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Tag:2011 Finals
Posted on: May 29, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:03 pm
 

Miami Heat: Blueprint for a 2011 NBA Finals win

Here's a look at the blueprint for the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver.

miami-heat-blueprint

One more series, four more wins. The Miami Heat are on the verge of proving their many, loud naysayers wrong in the very first season since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to team up during the summer of 2010. The team's strategy for completing their journey to the 2011 NBA title will feature the same philosophies that have produced a 12-3 postseason record, perhaps with a few tweaks to account for specific aspects of their opponent: the Dallas Mavericks. Let's break it down.

When Miami is on offense:

The foundational element of Miami's offense is pure talent and athleticism. With James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat boast three players who are capable of scoring in multiple ways and from many, many different locations. They'll enter the NBA Finals presenting the Mavericks with match-up problems at all three positions. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has played all three increasingly heavy minutes during the Finals push. Look for that to continue on the grand stage, obviously.

The biggest disparity in talent comes at the two spot, where Wade is too quick, crafty and multi-dimensional for DeShawn Stevenson, and too big and athletic for Jason Terry. Wade was a bit limited against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals and there's speculation that he might be suffering the effects of an injury. Regardless, he can get to the basket with an array of moves, is an expert at drawing fouls and has a good sense for when to take over a game. He's developed a nearly seamless one-two punch with James in the playoffs, and pretty much everyone has been left reeling.

Speaking of James, he will own a major match-up advantage as well, even though Mavericks forward Shawn Marion has played very well in the playoffs. James' strength will be a major asset here, as Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant struggled against Marion because he was often not able to establish position or get himself open. James, who handles the ball regularly and has one of the best physiques in the league, will not have those problems. Marion and Stevenson will settle for making James work and limiting his efficiency. He's going to produce in a big way no matter what.

Dallas will surely look to counter these perimeter deficiencies by switching to zone defenses and hoping that Miami settles for contested three-pointers. It's a pick your poison approach that likely will not be sustainable for major stretches. Shifting quickly between different looks and using center Tyson Chandler as a rim protector will help. With both James and Wade playing such heavy minutes, Dallas likely won't be able to use its bench as much as it might want to, as Peja Stojakovich and J.J. Barea are defensive liabilities. Barea can probably be hidden, but finding minutes for Stojakovic will be difficult. There's no zone in the world that can help him stay with James or Wade.

In other words, this series belongs to James and Wade if they show up determined to steal it. They're an overpowering, talented duo that doesn't have a match. 

On top of that, Bosh's range will present problems for Dallas, just as Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge did in the beginning of their first round series. The Mavericks will look to muscle Bosh, but he just stood up nicely against the Bulls and Boston Celtics, perhaps the two hardest-nosed teams in the league. Attending to Bosh at all times will leave Dallas that much more vulnerable to penetrating attacks from James and Wade, and certainly all three players are capable of getting Chandler into foul trouble. 

With Mike Miller coming on a bit to help space the floor, Udonis Haslem adding some energy and occasional offense, and the point guard pair of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers showing up just often enough to not completely stand out as weak links, the Heat have proven why they are the No. 1 ranked Eastern Conference team when it comes to offensive efficiency. There's balance and a nice array of scoring options in the halfcourt.

Dallas has survived on defense in the playoffs by forcing and capitalizing on the mental breakdowns, especially late in games, of their opponents. The Heat have passed every test in that regard, showcasing huge spurts against both the Celtics and the Bulls when they needed it most. This series will be decided by who executes better late in games; It's hard to bet against the Heat, especially coming off of their spectacular Game 5 comeback against the Bulls in which James and Wade were both timely and unstoppable.



When Dallas is on offense:

While Dallas has the No. 1 overall offense in this year's playoffs, the Heat just might be breathing a sigh of relief entering this series. Why? Because the Mavericks do not have an elite athlete at the point guard position, an asset that has forced the Heat to switch their positional match-ups regularly because of Bibby's deficiencies as a defender. Now that Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are in the rearview, the Heat can get back to more conventional match-ups.

