SPORTS

2011 NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks can clinch first title Sunday

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Jason Kidd and the Mavericks can wrap up the first title in Mavericks history. (Photo: Associated Press)

MIAMI (AP) — The hammer Dirk Nowitzki is so close to escaping is pounding away harder than ever at LeBron James.

The Dallas Mavericks are a victory from claiming the NBA title that James came to Miami to win. It would forever alter Nowitzki's reputation, which has already been elevated enormously during these finals as he's ignored injury and illness.

And James is now the target of all the criticism Nowitzki long endured, the one shouldering most of the blame as things go wrong.

"That's just a part of the game if you're the star or the face of the franchise," Nowitzki said on Saturday. "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 the hammer the last 13 years, basically. So hopefully this year I can make the hammering go away for a year."

He has two shots at it. The Mavericks can win their first title on Sunday, or Tuesday if the Miami Heat force a seventh game.

That would require a stronger effort from James, who this time a year ago was coming off his second straight MVP award and was three weeks from becoming among the most sought-after free agents in NBA history.

Now he's the guy who can't produce in the fourth quarters, with 11 total points in five games, the one with the big name but the puny stats who had to spend part of his off day answering all sorts of questions about what's happened to him.

—Are those 44 minutes per game you're playing too much?

"I wouldn't say it's too much. I don't think so," James said. "I don't feel like I'm hurting my team for the time I'm out there. I don't feel like it's too much."

—Is something wrong with your shot technique?

"At this point, I don't think technique has anything to do with it," James said. "Shots go in, shots don't go in. I don't stop to think about my technique or anything like that."

—Are you simply feeling the pressure of the finals stage?

"I think the game of basketball can be pressure," James said. "It doesn't matter if it's the finals or the conference finals or first round. Playoff basketball is all about pressure, how you can handle it."

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