I have already predicted that the Miami Heat will win the championship, and as great as the Dallas Mavericks have performed so far in these playoffs, I don’t see any reason to change my mind. Here are my reasons:
1) Dwayne Wade: Surprised I’m not leading with Lebron? It’s because I think Wade — if healthy, which became a subject of some doubt in the Chicago series — is going to create all sorts of problems for Dallas in this series. The biggest being what he’s going to do to the Barea-Terry backcourt: make it disappear.
Rick Carlisle got a lot of mileage out the Barea-Terry combo so far in these playoffs. But I don’t think he’s going to be able to play it when Wade is on the court. Wade is very adept at posting up smaller guards. He will absolutely kill whichever of Terry or Barea tries to guard him in the low post.
Which means more minutes for DeShawn Stevenson. I don’t think that’s a great matchup for Dallas.
2) Small Ball: The Mavs are adequate but not great rebounders. They certainly don’t attack the offensive boards with the ferociousness of Chicago or OKC. I think this will allow the Heat to play a lot more small ball in this series than they have so far. Chris Bosh at center, Lebron at the 4. Mike Miller, who has rebounded excellently in these playoffs, at the three.
This is far and away the Heat’s best lineup, is it not? Can the Mavericks make it pay? It’s hard for me to see how. I think the Heat can live with the low post games of Chandler and Haywood. Far more likely, Carlisle will be forced to matchup small.
If the Heat can get to this lineup consistently, Dallas will be in danger of getting run off the floor. Nowitzki in particular. But also the rest of the old men: Stojakovic, Marion, Kidd. The Heat’s fast break should open up in this series in ways the Bulls’ glass crashing prevented.
Even in the half-court, Miami’s small ball unit will be able to put 5 scorers on the floor. Captained by Lebron, that is formidable.
3) Defense on Nowitzki: The Mavericks run so much of their offense through Dirk that all defensive game-plans start and end with him. And I think the Heat are uniquely suited to match up against him one on one. Chris Bosh, who will probably get the starting nod, is the least of the defenders Dirk will face. Udonis Haslem will also get a crack at him, and he’s caused him problems in the past.
Neither of these two guys can shut Dirk down, but I think they’re good enough to play him straight up and make him work. Which means the rest of the Heat can stay at home against the shooters.
But the fourth quarter is when Dirk is really going to be tested. Because I’m pretty sure that the Heat will shift Lebron onto him. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Lebron is going to torture Dirk. Absolutely suffocate him. Even though he’s giving up 4 inches. Here’s how: Lebron has the muscle and weight to body up against Dirk in the low post. And he has the phenomenal quickness to completely disrupt Dirk’s dribble. I think Lebron is going to do to Dirk what Michael Cooper did to Larry Bird: deny him his dribble. Remove his triple threat. Turn him over relentlessly.
This won’t be the end. Carlisle is nothing if not a master of adjustments. And I’m pretty sure he’ll wind up moving Nowitzki out to the three point line and run high picks, as he did against the Lakers. But I don’t think that will ultimately work against Lebron and the Heat. They’re just too quick, too athletic, too good.
Nowitzki won’t be able to put the ball on the floor.
4) Defense on Barea: Barea has been the second biggest headache for opponents of Dallas this year. Particularly when Dallas has been able to spread the floor with Terry and Stojakovic on the floor, Barea’s penetration has been unstoppable. But as mentioned before, Dallas is going to have a lot of trouble getting those guys on the floor along with Barea against the Heat. Wade and Lebron are going to force Dallas into far more conventional lineups, which is going to clog the lane and greatly lessen Barea’s effectiveness.
5) Lebron: OK, maybe I should have put him first. As the best player in this series, not to mention one of the greatest players of all-time, Lebron is obviously the biggest reason that the Heat will win, if they do wind up prevailing.
It’s worth noting that Dallas has a couple of defenders, in Marion and Stevenson, who can make things tough for Lebron on the offensive end. It shouldn’t matter, as Lebron is quite content playing the Jason Kidd role for most of the game, and against Dallas I think he’s going to have a lot more weapons at his command than he had against the Bulls and Celtics. I think Lebron is going to make a statement with his passing in this series. Get ready for the discussions of the best passing forwards in history.
He’s also going to continue making a statement with his defense, as noted. And I think he’s going to make a statement with his rebounding as well. Lebron is going to be the X factor on the boards in this series, particularly if the Heat go small for significant stretches. Lebron averaging 10 boards a game will be a key indicator that things are going the Heat’s way.
And that’s all before we get to the final two minutes, when Lebron is Lebron.
On the Other Hand
There are some good reasons to like Dallas in this series. Not least of which is the fact that I’ve already seriously underestimated them, in their series against the Lakers. Here are a couple of others:
1) Rick Carlisle: I give Carlisle a solid edge over Spoelstra in game-coaching. So far in these playoffs, Carlisle has already proven himself brilliant not just at game-planning, but at making in-game adjustments. He would have an even bigger edge over Spoelstra if it were not for Pat Riley. From what I’ve read, Spoelstra has been huddling very closely with Riley between playoff games, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Riley were behind the Heat’s surprising roster moves and adjustments in these playoffs.
The Mavericks are going to have all sorts of challenges in this series, but none so big as containing Lebron and Wade on the defensive end. It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Mavs will have to resort to some creative zone schemes for significant periods.
Given their deficits in size, speed and athleticism, if the Mavs find a way to control the Heat’s superstars and win this series I think Carlisle will deserve the lion’s share of the credit.
2) Jason Kidd and the Mav’s passing game: The Mavs are an extraordinary passing team, starting of course with Jason Kidd. His unselfish play permeates the lineup. The Mavs are almost the antithesis of the ball-pounding Heat in the way they swing the ball to the open man as soon as he comes open. They are just as content making the pass that leads to the assist as they are making the assist, which is extraordinarily rare in the stat-conscious NBA.
Passing is the big intangible in this series. There is no better way, of course, to defeat the Heat’s superb ball-hawking. The Mavs are going to be a lot tougher to defend down the stretch than the Bulls.
3) Dirk Nowitzki: There is always the possibility that Dirk dons the mantle of Larry Bird and transcends everything the Heat throw at him. If he is able to dominate in crunch time while being guarded by Lebron James, then he will deserve comparison to the all-time greats.
But I wouldn’t count on it. I think Lebron and the Heat are going to force some other Maverick to beat them down the stretch.
The Heat opened at -180 and have since moved to -200. Even so, this line baffles me, and makes me a little uneasy. Why aren’t the Mavs bigger dogs in this series? Who exactly is betting on them? Am I missing something?
I’m not going to bet this series — at least to start — because I’m a fan before I’m a bettor, and I think some part of me wants to root for the Mavericks. Old guys against the young; unselfish passing game against dominant individual play; the brilliant offensive coach with bad hair against the gung-ho youngster with the slicked-back Pat Riley do. That kind of thing.
But I think 2-1 is a very low price to pay for the Heat in this series.
It is very fashionable at the moment to hate the Heat and everything they represent. For many, watching the Heat win the championship in the same year as The Decision would be intolerable.
But I wonder, have these people given any thought to what it would be like to see Mark Cuban win a championship?