That is, of course, unless Spoelstra wants to turn his best defender, James, loose on Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas' All-Star forward has been pretty much unstoppable in the postseason, scoring in as many ways as you can think of and getting to the foul line whenever his shot hasn't been falling. In James, Nowitzki might be meeting his match: He's strong enough to force him away from the hoop, quick enough to get up and contest any shot, and savvy enough to play solid ball denial defense without exposing himself to backdoor plays or other counters. In other words, if James sets his mind to make Nowitzki's life miserable he is fully capable of doing it. 

The Heat will likely turn to that smaller defensive lineup, but they also have the option of using Bosh, Haslem or center Joel Anthony on Nowitzki as well. In that trio, the Heat have good quickness, size and strength options, as well as three intelligent players who understand time/score situations and will do their best to limit Nowitzki's cheap points. 

Aside from Nowitzki, the key to stopping Dallas is to maintain total commitment to your perimeter defensive rotations. With Jason Kidd at the helm, the Mavericks move the ball very, very unselfishly, finding the open man and taking high-percentage shots. The Heat have the athletes on the perimeter to close down space very quickly and have shown the defensive commitment that the Lakers, for example, were unable to maintain. The Heat's stars also have an uncanny ability to remember tendencies: James, Wade and Bosh are all well above average in their ability to size up their opponents' strengths and weaknesses. They'll force players like Stevenson to beat them.

Barea might very well be the role player who poses the most difficult match-up for the Heat, who lack an undersized, quick guard to stay with him. However, there will be plenty of athletes looking to help from the weakside should he attempt his patented forays into the paint. One-on-one, players like Marion and Chandler are not capable of hurting the Heat. They'll have much more success when the ball is moving, so you can expect the Heat to do everything they can to disrupt that rhythm and movement. 

Finally, the Heat will look to continue their solid team work on the glass. The Heat have been top five in defensive rebound rate in the playoffs, getting big contributions from both James and Wade, as well as the big men. That will need to continue given the presence of Chandler and Nowitzki, who have been a fearsome rebounding combination as well. 

Summary:

To sum this up: The Heat will look to win the 2011 NBA Finals by exploiting their clear offensive match-up advantages: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. That duo will be encouraged to be in full attack mode from the opening tip, looking to get to the foul line and scramble Dallas' defense off the dribble, opening up shooting and passing lanes for Chris Bosh and the rest of Miami's role players. 

While the Mavericks only have one player that can be expected to stay with James, the Heat have four quality options to throw at Dirk Nowitzki. Constant pressure and extra attention on Nowitzki will be a major defensive goal, but just as important will be Miami's ability to keep its shape and limit uncontested shots.

On paper, crafting a blueprint for victory in this series for the Heat is much easier than it is for the Mavericks. The element of luck or chance is not really at play here. It's about exerting clear advantages -- perimeter athleticism, top-end talent, high basketball intelligence -- rather than hoping, praying or getting unusually hot from outside.

Miami isn't in the NBA Finals by accident. And it won't be a surprise if they execute this plan with ruthless efficiency.
Posted on: May 29, 2011 6:30 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:38 pm
 

Dallas Mavericks: NBA Finals nightmare scenario

Posted by Royce Young



The Mavericks have made their living this postseason on two things, three I guess if you count Dirk: 1) really good, creative defense and 2) consistent shooting. One of those two things can stay a constant no matter what. But another can sometimes come and go.

And if the Mavs gifted touch were to leave them, their chances at a championship likely will too.

Unlike the Heat, the Mavs don't have the ability to really grind out wins. That's why the Western Conference Finals were pretty much the exact opposite of the Eastern Finals. The Mavs won with some timely offense, a pretty consistent defense and incredible shot-making in big moments.

