The NBA Corner: 2011 NBA Finals Preview
After a long season and a fantastic postseason full of surprises and epic performances, we finally have the match-up that everyone predicted in October.
However, we do have a Finals pitting the two best teams in the NBA right now. The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are clearly better than every other team in the league. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a Lakers fan in denial. The fact that this is a rematch of the entertaining and controversial 2006 Finals is just an added bonus.
This series also boasts three superstars at different points in their careers. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade joined forces (and brought along Chris "Hey! Wait up, guys!" Bosh) just for this moment. As they enter the prime of their careers, they know that a title this year could be the birth of a dynasty. James has led Miami with suffocating defense, unstoppable transition offense and - gasp! - clutch shots. The Heat has been Wade's team since '03 but James has been their catalyst and their leader the past few weeks. He's playing to his full potential on both ends of the court and, considering he was already a two-time MVP, that is a scary thought.
On the other side, Dirk Nowitzki had that moment taken from him in 2006 and is now playing to erase it. Few thought that Nowitzki would be here again and it looks like he felt the same way because right now he is not taking any chances. While James has been superb in the postseason, I think Dirk has been even better. He's been nothing short of spectacular in the playoffs - improving upon his already standout numbers in every series and providing a steady leadership while simultaneously erasing opponents' will to win.
For all of their similarities and differences, the one that stands out the most is this: they both have the offensive ability to defeat perfect defense and that demoralizes a team. If you can't stop someone, how can you possibly expect to win?
You can't. And LeBron and Dirk have been unstoppable in these playoffs.
So that's how they got here. Now, let's look at this series...
Miami is finally at full strength. It's been said repeatedly but it's important - this is the team that Pat Riley had in mind when he constructed this roster before this season. James, Wade and Bosh were obvious but the return of college roommates Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller has made Miami a complete team, something they were not with Mario Chalmers and James Jones trying to carry the load. It's not coincidence that as Haslem and Miller have ingratiated themselves back into the rotation, the Heat began playing at a higher level. Haslem helps to take the rebounding load off of James and Miller can makes the defense pay for collapsing inside if Wade or James penetrate into the lane. The Big 2.75 will get their numbers - Miami's fate will really lay in the hands of the two former Florida Gators.
Dallas only has a Big 1 but for the first time in several years he has a supporting cast that does what it is meant to do - support him. Jason Kidd is no longer the automatic triple double he was when he piloted the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Finals, but he still has a handle and can pass a ball through the smallest of windows. He can still play defense, as he showed in the L.A. series, when he's rested and five days off should do the trick for him. There are other famous names still remembered from former teams that contribute - Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion - and Jason Terry has shown what he can do when he's feelin' it, but the biggest addition to these Mavericks is Tyson Chandler. Underrated throughout his career, Chandler has brought toughness and ferocity to a Dallas team that was sorely missing it. His presence inside not only intimidates softer teams but also demands attention from the defense, allowing Dirk to have more space and freedom to operate.
Overall, these two teams have abilities that seem to counteract the other's.
The Heat are a better defensive team.
The Mavericks have a much smoother offense.
LeBron James is a bull in a china shop.
Dirk Nowitzki is a tap dancer on a wire.
The Heat have three major scorers.
The Mavericks have a better bench.
The Heat are 6th in points allowed but 26th in assists per game.
The Mavericks are 10th in points allowed and 2nd in assists per game.
Dwyane Wade is a slasher that can score on anyone.
Jason Terry is a shooter that sometimes can't miss.
The Heat has a core constructed to win championships in the future.
The Mavericks have a roster full of players desperate to win a title now.
In the end, this won't be a walk for either team. Anyone picking this series to end in four or five games is lying to you. Both teams do many things extremely well and a few things not so well. LeBron James needs a ring to cement his legacy, but so does Dirk. The Heat won this match-up five years ago but, aside from Nowitzki and Wade, both of these teams are so different that it's not a relevant comparison.
Even if James is guarding him, I don't see Dirk having much trouble getting his shot off and continuing the impressive streak that he's currently riding. On the other side, can Dallas manage to stop both James and Wade? If one is bottled up by Kidd, who will guard the other? Marion and Peja are too slow while Terry and Corey Brewer are too small. Either way, there's a mismatch waiting to happen.
The Mavericks have a decided advantage in home crowds and that emotion alone could carry them to a win or two but the Heat have home court advantage and while most Miami fans don't arrive to put on their $6 white t-shirt until the second quarter, they do eventually get into the game. Most of them.
As a fan of the league and basketball as a whole, I'd like to see many of these players get a ring. Dirk deserves it. So does LeBron. It would be a fitting capstone to Jason Kidd's career. Juwan Howard was a member of the Fab Five so how could I possibly root against him? I'm sure Erik Spolestra would love to show off a ring to everyone that said he'd be fired by Thanksgiving but I think it's possible that Mark Cuban could be the first owner fined by David Stern while accepting the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
I think it's going to be a phenomenal series and as much as I'd like to see the Mavericks win, it looks like Miami is peaking at the right time. They went on a tear to finish the regular season and have only gotten stronger as the playoffs have worn on. They've figured out all of their internal issues and look poised to reel off a few titles in a row, much to the dismay of every fan that values "loyalty." (You know, unless they are offered a higher paying job and a better position at a different company. In that case, all bets are off. Hypocrites.)
Heat in 7