In what has been perhaps the best NBA playoff season in recent memory, the NBA Finals will feature the Dallas Mavericks vs. the Miami Heat. Both teams had some serious tests on the way to getting to the big dance and both franchises reach the final for the first time in their respective histories. There are some questions to be answered, some bold statements to make, and a final prediction. Here then is an InsidePulse NBA Finals preview:
How did they get here
-Defeated the Chicago Bulls 4 games to 2.
Hell of a series that was tougher than it looked at the end. The Heat didn’t get right until the end. I think it took some time for them to gel.
-Defeated the N.J. Nets 4 games to 1.
Most predicted a tough series, I had this going 7 games. What I didn’t realize was that this version of the Heat team had improved their playoff defense, both over last year’s squad AND over this year’s regular season.
-Defeated the Detroit Pistons 4 games to 2.
This wasn’t a huge shock to me, but more of a mild surprise. Remember, the Heat took the Pistons to 7 games last year. This was WITH an injured Shaq and D-Wade. I believed last year that had both men been healthy they would have gone to the finals. This year you add the improved health, the improved team, and the improved coaching you can see this isn’t a stretch. It really just came down to the Piston players not showing up. It wasn’t Flips fault.
-Defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 4 games to 0.
Destroyed a vastly inferior team in Memphis. What I liked about this series was that the Mavs did exactly what they should have done: dominate.
-Defeated the San Antonio Spurs 4 games to 3.
I made the mistake of going against the more talented team. I usually let the main steam hacks do that, but I allowed myself to get suckered in and I picked the Spurs in 7. The Spurs played well, but the most lopsided games were all basically Dallas victories. In a series that was generally close, that meant a lot.
-Defeated the Phoenix Suns 4 games to 2.
The Suns did a hell of a job, however they had been in the meat grinder since that Lakers series. They had a depleted bench and simply ran out of gas. No shame in that, but Dallas buried them when they had the chance. Again, that means a lot. It also helped that every now and against Dallas can now turn from Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk when defense is needed. Speaking of Gamma Bombs how important has Avery Johnson been this season. Yes he over-enunciates, but he’s fantastic.
Questions, statements, predictions
1) Pat Riley did the right thing firing Stanny Van Gundy.
Does anyone with half a brain honestly think the Heat get here without Riley? Not because of the X’s and O’s. That isn’t what this is about. This about the difference between your brother bossing you around vs. you father bossing you around. Simply put most title teams do not have a situation where their most respected player carries more weight on the club than their coach. How could Van Gundy lead that team when he held no more sway than Shaq? I couldn’t happen. You needed a figure that had the authority and gravitas to command respect from the whole team. It was the only way this seemingly misfit team was going to come together. Riley knew that and those in the main steam sports media that didn’t showed again why they don’t know their head from their butt hole.
2) What will Mavs do to counter Shaq?
My tentative guess is they will run small lineups as long as the Heat let them get away with it by not punishing them on the block and on the boards. Because Dirk can rebound they could move him out to center and pose HUGE match up nightmares for O’Neal. Dirk can get Shaq moving laterally while also pushing pace up-and-down the court. Both situations are devastating to the Heat. I don’t think Riley can respond by benching Shaq so what can he do? We’ll have to wait and see.
3) Devin Harris will have a breakout series.
There is no way on God’s green Earth that Jason Williams can keep up with Devin Harris. The only thing preventing Harris from having a HUGE series is Avery Johnson. In the first game of the Suns series Harris played huge minutes and dropped a 30-bomb on the PHX. Then Johnson didn’t play him as much because, seemingly, he didn’t like the matchups. Harris played great with the minutes he had (he shot well over 50% for the series), but he didn’t get the run. In this series a small lineup could include both Harris AND Jason Terry. If it does the Heat can’t guard him.
4) This fact should frighten all Heat fans: Antoine Walker must have a great series.
