bosh, drew the assignment. Nowitzki's fading jumper--not a layup, as in Game 2--missed, and the Heat took a 2-1 edge in the series. Perhaps we're not having this discussion if Nowtizki makes that shot, but the fact is Haslem has proven effective at holding Nowitzki to well below-average shooting.

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Dallas may need to run more off-ball screens for Nowitzki to create space between him and Haslem. Better yet, it can use pick-and-roll action to try forcing a switch. Dirk's chances are better with Haslem guarding someone else. By extension, so are the Mavericks'.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.