Nowitzki chastises Heat stars’ antics

By Jonathan Feigen

MIAMI — Dwyane Wade laughed and explained that he and LeBron James were merely toying with the media.

They were not caught on camera seeming to mock Dirk Nowitzki and the fever he battled in Game 4 by feigning illness. They were setting up the media to blow another Heat story out of proportion.

Nowitzki was not amused.

“I just thought it was a little childish, a little ignorant,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve been in this league for 13 years. I’ve never faked an injury or an illness before. It’s over to me. It’s not going to add anything extra to me. This is the NBA Finals. If you need an extra motivation, you have a problem.

“We’re one win away from my dream, what I’ve worked on for half of my life. This is really all I’m worried about. This is all I’m focusing on.”

That was enough, however, to spark another Heat wave of scrutiny on James and Wade. Getting called “childish” and “ignorant” was just the latest accusation in an unceasing run since they joined forces 11 months ago. But for James, who said the improv was not an issue or worth discussing, there are greater concerns heading into tonight’s Game 6.

After his offensive no show in Game 4 and late-game disappearance in Game 5, a team that celebrated last July as if it won a championship trails the Mavericks 3-2 with James facing different sorts of questions.

In five Finals games, he has just 11 fourth-quarter points — just two in the fourth of the Mavs’ wins in Games 4 and 5. He has yet to score a point when the teams have been separated by five or fewer points in the final five minutes. Nowitzki has 26 in those situations.

Though James has generally said he was playing well and wisely deferring to Wade’s hot hand, he also referred to his “absence offensively.”

“I’ve seen myself being less aggressive at times,” James said. “(Tonight) is another opportunity for me to make an imprint on this series in the fourth quarter and help our team win.”

This is not, however, entirely new.

James’ scoring has decreased, sometimes dramatically, at the end of his playoff runs in five of his six postseasons. This season, he averaged 25.3 points per game in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but just 17.2 in the Finals.

“He will be more aggressive, and we will work to get him aggressive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The important thing that he needs from us is to remind him he doesn’t have to play a game that everybody else is expecting. He does not have to answer to other people’s opinions or the critics or the expectations, whatever the storylines may be. He has to help us win.”

Before he became the player most responsible for the Heat’s predicament this season, Nowitzki might best relate to James’ fate, having heard criticism for not playing well enough despite playing well.

“Sometimes when you don’t win, criticism comes with it,” Nowitzki said. “That’s just a part of the game if you’re the star or the face of the franchise. If you win, it’s great for you, and everybody looks at you. And if you lose, you’re going to get hammered. It’s just part of the business. I think we understand that. We’ve been around long enough.

“I got hammered the last 13 years, basically. So hopefully this year I can make the hammering go away for one year.”

James insisted that he has ignored the outside critics.

“Of course, I get on myself,” he said. “I’m hard on myself about wanting to play well, because I feel like that’s what I need to do for my teammates. But to answer questions about what’s written about me or anything like that, I don’t really feed into it. It’s going to be written no matter what, no matter if I play well or not.

“I had a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) last game. I had a bad game in a lot of people’s eyes. I understand that. That’s just the situation I’m in. That’s the bowl I’m in right now.”

And that has been James’ predictament long before he and Wade feigned sniffles in Dallas.

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