Another thing? They made darn near every free throw they took. In their extremely tight five-game win over the Thunder, the Mavs made 134 of 153 free throws. That's almost 88 percent as a team. Now historically, the Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams every season. But if that were to disappear for a game and they missed eight or nine, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

The Heat play more of an attacking, brutal brand of basketball. The Mavs play a bit more finesse, using the mid-range jumpshot and a lot of drive and kick to open up looks. Miami's plan is a bit more reliable because in playoff style games, especially when you play the same team over and over, the grind out type of game beats the jumpshooting style most times.

That is, unless the jumpshooting stays good. Which so far in the postseason for the Mavericks it has. Opening round against the Blazers, Dallas shot the ball well. Against the Lakers, everyone expected them to cool at some point. They didn't. And against the Thunder -- a solid defensive team that closes on shooters well -- the Mavs stayed above 40 percent in every game and still used the 3-pointer effectively.

Now the Heat though are one of the truly elite defense teams. Especially on the perimeter where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can limit penetration almost all on their own because of their man-to-man skills. So it will be up to the Mavericks to hit contested shots consistently. In at least four games, that is.

Another worst case for the Mavs is the dreaded "O" word -- officiating. Not because of what happened in 2006 necessarily, but in a game where one team attacks the rim hard and the other doesn't quite as much, a group of referees can sometimes take over a game.

Dirk has gotten the benefit of the whistle most of this postseason, taking 24 free throws in Game 1 versus the Thunder. But if points become very difficult to find in the last six minutes of a game and the Heat are attacking the paint, the whistle could turn against Dallas. I'm not saying that will happen, but in terms of worst-case, a Maverick nightmare definitely included an official awarding free throws possession after possession to Wade and LeBron un crunch time.

In that same vein, Tyson Chandler could prove to be the most important player in the series. He can protect the rim, seal off the paint and keep Wade and LeBron from driving at the iron non-stop. But if the game is touchy and he finds himself in foul trouble, the world could open up for the Heat. So if you're following me here, worst-case, the way a game is called could affect how the Mavs play.

The Heat are the favorites in this series. Most look at their talent and the fact that all the apparent weaknesses they had during the regular season -- depth, role players, execution -- aren't having nearly the same affect right now. So far, the Heat have disposed of every opponent in five games. And if things go bad for the Mavs, the same fate could be headed at them. Shoot the ball poorly, go cold, give away points or get in foul trouble and Dirk and company might be coming back empty handed from The Finals again.
Posted on: May 28, 2011 11:42 am
 

LeBron, Dirk still dwell on NBA Finals losses

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki still dwell on their NBA Finals losses. Posted by Ben Golliver.

lebron-dirk

The 2011 NBA Finals features a match-up between arguably the two best players in the NBA yet to win a title: Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

While neither has won a ring, both have had a chance before. In his second NBA season, James, just 22 years old, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, where he was promptly swept out. The previous year was Nowitzki's title shot: The Mavericks lost in six games in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat, then led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.

Memories of coming up short on the big stage all those years ago still haunt both players.

The Associated Press reportsthat James regularly watches tape of the 2007 sweep to motivate himself.
“I think about it all the time,” James said of that 2007 series. “I even go back and watch some of those games and see how I wasn’t that good of a player, especially on both ends of the floor. You just try to use those moments. I feel like there’s no way I should be out on the floor and the team that I’m on can’t win a game in a series. I use that as motivation. … I’ve got a lot of motivation.”
Hoopsworld.com -- citing a Dan Patrick Show interview -- writes that Nowitzki says he has taken the opposite approach, refusing to watch the tape. But he still remembers every detail of the loss vividly.
"Honestly, I've never went back to watch those games," Nowitzki admitted. "I think I would just be so sick to my stomach so I decided shortly after to never watch those games, but I still have a lot on my memory. Trust me. Game 5 down the stretch, we go up by one. Then, they get two free throws to win it and I kick the ball. I mean, all sorts of stuff is still on my mind. Five years ago seems like a long time, but some of the stuff is still fresh on my mind."
The differing approaches to the film study makes sense. James and the Cavaliers simply weren't ready yet and they got taken apart in surgical fashion. When James watches the tape, he likely sees a younger version of himself making all sorts of mistakes he wouldn't make now. For Nowitzki, the Mavericks and their fanbase, the tapes from the 2006 Finals are far more tortuous, as many still believe the officiating played a key role in determining who won that series. Nowitzki doesn't have the luxury of watching an unfinished version of himself losing to a clearly better team. There's no question Nowitzki is a stronger, better all-around player today than he was five years ago. But if he were to watch the 2006 tapes he would still be watching a very similar, already mature version of himself collapsing in four games straight.

