75 playoff games have been played thus far in the NBA postseason and, just like in 2006, the last teams left standing are the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. We all know what happened in the 2006 Finals, so I won’t rehash it here, because these two teams are vastly different to the ones that battled it out for what would have been each franchise’s first ever NBA title.
With the collusion this past offseason between Miami’s ‘Big Three’ of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the NBA landscape was altered and, potentially, not for the best. They came together to win, as LeBron James so modestly put it, “Not one, not two, not three…” but as many as eight world titles. That fact remains to be seen. But, this is the closest he has come to winning the elusive ring (the Cavaliers didn’t stand a chance against the San Antonio Spurs) that will surely get the ‘LeBron is the G.O.A.T.’ argument building for an irrational assault on the legacy of one Michael Jeffrey Jordan. The only thing standing in the way of him and his precision-built squad is the Dallas Mavericks [caption id="attachment_915" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Veterans Jason Kidd (L) and Dirk Nowitzki are chasing their elusive first titles"][/caption] Not to be outdone by the Heat’s haul of free agent signings in the summer, Dallas’ owner, Mark Cuban, decided to trade for defensive center Tyson Chandler. Signed to help the Mavericks battle against the front-court size of the Los Angeles Lakers, Chandler was a godsend this season, giving the Mavs a hard-nosed edge they were desperately seeking to help Dirk Nowitzki and the other veterans on the squad chase their own elusive championship dreams. So, without further ado, here are the story lines and match-ups that will decide which team will be crowned the 2010-11 NBA World Champions. Dallas enters the Finals this year with, arguably, their most well-rounded roster since Dirk Nowitzki arrived in the 1998 Draft day trade with Milwaukee. They’ve got a true point guard in the ageless Jason Kidd, who can distribute the ball as well as any one, a defensive-minded center in Tyson Chandler who will make opponents earn their points if they think about entering his paint, and Shawn Marion, a defensive stud on the wing who, as he showed against Oklahoma City, doesn’t mind hitting the scoreboard. On top of that, they’ve got a very deep bench, consisting ofJason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and JJ Barea, who have all shown they can be quality scorers off the bench. Throw in the team leader Dirk Nowitzki, who is using his entire arsenal to destroy every team standing between him and his first NBA title, and the Dallas Mavericks can hurt teams in a variety of different ways. With so many good shooters, it’s easy to see why Dallas is 1st in the NBA for field goal shooting percentage, but are at their weakest offensively when pushing into the painted area to score tough points. Not that they can’t achieve this, because Chandler does his best work under the hoop, but when their biggest threat to get to the rim is a man that stands less than six feet tall (Barea), the Mavs won’t try to bull their way to a winning score. Instead, they’ll use their slick ball movement to find the open man, whom they will trust to execute the shot as they have done all postseason. One area defensively that the Mavericks will have to work on is not letting Miami’s LeBron James or Dwyane Wade use their [caption id="attachment_916" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Jason Kidd (L), Jason Terry (C) and Dirk Nowitzki will have a lot of support in this series"][/caption] athleticism to get to the rim. Even with Chandler, the Mavs have been susceptible to lapses in tight that allows points in the paint. Against the dynamic duo from South Beach who thrive on taking it to the rim, Chandler needs to get help on the wings from Marion and DeShawn Stevenson. If Marion and Stevenson can effectively operate one of Rick Carlisle’s zone defenses that he ran successfully against the Heat in the regular season, it will go a long way toward the Mavericks winning this series.
