Defence wins games. It’s that simple. Especially come playoff time. How many times have you heard the comments about teams acquiring players with the, “mental edge”? Players with the, “hard nose defence”? How about the, “ability to play big come Finals time?” What was the main reason why Kevin Garnett was brought to Boston again? How about Kendrick Perkins and his blockbuster trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder? Anyone remember the Los Angeles Lakers acquiring a risky Ron Artest?
Who can forget the Bill Laimbeer-led Pistons of the late 80s through early 90s that held off a young offensive juggernaut in Michael Jordan with pure hard-nosed even dirty defence? How about the timeless Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics great who led his team to 11 championships in his 13-year career and is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketballers ever to play the game?
Simply put, these guys focus on defence and the mentality of making players earn their points when they come into the paint. We all know the physicality of the playoffs and how players are not allowed any free points by some of these physical, defensive-minded players.
So, how then does the defence stack up for the Miami-Dallas Finals series, considering we have three great scorers on the one team, and a big, sweet shooting German partnered with an all-time great point guard on the other? The answer is simple; it’s the team that can set the tone for the series on the defensive end that will take home the championship.
[caption id="attachment_938" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="LeBron James (number 6) may be left to beg the referee for foul calls if Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki gets into an early rhythm."]
The Heat provides an interesting quandary for the Mavs’ coaching staff. The Heat have three dangerous scorers at their disposal, with the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all capable of taking over games offensively. They came together this past offseason with the likelihood of becoming an overwhelming force on the offensive end. It has taken some time and they suffered their highs and lows during the regular season, but everything has fallen into place so far in the playoffs.
For the Mavericks, DeShawn Stevenson will have moments guarding Wade as will Kidd and the defensively underrated Jason Terry. Shawn Marion will provide the best option to guard LeBron due to his height and agility, while Nowitzki and a much-improved Tyson Chandler will spend time guarding Bosh.
The Dallas, the X-Factor could come down to how well Chandler can manage his game time in regards to keeping out of foul trouble and how well Shawn Marion can defend the younger, quicker LeBron James. Chandler is the Mavericks’ anchor on defense. He brings size and a defensive mentality to the paint, which is one of the main reasons he landed in Dallas, a team that, prior to his season, were desperately seeking an interior presence on that end of the court. If he can stay on the court and out of foul trouble, Chandler will provide much needed size and height in the lane that Wade and LeBron will want to fill when they’re driving to the basket.
Chandler is also a key ingredient of the 2-3 zone that Dallas will play on occasions. The zone has coped well so far in the playoffs and will continue to be a large part of the defensive mindset of coach Rick Carlisle against the Heat, who are average-at-best from three-point territory.
[caption id="attachment_939" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Tyson Chandler (right) needs to have a big series defensively if Dallas are to come out victorious"]
Another key for the Mavericks will be veteran forward Shawn Marion. The man commonly referred to as the Matrix has been invaluable so far these playoffs, at both ends of the floor. He did a great job guarding Kevin Durant in the Western Conference Finals. He used his height and athleticism defensively to bother Durant, while acting as a springboard at the offensive end, evidenced by his efficient 51% shooting percentage for the series.
Marion has the size necessary to defend LeBron and, at 33 years old, is still quick enough to guard him. The key may come down to the transition of LeBron and the Heat and whether or not Marion can shut down the big plays down the stretch that LeBron, so far this postseason, has owned.
At the other end f the court, Miami coach Eric Spoelstra will also have his hands full defensively, as Dallas also has a champion scorer in their corner in Dirk Nowitzki. No matter what the Heat does, Dirk is going to get his shots and make them the majority of the time. The key for the Heat is not allowing him easy shots and keeping his shooting percentage at a reasonable number. His current postseason field goal percentage is hovering around the 52% mark. With the shot Dirk takes, that is an unbelievably efficient number. Miami have to make sure they have a hand in Dirk’s face every time he takes a shot if they want to have any hope of lowering his sky-high field goal percentage.
[caption id="attachment_940" align="alignleft" width="182" caption="Finally recovered from injury, Heat forward Udonis Haslem will be an important part of Miami's defensive rotations."]
The other important note is that Nowitzki is shooting an emphatic 93% from the line, so the Heat can ill afford to send him to the charity stripe on a regular basis ,as the Thunder found out in the Western Conference Finals. So how do they achieve this? No easy feat when you look at the numbers he has been putting up. But, Miami will use both Bosh and Udonis Haslem as the main rotation. After that, we get the dream match-up – LeBron vs. Dirk.
As a premier defender and arguably the best defender left in the playoffs, LeBron will get his turn against Dirk down the stretch. Probably at pivotal moments in the series. It will be the other Heat players who may try to double and triple team him that will hold the key. Dirk is selfless and is a great passer so the Heat needs to make sure they cover the free man and are jump passing lanes when he looks to pass.
Dallas has spread the floor in their offence well so far in the playoffs, especially against the Lakers and the Thunder. With shooters such as Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd, they can rack up points seemingly at will. Udonis Haslem provides some part of an X-Factor for the Heat defensively, as he has found form at the right part of the year and seems to possess the tough, earn-your-points mentality that thrives in the playoffs. He has also had success against the Mavericks before, having played a lot of minutes on Dirk in the 2006 Finals, when he was held to 22.9 PPG on only 39% field goal shooting; a far cry from the current form the German sharpshooter is in.
[caption id="attachment_942" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Shawn Marion (right) is Rick Carlisle's best bet to defend a rampaging LeBron James after an applaudable job on OKC's Kevin Durant"]
So, when it comes to defence, who wins this series? It may be too close to call, but I know that come the final few minutes of Game 1, when the Miami court side announcer yells, “Miami, make some noise!” and the thousands of fans start to scream, “Deeefence!….. Deeeefence!” I will have my eyes on one thing; Dallas’ No. 41 handling the ball, with Miami’s No. 6 guarding his every move.
LeBron did an amazing job on Derrick Rose in the Eastern Conference Finals, forcing the MVP into late-game turnovers and ineffective jump shots. Does he have another string to his bow? Can he handle a 7-foot shooter with the ability to step back, shoot off one leg, hit threes and make it all look so effortless? Only time will tell, and I can’t wait to find out.
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