To boil it down: James isn't really in a position to regret what happened in 2007. Nowitzki certainly is in that position with regard to 2006. That both get a chance to put their past failures behind him and redefine their historical NBA identity is probably the single best reason to watch the 2011 NBA Finals.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 7:52 pm
 

LeBron James is Vegas favorite to win Finals MVP

Miami Heat forward LeBron James is Las Vegas' favorite to win MVP of the NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver. lebron-james

No surprise here: Miami Heat forward LeBron James is the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP award. (Mandatory disclaimer: the following is for entertainment purposes only.) 

The Dallas Mavericks and Miami are set to start the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in Florida. Here is the full list of odds via Bodog.com for the award, which is formally known as the Bill Russell Trophy.  
Odds to Win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP (The Bill Russell Trophy)
LeBron James 5/4
Dirk Nowitzki 2/1
Dwyane Wade 7/2
Chris Bosh 11/2
Jason Kidd 10/1
Jason Terry 10/1
Field (Any Other Player) 7/1
James enters the NBA Finals with every reason to be the favorite. His team is favored to win the series. He was a force of nature on both ends of the floor against the Chicago Bulls. Perhaps most importantly, he was clutch: nailing huge three-pointers on offense and making Derrick Rose's life miserable on defense.

And, of course, his playoff stats have been monstrous: 26.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists, plus 1.5 blocks and 1.7 steals to boot. 

James, then, looks like the total package for this pick, which is almost always given to the player with the best numbers and/or biggest impact on the title winning team. 

In case you were wondering, Vegas set odds on James' regular season stats prior to the season. Here's how he performed compared to projections.
Points Per Game Over/Under: 23.0 PPG -- (James was over: 26.7)
Rebounds Per Game Over/Under: 7.5 RPG -- (This was a push: James finished with 7.5)
Assists Per Game Over/Under: 7.7 APG -- (James was under: 7.0)
While Dirk Nowitzki is almost a lock to win the Finals MVP should the Dallas Mavericks spring the upset, Heat guard Dwyane Wade represents a fairly good value pick at 7/2. Wade did look a bit limited -- perhaps by injury? -- against the Bulls so there's a risk factor there. He certainly has a huge match-up advantage, however, as neither DeShawn Stevenson nor Jason Terry figures to be able to meaningfully impact his ability to score in volume.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 11:56 am
 

Butler is unlikely, but not ruled out completely

Posted by Royce Young

After Caron Butler's knee surgery back in January, he said he was going to try and get back for the postseason. I think we all sort of said, "Yeah right" and forgot about it.

Butler ruptured his patellar tendon on New Year's Day against the Bucks. Butler, a Racine, Wis. native, popped his kneecap back into place and actually walked off the floor because he didn't want to be carried off in front of friends and family.

But Butler's been working extremely hard during this past month rehabbing and trying to get himself ready for a return. Plus, he's gotten quite a lot of extra time because the Mavs have extended their postseason run all the way to The Finals. Via ESPN Dallas:

"It's unlikely, but I can't say no for sure," coach Rick Carlisle said.

Jason Terry said that Butler doesn't even have to play. Just having him out there would be a lift.

"I just want to see him in layup lines," Dallas guard Jason Terry said recently. "If he can get up in layup lines, it's going to boost us immensely emotionally. He's been here the whole way, though. This guy has worked so hard to get ready."

It's very unlikely Butler will make an appearance, but maybe he does suit up for a couple games. And like Terry said, that would be a nice bit of inspiration.

