King James Ascends the Throne: Heat v. Mavericks Preview

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 Wager

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.

Final Thought

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?

20 Responses to King James Ascends the Throne: Heat v. Mavericks Preview

  1. geraldmcgrew

    Can’t disagree with most of what you’ve got.
    A few things:
    First big question seems to be will Heat limit Dirk in a significant way, even after Carlisle adjustments? If so, I’d think the series is already decided.
    Secondly, your usual take re: Chancellor Stern and the refs is conspicuous in its absence. Is the fix already in?
    Third, if you are correct about the Heat playing more small ball, will this mean we finally see them show the basketball world and the viewing public how much more exciting championship basketball can be than it has been for, what, the past 20+ years or so? If so, it will be worth it, though I too am pulling for Dirk, Kidd, and Carlisle. Or if the Mavs’ passing wins the day, would it have nearly the same effect?
    Lastly, could be wrong of course, but I suspect that Cuban will try to continue restraining himself even if the Mavs win this. He seems to really want the Dodgers.
    In any case, here’s to a great series with great basketball. It’s been a fun ride so far.
    And, as always, thanks to you for making the sport even more interesting.

  2. This should be a great series. Dallas has thrived thus far in the underdog role and I think that continues along with the strong performance of their bench players. Dallas in 7.

  3. Does Dwayne Wade have a serious shoulder injury? Hearing strange rumblings, that would explain his disappearance in Chicago series. This might also explain the line, which is otherwise inexplicable to me.

  4. MT writes Lacob flying to San Antonio to interview Mike Budenholzer. I think this is awesome news. He would be perfect. More later.

  5. TK now spreading more Monta Ellis trade rumors. Not gonna link.

    I have to say that Jerry West brought up the Magic Johnson/Norm Nixon story for a reason. It sounds like he believes Curry and Ellis are not a good fit, as both players need the ball in their hands to be all that they can be. And he reiterated the well-worn criticism that the Warriors need more size.

    So I think there’s little doubt the Warriors are shopping Monta. There is considerable doubt, however, that they get equal value in return. The names Kawakami mentions are of course completely uninformed and absurd. Are the Bulls going to trade Deng to go with a Rose/Ellis backcourt? Is OJ Mayo an improvement over Ellis defensively?

    Ellis might not know it, but he’s a top 5 point guard in the NBA. He’s a better passer right now than Rose or Westbrook will ever be. The team that trades for him, almost assuredly, will be getting a gift.

    I have my fingers crossed that Mike Budenholzer, who coached the Parker/Ginobili/Hill backcourt at the fastest pace in the NBA last year, talks some sense into Joe Lacob. And gets the job.

  6. FB:

    I think it was you who said that West watched films from this season’s games, so he’s basing his decisions on those? But they were games that Smart coached, and he didn’t maximize the potential of Curry/Ellis. Nelson would have given him something different to see–and Ellis was willing to try it, and Curry will try anything.

    Thanks again, Joe. Your preconceived notions about what a team should be have helped ensure this result, yet have overlooked the very real potential the team has–and may destroy it.

    Still, look at all the games where Curry/Ellis scored 45-50+ points, had 15-20 assists combined. The Warriors have much more serious problems to solve, on the bench and at center.

  7. Just finished re-watching game 1, and had 2 thoughts:

    1) Forget about Wade’s shoulder for a minute, there’s something wrong with his legs. They are clearly dead. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear he needs surgery post-title.

    2) This series will go only as long as the Heat care to let it. Particularly now that Dirk is injured, a sweep wouldn’t surprise me. 5 games more likely.

  8. This was posted on MT’s blog.
    I would have no problem with the Warriors hiring Budenholzer. His lengthy relationship with Popovich speaks volumes.

    The subject of trading ME begs the question of how loud is the voice of West and his minority stake in the team? West definitely seems to be hinting in his comments that Monta is expendable but what about Lacob? He seems to be one of Monta’s biggest fans.

    I’d love to see the Warriors keep both Monta and Curry while continuing to add pieces at other positions of need. Their bench is priority numero uno followed closely by somehow figuring a way to unload Biedrins.

  9. Felt, if Dirk’s play is compromised by this injury the series is over. Otherwise, I still believe Dallas can make it interesting if their shooting touch returns. Some of their inefficiency was related to the Heat’s defensive efforts but the Mavs had more than enough open looks. A higher FG% will cure many ills in a hurry.

  10. geraldmcgrew

    Sadly, I expect Dirk’s play WILL be compromised. The recently added ability to go and shoot left are a big part of his potency. And the Mavs need him to rebound. A splint on his left hand is a big deal, though it is not his main shooting hand. If he is able to overcome this with MVP level play, it will be astonishing. But I won’t be betting on it.

  11. I’m skeptical about the Mavs shooters getting hot, Steve. The Heat are so long and athletic on the wings, and the Mavs so weak in the post, that the Heat have had no problem recovering to smother the three point shooters.

    Also, as I predicted, the Mavs were able to play Barea and Terry together only when Wade was off the court. And Barea consequently struggled to find his usual openings. His every shot was challenged. I don’t see any of this changing.

    I didn’t predict that Lebron would be used to cover Terry, as he was in the second half. As van Gundy noted, that prevented the Terry-Nowitzki pick and roll. And Terry went 0 for the second half. Is that going to change?

    This is probably the most efficient use of Lebron on a team that has Haslem to guard Nowitzki. Although I would greatly prefer the more elegant solution of playing small. Perhaps Wade’s leg problems are the reason that Spoelstra has put the Kibosh on the fast-break that the Heat were dominating with mid-season.

    But this Heat team is so dominant over the Mavs that I think they could win playing any number of styles. I would love as much as anyone to see a competitive series, but I just don’t think it’s in the cards.

  12. Your analysis of Miami has been right on.

    We differ on whether Ellis should be traded. If trading Ellis can help us move up in the draft and obtain a really good center and some veteran players, I’m all for it, as we will have a stronger roster.

  13. A person hears what he wants to hear. What I heard Jerry West say was that in the playoffs, half-court offenses don’t work because the defenses are too good and consecutive games against the same opponent allow for effective strategy changes. He said you need players who can create their own shot, and said Ellis and Curry can both do that. Therefore, I conclude that he’d like to keep Ellis and Curry, while adding players of size in both the frontcourt and backcourt. The quandary becomes, how do you add quality players without giving up something. I have no doubt that if anyone can figure this out, West can, and I give Larry Riley some props here, too.

    Secondly, the news about Spurs assistant Budenholzer being a candidate for Warriors coach is the best thing I’ve heard in weeks. West said he puts a lot of stock in coaches/assistants who are proteges of the three greatest in-his-opinion coach mentors – Larry Brown, Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich. “Coach Bud” has been a Popovich assistant for 15 years. This puts him at the top of my list, Mr. Lacob.

  14. All you fools wrote off Dallas.

  15. Who you callin’ a fool, fool?

  16. WheresMyChippy

    Wow what a game.

    I do believe you’ve misunderestimated the Mavs and Dirk… and J Kidd. I think they can win this series and I thought that before last night. They have the shooting and veteran savvy to overcome Miami’s ridiculous athleticism. I don’t think Lebron is going to continue to knock down 3-pointers at this rate.

    Heck.. even Nellie thinks they can do it. Plus I got 50 bucks on the Mavs… Dirk will transcend!

  17. I’m not giving up on the Mavs yet. I’m not sure Miami knows how to play together, not as well as the Mavs.

    I’ve become a Rick Carlisle fan.

    Also Cuban has been gloriously quiet. I’m pretending he isn’t there.

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