I don’t see any way the Heat wins this series without Walker being a consistent performer on the offensive end. If one figures that Dirk and Wade cancel out, and that Shaq cancels out the huge bench advantage that Dallas has, then you must conclude that SOMEONE has to step up for the Heat to pull this out. Because the Mavs are, overall, more talented, the Heat must use experience and star performances to win. The most likely place they will get those star performances is from Walker. I’ll put it this way: If Walker isn’t averaging at least 16ppg this series, the Heat are through. So when you’re watching the game you’ll notice Shaq will get his, Wade will too, but keep a close eye on what Walker is doing. If you see him over 16ppg you can impress your friends and predict a Heat victory.
5) The X Factor.
Usually the X factor is a player on the stage. Typically a role player or a head coach who’s style can change the complex of the series. However, when you’re the world’s first fully functional homicidal artist you don’t just crank out the same old crap as the guys on ESPN or Sportsline. So…in this series the X Factor is TIME. More specifically game #. The longer this series goes the more the advantage goes to the Heat. Shaq, Riles, (and to a certain extent Gary Payton) have been to the carnival; they’ve been on all the rides; they’ve banged all the bearded ladies. What I’m saying is that if this baby goes 6 or 7, especially 7, the Heat have the time-tested meddle to pull out tight games in VERY highly pressurized situations. Will Avery Johnson make the important 4th quarter adjustment in game 6? Can Jason Terry hit the shot in game 7 to send it to overtime? We just don’t know. We KNOW Riley can, and we know Shaq will.
Center: Shaq vs. Diop
Very big ouch for the Mavs. Diop has been solid since replacing the waste of human existence, Erick Dampier. However, Shaq will dominate the kid because that’s what Shaq does…in the playoffs…..to kids. Again, the Mavs could go small here with Dirk and pose some big problems. We’ll see how the series evolves.
PF: Walker vs. Nowitzki
Clear advantage for Dallas at this position. Something that is getting lost in all the hype around Dirks expanding game is that he still has this silly need to shoot fade-a-way jumpers even when he towers over the man guarding him. I’ve seen him back Steve Nash down and then shoot a God damn fader. What is he thinking? It’s gonna catch up to him at some point. Walker has to provide enough offense to not make this is huge disadvantage. Also the Heat might play Haslem here and slide Walker down. If that’s the case this IS a huge disadvantage. Haslem can’t guard Dirk and can’t score either.
SF: Posey vs. Howard
In theory this should be close to a push. Posey is/was a very good defender and rebounder. Even with Howard breaking out both men’s defense should cancel out. However, Posey isn’t playing great right now and Howard will probably take advantage.
SG: Wade vs. Terry
Huge advantage for Miami…seemingly. The seemingly part refers to the fact that Terry can put up huge scoring numbers. If Wade puts up 25 a game, but Terry can put up 20, then the Mavs will have done an effective job of limiting this disadvantage. Both men can provide some key ball movement and playmaking ability. My hunch is Wade has a huge series and Terry has a solid, though unspectacular, one.
PG: Williams vs. Harris
As I mentioned before this could be an advantage for Dallas depending on how Avery Johnson uses Harris. Williams can not/will not stay in front of Harris. It’s gonna be an El Toro situation as Harris constantly blows by Williams. Right now I’ll call it a push because I’m not sure I trust Avery to exploit this advantage like he will realize he should have in hindsight.
Bench: Heat vs. Mavs
No contest in terms of talent, however I do think that if the series drags on the value of Gary Payton increases exponentially. It would NOT surprise me if Payton became the most valuable backup on either team should this thing go to a 7th game. Overall Mavs, however.
Coaching: Riles vs. Enunciation JR.
I think Johnson is uber-fabby, still he’s no Riley and even though Riley had talented teams his jewelry does mean something. I don’t THINK the Mavs will beat themselves and that’s a credit to Johnson. However, I KNOW the Heat won’t beat themselves….that level of assuredness is an advantage.
Final thoughts and a prediction
I’m so tempted to pick the Heat for the same reasons I picked the Spurs to beat the Mavs. What I will do instead is do what I should have done before: pick the more talented team. Mavs in 6….with game 6 being a classic.