DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat keep taking their NBA Finals games down to the final minute. The difference in the last three games has been a single shot, with each decided three points or less.
"It's just a slugfest right now," Heat forward Chris Bosh said Wednesday.
And a rarity.
There have been only two other NBA Finals where three consecutive games were decided by no more than three points. And those were back in 1947 and 1948 — the first championship series ever played.
Dallas won 86-83 on Tuesday night to even this series at two games apiece. Game 5 is Thursday night in Dallas before the series shifts back to Miami.
The Heat had won Game 3 88-86 after the Mavericks' 95-93 victory in Game 2.
When the Philadelphia Warriors won the first championship series in 1947, the final three games were decided by a combined seven points. There were three more close games in the middle of the 1948 series that the Warriors lost to the Baltimore Bullets.
If the Heat and Mavs have another game this series decided by three points or less — and they have at least two more chances, maybe three — it would be only the third NBA finals to have four such games. The only times that has happened so far were in the 1957 and 1958 series matching the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks.
"We expected every game to be a close game, and every game has been a close game," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said.
The most lopsided game so far was Miami's 92-84 victory in Game 1.
Since those Celtics-Hawks series more than a half-century ago, when each team won a championship, there have been only four other NBA finals with three games decided by three points or less.
The last before this year? The 2006 finals between the Mavericks and Heat, when the average margin in the six games was only nine points.
HAYWOOD'S HURT HIP: Dallas Mavericks backup center Brendan Haywood is again uncertain in the finals, after managing to play only three minutes in Game 4 because of his strained right hip flexor.
"I didn't have a lot of lateral movement, so it was tough to be out there," Haywood said Wednesday.
Haywood came out in the fourth quarter of Game 2 with the injury, and didn't play Game 3. Neither he nor coach Rick Carlisle were sure of his status for Game 5 on Thursday night.
"Don't know. So, we'll see. The more rest, the more treatment, the better," Haywood said.
Carlisle said it is a tough situation.
"He gave it a shot last night, and it just wasn't quite where it needed to be," Carlisle said. "But with each day hopefully Mother Nature can help out. And we'll see if we can have him ready for (Thursday)."
EVERYBODY'S HURTING: Dirk Nowitzki played Game 4 with a sinus infection and the still-sore finger her hurt in the series opener.
While Nowitzki's issues have been the most prominent because of how he has played for Dallas in the finals, he's not the only player ailing.
"At the end of the day, we're all banged up," Miami's Chris Bosh said. "We're all tired, it's physically tough to go out here and beat each other up every night, so we're all in the same boat."
And they all know there is less than a week left in the season, even if this series goes the full seven games.
"We can rest in the summer time," Mavs forward Shawn Marion said. "If I cough up blood, it is what it, it's that time of the year. The season is that much shorter, within the next few days the season will be over with. We can rest then."
OFF THE BENCH AGAIN: Mavericks guard DeShawn Stevenson expects to be coming off the bench instead of starting again in Game 5 of the finals.
"Yeah, I think we have to, it worked," Stevenson said after practice Wednesday. "We've got to keep the same thing going."
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle switched his lineup before Game 4, inserting J.J. Barea into the lineup instead of Stevenson. The Mavericks won 86-83 to even the series at two games each.
"This is a move we've made several times in my three years, starting Barea," Carlisle said Wednesday. "We've done it in a lot of instances where there have been big games. He has always stepped up and competed at an extremely high level."
Barea played just less than 22 minutes, scoring eight points on 3-of-9 shooting (0 for 2 on 3-pointers) with four assists and a turnover.
Stevenson came off the bench with his first double-figure scoring game in more than four months, scoring all 11 of his points in the second quarter. That included three 3-pointers in a span of just more than 3½ minutes.
"My role is just to come out and bring energy off the bench, and we have the luxury to do stuff like that," Stevenson said. "I just want to win. I think coming off the bench, I know I have to be aggressive. When you start, you tend to go into the game and let the game come to you, but when you come off the bench, you have to be ready or else the starter's coming back to get you."
NASH ON DIRK: Steve Nash was able to visit good friend Dirk Nowitzki in the locker room after the big German scored the winning basket with his injured left hand in Miami.
Not that Nash was the least bit surprised by his former teammate's play.
"I just feel like he's poised to carry his team to a championship," the two-time NBA MVP told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I'm happy for him. He's one of the great players of this game."
Mostly Nash sends text messages while his friend is busy with the finals. Still chasing a first title of his own, Nash reiterated that he wants to stay with the Phoenix Suns.
He's been busy during this playoff season, with rooting interest in both the NBA's and NHL's final series. Nash was set to watch his favorite hockey team — the Vancouver Canucks — and brother-in-law Manny Malhotra in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday in Boston.
He's also promoting his annual "Showdown in Chinatown" charity soccer match in New York on June 22. NBA stars including Tony Parker and Grant Hill are scheduled to attend.