But what if Butler got healthy enough to play a little? Obviously he wouldn't return to the starting lineup, but if he were to see minutes, he'd like fill the role Peja Stojakoic has had off the bench. It's always dangerous to start tweaking and messing with rotations when what's got you here has clearly worked, but Butler would probably fit back in nicely.

Again, very unlikely though. Butler is obviously trying to rush things, which isn't a good idea. The Mavs could use him, but they need the Caron Butler that was playing really well back in December. Not one that's not even done rehabbing. But in terms of an emotional boost, the Mavs will take anything they can get.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:22 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 6:12 am
 

NBA Finals Storylines: It Ain't 2006



Posted by Matt Moore

You're going to have the year 2006 emblazoned into your brain over the next five to 10 days if you pay attention to NBA coverage at all. It's going to dominate the talk since these two teams, the Heat and the Mavericks, met five years ago for the title. Everything will be examined in the same context and talk of the officials will be prime in Dallas, and talk of Wade's brilliance will be brought up in Miami, along with Udonis Haslem and his defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Let me stop you there.

The coaches are different. The rosters are different. The identities are different. The styles are different. The approaches are different. Everything is different. If you think that series defines Dirk's career or ability to succeed in the clutch, you just crawled out from under a rock. If you think Wade's still able to draw contact like he did in that series you're bonkers. If you think anything compares to the effect LeBron James can have on this series, you're out of your gourd.

This is not 2006.

This is 2011, and here are your NBA Finals storylines. 


Can Dallas' defense step up? 


The Mavericks gave up a 106.1 defensive efficiency in the playoffs this season through the Western Conference finals. That's seventh-best of all the teams in the league. Sure, they had more games to try and suffer through. But the reality is that the Mavericks for long stretches of the Western Conference Playoffs couldn't get stops. They found ways down the stretch to cut off the Thunder but it won't be nearly as easy against the Heat. We know the Heat's defense is legit. We know Miami's offense is legit. We know the Mavericks' offense is legit. But with so many size issues for the Mavericks, we're going to have questions about how they guard the Heat. Once again the absence of Caron Butler is extremely damaging for Dallas. The Mavericks will wind up with one of the following guarding Dwyane Wade: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jose Barea, or Corey Brewer. That does not bode well. Even more concerning is Shawn Marion, as well as he played against Kevin Durant, guarding LeBron James.  No one can guard those players. But the Mavericks are especially ill-equipped to stop them. If the Mavericks' were ever going to whip out a zone, now might be the time. 


Will point guard play finally hurt the Heat?

Jrue Holiday did it a bit, but it didn't matter. Rajon Rondo was ... er ... not the same. Derrick Rose was shut down due to the offensive weapons surrounding him, or lack thereof, allowing James and Wade to freelance on him with an additional help defender on the double. But the Heat are facing a different beast in Jason Kidd. Kidd's not young, athletic (anymore, comparatively, though he can still get up and down the floor and has a decent amount of muscle). He's not going to try and torch the Heat on drives. He's just going to make the right play. Kidd will try and outsmart the Heat's athleticism and ability with savvy. He'll make passes they don't anticipate and aren't used to, slip between defenders only to beat their reactions defensively and make the right pass. Throw in Kidd's surprising recent ability to hit open 3-pointers and the Heat might be surprised at the old veteran working his Magic


Mavericks on the verge of validation


Dirk Nowitkzi is one of the best players of the past 10 years and he has no rings. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer and doesn't have a ring. Jason Terrry has been a fourth-quarter maestro for the same franchise for the same length of time as Nowitzki, no ring. Mark Cuban has sunk more than $800 million into trying to earn a championship, no ring. Rick Carlisle led successful teams in Indiana and Detroit, no ring. This series is their best shot and in all likelihood, their last chance. This is everything for the Mavericks. The Heat have years to make another run. For the Mavericks, this is their absolute best chance at a title, to catch the Heat confident and still trying to figure themselves out. This isn't just an exciting shot at a title, it's about salvaging legacies and cementing greatness. 