For the Heat, their confidence is at an all-time high after disposing of the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls in emphatic series victories. With four more wins left between them and the title that no one outside of Miami want them to win, the Heat really just have to stay true to their philosophies. The Big Three are combining for a shade over 68 points per contest, with James having an unbelievable postseason and Bosh being very solid, if not spectacular. Against the Bulls, the Heat were brilliant at using their speed to shut down the jump shooting from Korver, and Deng while the defensive effort James put on Rose was, in my books, the most complete defensive effort of his career. By using his size and speed, James forced the ball out of Rose’s hands before he could inflict too much damage in the paint. With the MVP having no legitimate Robin to his Batman, James used his Robin, Dwyane Wade, to use his athleticism to limit the output of Rose’s outlets, giving the Heat a very comfortable series win. Against the Mavericks, the Heat’s athleticism will help them close out on shooters, but the ball movement of the Mavs, which has easily been the best of any team in the playoffs, may be enough to keep James and Wade honest enough to not fly to the ball like linebackers. Furthermore, the threat of Terry, Stojakovic, Marion, Kidd and Nowitzki is much, much scarier than Deng, Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Keith Bogans. [caption id="attachment_917" align="alignleft" width="200" caption=""These guys are our teammates?!" Dwyane Wade (L) obviously doesn't mind being the Robin to LeBron James' Batman "][/caption] Offensively, the Heat need to do what they’ve done all postseason; ride James and Wade to a respectable score that they can defend with their athletic and disruptive defensive scheme. Don’t let the experts fool you by making you believe the Heat’s bench can match it with Dallas’ excellent bench production; they can’t. Just because Mario Chalmers, James Jones and Mike Miller each put up double-digit points in a playoff game doesn’t mean that Miami’s bench has started to perform like a bench should. As I said before that mini-tirade, the Heat will ride James and Wade to the rim if they want to win this series. Throw in Bosh’s dangerous-when-hot mid-range game, and that will be the team that beats the Mavs. No combination of Juwan Howard, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers or Mike Bibby will beat Dallas. It simply won’t happen. Offensively, it’s up to James, Bosh and Wade to score and then use their athletic abilities to defend the Mavericks’ veteran-laden team Let’s not beat around the bush here. Defensively, the biggest question for the Heat in this series is who gets the job on Dirk? Not only to stop him scoring, but to throw out the rhythm of the offense, that runs perfectly through the big German’s hands. The Mavs definitely have other weapons on offense, but the 7-foot sharpshooting German is, far and away, their best. He is a crafty veteran that can, almost literally, make all the shots in the book. Once he is in the low post with his back to the basket, not one defender can successfully defend his jab-stepping fade-away jump shot. Not one. So, who does Miami assign to the job of corralling Dirk Nowitzki? Height-wise, one would have to think Chris Bosh is the only Heat big-man that could have the engine to stick to Dirk like glue. But realistically, Bosh would have to be one of the biggest mismatches against Dirk, who would use all his veteran knowledge and pump fakes to make Bosh bite on fakes all day. Recently returned Udonis Haslem is a capable defender, but isn’t trustworthy enough to stay focused for longer than a couple minutes per quarter. [caption id="attachment_921" align="alignright" width="160" caption="Miami coach Eric Spoelstra stares into the distance, daydreaming about what the future may hold"][/caption] For the Heat, their best option has to be LeBron. Arguably the most physically gifted athlete on the entire planet, James could limit (not stop, limit) Dirk’s output offensively by using his strength to keep Dirk out of his comfort zone, at least for a game or two. But again, there is an outlet for the Mavs. With James sticking by Dirk like an oversized Gary Payton, that will severely limit the Heat’s perimeter defense, where James thrives, becoming the help defender and closing down plays with his unbelievable speed. If James is taken off the perimeter, any number of Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd or JJ Barea could find a gap in the defense to make a basket. Miami ranked 2nd during the regular season for opponent’s shooting percentage, and this was helped largely by James’ perimeter defense, so attaching him to Dirk would, in my books, be the wrong move. Instead, coach Eric Spoelstra should use a combination of Bosh, Haslem and James, perhaps in the fourth quarter like against Chicago’s Derrick Rose, to try and limit Nowitzki’s output. Prediction: Although I will be supporting the team of the Dallas Mavericks as opposed to the trio from South Beach whose teammates are more cheerleaders than contributors, I haven’t chosen Dallas to win a series since round one against Portland so, hoping they continue their defiant run and get Nowitzki and Kidd the rings they so desperately desire, I’ll stick with the Miami Heat, who could use their home-court advantage to it’s full effect in this series. Miami wins 4-3