Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat
This series, a rematch (of sorts) of the 2006 Finals, figures to be as thrilling in regards to its storyline as it is in the polarizing approach these two teams employ on the court.
To put it bluntly, I think this might be the best competition since the Undertaker vs. Mankind Hell in a Cell, you know, the one where Mankind got chokeslammed through the cage roof, and knocked him and some teeth out. It should be noted that after that match, both wrestlers were forever remembered as ultimately badass champions. In much the same manner, this series will cement the legacies of at least four future NBA Hall of Famers in varying stages of their careers, pitting the old guard of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd against the young collusion trio of Dwyane Wade, Lebron James, and Chris Bosh.
If you watched Dirk momentarily hoist the Western Conference Finals Trophy, then immediately retreat to the locker room, you can tell that this is not the Dirk we knew before. While his points per game dipped against the Lakers (27.3 against the Portland Trailblazers, down to 25.3 with the Lakers), they skyrocketed against the Thunder, up to 32.2. There are two reasons why Dirk’s production rose in the Conference Finals, one being that he didn’t have to shoot over Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol; but make no mistake, this is a more resilient and determined squad than Dallas had in 2006, even in the two players left from that series.
Lebron’s stated that he wants to guard Dirk, but with Dirk’s fadeaway, not much is going to stop him now. It’s more important to see that Lebron will be able to jump off Dirk for a second to cover the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations, because James is quick enough to get back to his man. This will force some interesting offensive plays by Dallas in order to create shots for their guards.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James vs. the Zone
In the regular season, Wade and James combined for 3-for-17 against the Mavs’ zone defense. Lebron is especially susceptible to his ego, taking difficult long jumpers and ill-advised 3s, so this will be interesting to watch. The Heat have seen zones more frequently recently, but Dallas has the best in the league, and this will allow for J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic to grab more minutes to feed their offense.
Tyson Chandler vs. NBA Officials
Chandler’s interior presence is a distinct advantage for the Mavs, but
if he lands himself in foul trouble, they have to rely on Brendan Haywood. Haywood’s been playing well lately, but essentially, well in the same way that Joel Anthony has been playing, so losing Chandler would be nullifying a benefit that Dallas is relying upon. I expect this to become an issue in at least one of the games.
James, Wade, and Dirk are all going to put up numbers close to their playoff averages. They can create their own shot at will and have the poise to keep themselves fairly efficient. The Heat have an incredibly weak bench, so they’re relying on Bosh and Udonis Haslem to fill in the production necessary to win against this high-scoring Mavs squad. If Bosh can eke out an 18 point game average, they’ll feel much more secure in their future.
The Mavs have many more options, yet most of them are incapable of being game-changers. Jason Terry and Shawn Marion have both played incredibly well, and if they (especially Marion, wowzers) can continue this level of productivity, They can more than cancel out the scoring output of Haslem and Bosh.
Barea has been unstoppable this postseason, capitalizing when he has a free path to the basket (with Dirk as your screener, it can happen frequently). It will be more difficult against the defensive speed of the Heat, but I expect Rick Carlisle to employ him in creative ways. He can be the fastest guy on the court, and his speed could land him at the free throw line consistently.
The Mavs should also play off of Mike Bibby in hopes that his horrific 3-point percentage continues. I mean, seriously, his True Shooting percentage is 34.7 and his Effective Shooting percentage is 34.2. Out of 49 tries this postseason, he’s made 12. Let the guy shoot the ball as much as he wants. Spend that time preventing Wade’s killer cuts. Or just run into the backcourt and wait under your own basket so you can get an easy transition layup. Or tie your shoes. Or anything, really.
The Heat have the best Big 3 that money can buy, and where they have glaring holes have patched them together through a multitude of underwhelming players. The Mavs have an incredible drive, and are deeper than the Marianas Trench. It’s going to be a knock-down-drag-out, no-holds-barred, free-for-all battle, but I have to believe in the team nature of basketball, and right now, the Mavs are just too integrated. The Mavs defeat the Heat 4-3.