The promise of 'The Decision'

They're there. They have to win four games and they will have backed it all up. All the talk, all the pomp, all the circumstance, all the pyro. The Heat will have lived up to their hype. The only way to shut up critics is to win it all. Miami's not just within sight of it, they're on the doorstep. They just beat the defending Eastern Conference champs and the top seed in the East featuring the best defensive team in the league. Yes, everyone will still regard James as arrogant, and question the value of teaming up with other elite teammates. But the narrative will start to shift if they win the title. James becomes a winner, Wade a two-time champ, and Erik Spoelstra a championship coach. Lose, and everyone's harshest criticism rings true.  Everything changes in four more games, either way. 

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:11 am
 

NBA Finals: Heat, Mavs make a battle of closers

Finals will feature battle of great closers in Heat, Mavericks.

Posted by Matt Moore

You want a story for  the Finals? How's this. 

"No lead is safe."

The 2011 NBA Finals will feature two teams riding some of the strongest fourth quarter and final minutes play in recent history, maybe ever. Both teams absolutely crushed their opponents in the final minutes of the Conference Finals. You can talk about the inexperience they faced to get to the Finals, but the reality is that both teams crushed their opponents with long runs to close out big deficits and crush their opponent... multiple times.

The Finals set up an epic battle of notable clutch players. Dirk Nowitzki is on a roll of epic proportions at the moment, absolutely unstoppable with a seven foot frame and the single best jumper in the NBA. Jason Terry has been known to absolutely take over fourth quarters with huge shots. Jason Kidd won't wow you with 3-pointers (well, except you, Thunder, sorry), but he will always, always, always make the right decision and as Derrick Rose showed in the East. That's big. And Shawn Marion's clutch play has been quietly the defensive counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki. For the Heat? James, all day. LeBron has been another creature all-together in the fouth quarter of these playoffs. He hasn't just closed out, he's decided games are over and then made it so. Dwyane Wade had terrible quarters 1-3 in Games 4 and 5, and yet closed out the fourth and overtimes to make the difference. Even Chris Bosh has been clutch. 

There's not a player on either team you're concerned about in the key moments right now. Not one that will get the ball anyway. Defensively, Miami's got the edge, but the Thunder didn't fall apart on their own. These are veteran teams with amazing players, primed to finish strong.

These Finals may not be close. But if the game is within five after three quarters, heck, if it's within 20 after three quarters, neither team can feel safe. Each team will put the pedal down. For the Mavericks, it will be Dirk Nowitzki trying to overcome a much better set of defenders and the Mavericks using the inevitable doubles to find the open corner shooter. For the Heat? Just standing back and watching James and Wade do their thing. Can the Heat really stop Nowitkzi? Hard to see anyone playing better defense than Nick Collison did and Dirk made him look silly. Can anyone stop LeBron James right now?

No, really, can anyone, anywhere, stop LeBron James right now?

This isn't just the two best teams of the playoffs meeting to decide the title, it's the two teams who have shown consistently they want the game more, know how to win the game more, and have the will to close the game more.

And we get to see them settle which one of them wants a ring more.  
Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:09 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 5:58 am
 

Mavericks-Heat 2011 NBA Finals Preview

An early preview of the NBA Finals matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Posted by Ben Golliver.

lebron-mavs

I. Intro: Western Conference Champions: No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. Eastern Conference Champions: No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24)

II. How They Got Here: A look at the playoff track records

Dallas: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, 4-0 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder). Dallas is 7-1 at home and 5-2 on the road in the playoffs.

Miami: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1 against the Boston Celtics, 4-1 against the Chicago Bulls). Miami is 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road in the playoffs.

In the regular season, Dallas had the No. 8 offense and the No. 7 defense from an efficiency perspective. Miami had the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Dallas has the No. 1 offense and the No. 9 defense. Miami has the No. 4 offense and the No. 2 defense.

Both teams have played at a relatively slow pace in the postseason: Dallas is ranked No. 10 and Miami is ranked No. 13 out of 16 playoff teams.

III. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Mavericks and Heat matched up just twice in the regular season, with Dallas winning both times. The teams haven’t faced each other in almost five months, as the two games took place all the way back on Nov. 27 and Dec. 20. Dallas won 106-95 at home on Nov. 27 and they won 98-96 on the road on Dec. 20.

Of course, much has changed for both teams, but the regular season results are interesting for one main reason: The Heat went 22-2 from Nov. 26, 2010 until Jan. 9, 2011 ... the best stretch of their season by leaps and bounds. Both losses during that time period came at the hands of the Mavericks.

Keep in mind, Dallas had the services of small forward Caron Butler and Miami was without power forward Udonis Haslem. In all likelihood, that situation will be reversed for the Finals: Butler is expected to be out as he continues to rehab from knee surgery while Haslem has returned from foot surgery to provide a major spark for the Heat against the Bulls.

IV. Secret of the Series: Late-Game Execution

Nobody has finished games like Dallas and Miami in this playoffs. Not even close.

The main weapons have been Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, but both teams have benefited from substantial defensive contributions from the likes of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Throw in dagger shots from Jason Kidd and Wade, as well as meaningful role player contributions from Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and you start to understand why these two teams have stood up so well under pressure. They’ve got tons and tons of options.

Nowitzki has left longtime NBA observers speechless with his shot-making and play-making over the last month but James has matched him shot for shot, comeback for comeback. What might prove to be the difference is James’ lockdown defense late in games. Never before has he appeared to enjoy ball-hawking as much as he did against the Bulls. Derrick Rose, one of the league’s best shot creators, often looked absolutely hopeless in crunch time with James draped all over him. What’s more, he has seemed immune to pressure ever since a critical late-game turnover against the Celtics. James closed out Boston with a monster run, and he combined with Wade to do the same to the Bulls on Thursday night. If the Mavericks can find an answer for James in the game’s final minutes four times during the Finals, they will have more than earned their rings.

V. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Miami Heat have dealt well with Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose so far in the playoffs, despite a middling point guard rotation featuring Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. The defensive versatility of James and Wade helps a lot to cover up for those two. Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, has been one of many unsung heroes for the Mavericks, surviving Andre Miller, Derek Fisher and Russell Westbrook. Both sides will be thankful here. Miami will be glad they don’t need to worry about a paint-crashing young All-Star again while Dallas will take comfort in the same. Rather than worry about the Roses and Westbrooks of the world, Kidd can do what he does best: steady the ship, distribute the rock to the open man and force opportunistic turnovers. Kidd is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in the playoffs. Phenomenal numbers considering his age and the competition. Advantage: Mavericks. 

SG: Dwyane Wade or DeShawn Stevenson? Let’s not overthink this one. While Stevenson has been a nominal starter with reserve guard Jason Terry, an impact player on both ends, playing the bulk of the minutes, the Mavericks' combination falls far, far short of what Wade brings to the table. While the All-Star took a bit of a backseat in the scoring department in the Eastern Conference finals after torching the Boston Celtics, he’s a match-up nightmare for the Mavericks. Really, he’s what Kobe Bryant was supposed to be in the second round, if Bryant hadn’t decided to shoot only contested jumpers and never get to the rim or the free throw line. Wade’s been a menace on defense as well. He can cover tons of ground, which should help limit Dallas’ hot outside shooting. Huge advantage: Heat. 

SF: Like Kidd, Shawn Marion has been a major, chronically overlooked factor during Dallas’s playoff run. Marion put the stamp on the Western Conference finals, coming up with two huge late steals and a brilliant and-one dunk to push the Mavericks past the Thunder in Game 5. But even in his best days, which are behind him, Marion was no LeBron James, and, over the last month, we’ve realized just how impactful James can be. From being able to interchangeably cover three or four positions, to closing out games, to sacrificing his body for crucial hustle plays, James has been everywhere. His postseason averages: 25.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 points, 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals (entering Thursday) are just ridiculous. Perhaps, best of all, despite playing almost 44 minutes a night and handling the ball a ton, he’s committing less than three turnovers a game. Marion will have his hands full. Really, really, really full. Huge Advantage: Heat. 

PF: Nowitzki has earned gushing praise. He has taken his scoring versatility, efficiency and creativity to new heights. The leaners have been great, a dagger three has been mixed in here and there, and his passing to keep teams honest has been exceptional. His effort level on the boards and on defense have both been superb. His postseason numbers -- 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists – reflect his dominance. In Heat forward Chris Bosh, though, he’s matched up with an athletic, talented player who is somewhat similar to Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started the first round series with good success before the Mavericks adjusted and forced Portland’s perimeter players to beat them, which they couldn’t. Against the Heat, the Mavericks won’t have that luxury, so they’ll have to defend Bosh with single coverage a lot more often. That, plus the confidence and scoring touch Bosh showed against Chicago, will help Miami keep this match-up closer than you might expect. Still, it’s Dirk’s world and we’re all just living in it. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Joel Anthony has been the man in the middle fill-in that Miami so desperately needed. Better than a stiff, his activity level helps keep Miami from getting overrun on the glass and his help defense dissuades forays into the paint. That’s about it for Anthony, which is OK from Miami’s standpoint given the offensive talent they always have on the court. Tyson Chandler, though, has proven to be an effective two-way player for the Mavericks. Not only has he been a pest getting into the heads of his opponents, he’s been huge on the glass, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in the postseason. Foul trouble is always a lingering issue with Chandler, but his length and energy level, plus his ability to finish lob plays to prevent teams from overloading on Nowitzki, are all big plusses that tilt this match-up in his favor.  Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: The Heat haves scaled things back to an eight-man rotation, using only Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Chalmers. Although Miller and Haslem haven’t really peaked in this playoffs, they’ve both made important contributions. Not much was expected after their respective injuries so it feels like an added bonus. If one of those three guys doesn’t get hot, Miami’s bench is really just buying time for its starters. Dallas, on the other hand, has enjoyed a big-time positive bench scoring differential throughout the playoffs. In addition to Terry, J.J. Barea has been a tempo-changing, gameplan-altering, pesky presence, Peja Stojakovic has provided the knockdown shooting and Brendan Haywood can give some fouls and pull down the occasional rebound. (He can also be counted on to get posterized.) The huge issue for Dallas’ bench will be its perimeter defense. Will the subs be able to get their full runs through the rotation? How long can they stay on the floor if James and Wade continue to play heavy, heavy minutes? Hard to say. But Dallas’ bench has been more consistent, more prolific and it does enjoy the depth advantage. Slight advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: As mentioned above, both teams enter the series having played very, very well at the end of games. Both teams have also survived against a variety of opponents, overcoming significant mental hurdles along the way. For the Heat, it was finally pushing past the Celtics. For the Mavericks, it was surviving a miracle comeback against the Blazers. Both teams have closed out series on the road. Both teams have played the “proving the doubters wrong” card during the course of the season and both have stayed true to their self-perceived identity, resisting criticism and believing in their fundamentals. Simply put: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both deserve their share of the credit for those accomplishments. Advantage: Push.

VI. Conclusion

As dominant as the Mavericks have been in this postseason, they haven’t played a team that is as talented, focused and steady as the Heat. In the Blazers, Dallas was able to exploit a weak shooting team. Against the Lakers, Dallas made a disorganized and sloppy team pay. With the Thunder, Dallas forced Oklahoma City's younger players to crack under pressure.

Miami is well-rounded enough so that it resists straightforward tendency analysis. It’s fully motivated and focused as evidenced by its dismantling of the Celtics and Bulls in back-to-back series. And it’s proven to be very resilient in big moments, coming back to beat both Boston and Chicago in dramatic fashion.

While the Mavericks own positional advantage at three starting spots, and for the bench as a whole, they have no answer for James and Wade. This year, it’s starting to feel like no one in the NBA has an answer for that duo. Prediction: Heat in 6.


 
 
 
 
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