It’s on. The Heat and the Mavericks have taken care of business, and are returning to the big stage for the 2006 NBA Finals–Remix! Where’s T-Pain? I am excited. Of all the possible match-ups, this is probably the juiciest. We’ve got the best team collusion and Cleveland’s tears can put together squaring off against the best squad Mark Cuban’s money can assemble. It’s the Heatles vs. the 2005 All-Stars! I’m joking, of course, most of the Mavs players reached their peak well before 2005. Can Miami’s star power and autoerotic self-absorption overpower the combined 837 years of NBA experience on the Dallas roster? We’re going to find out.
Both teams took strikingly similar paths to the Finals. Miami finished off their series (plural) in 5, 5, and 5 games, for a total of 15, including an impressive 4-wins-in-a-row after being blown out in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals by the Bulls. Dallas won their series (again plural) in 6, 4, and 5 games, for an eerily similar total of 15 games. Both teams played a few OT’s somewhere in there, so they’ve basically got the same amount of playoff mileage at this point. Common sense would dictate Miami should have the advantage due to its younger legs, but they’ve been relying so heavily on the Wade-Bosh-He Who Shall Not Be Named trio that the advantage may be wiped out. I think the Big Three are averaging about 48 hours a game, which may be hyperbole. The Mavs are older than dirt, the same dirt under which many of their careers seemed to have been buried, but they haven’t looked gassed at all, even in the conference finals, so it really looks like fatigue won’t be a factor this series.
Enough about tiredness, let’s talk about styyyylllleee! (waving jazz hands). Contrary to most people’s expectations, the Wade-He He Who Shall Not Be Named pairing hasn’t really produced too much record-setting offense, but instead has exhibited consistent, stifling defense. The Heat have scored 100 or more points only three times this postseason. They haven’t been winning with their crazy scoring, but by clamping down on their opponents, who have scored more than 90 points against them only 4 times in 3 playoff series (one of them an OT game). To use an Ultimate Fighting Analogy, which I think is en vogue these days, the Heat aren’t the tall guy who tries to kick and punch people, but are instead the annoying fighter who just grapples the other guy to the ground, and then mounts him in, and attacks with a vaguely homoerotic offense of chokes and submission moves. Just look at the Chicago series. What they did to Derrick Rose, the 2011 MVP of the League, should be criminal. I think he somehow missed more shots than he attempted (actual FG% was .350), and he averaged almost 4 turnovers a game.
The Mavericks make their home on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, and have won most of their playoff games this year with very high numbers, like, in the 100’s, which is the average age of their starters, by the way. They failed to score 90 points only twice this postseason, and have a few games were they got into the 120’s. The keystone of this scoring-gasm is, of course, Nowitzki, who averaged 32.2 ppg, and shot almost 60% from the field, in the Western Conference Finals. However, the team’s real strength is their unreal ball movement (pause for giggles). Basically, at any point in the game, they have at least 3 players on the court who can create their own shot, or create for others. The exception is J.J Barea, who I don’t think knows that basketball is a team sport. Anyway, what makes them so tough to defend is their offense is never really funneled through one guy, like the point guard, for example, so opposing teams never know where the ball is going, or coming from. It should also be mentioned their defense in the playoffs so far has been pretty average too, which paired up with their scoring is impressive. The Tyson Chandler acquisition was huge in that respect.
I hear you. You’re tired of all these abstract numbers. What about the match ups, the players? Glad you asked. Dallas is a really interesting case in that they sort of came out of nowhere to blitz the Western Conference playoffs. Of course, they put together 57 wins in the regular season, a very strong showing, and got the 3rd seed in the West, but strong seasons are nothing new in Dallas, and they were expected to choke away the playoffs as per usual. Towards the end of the season, Portland, Memphis, and Denver were all basically caught in a complicated clusterfuck of tanking just enough games and desperately trying to win a few more to position themselves to draw Dallas in the first round. Once the postseason started, everyone, including your truly, was quick to give Portland the upset over the Mavericks in the first round. And yet, 3 rounds and a Lakers sweep later, we’re confronted with a Mavericks team that cruised to the NBA Finals.
Right, I was going to talk about the players. The catalyst in the team’s transformation is no doubt Dirk Nowitzki, who improbably transformed himself from a perennial regular-season warrior who crumbled in the playoffs into the Black Mamba (**Most sports writers have adopted the “White Mamba” nickname for Dirk, since Kobe is the “Black Mamba”, and Nowitzki is white. But the actual black mamba’s skin color is white. It’s labeled black because of the color of the inside of its mouth, which I hope I never personally see. So I’m going to refer to Dirk as the Black Mamba, since like the snake, his skin is pasty white). In the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to come out and say I don’t like white players in the NBA. I don’t think they belong. They’re gangly, awkward-looking, and their “finesse” game is as boring as…well, finesse anything. Finesse is boring; that’s just a fact. Watching Dirk make a fade-away jumper from 18 feet is great and all, and it puts points on the board. But I’d rather see Kevin Garnett 2-handed dunk the ball through the hoop like a meteor, while plastering his junk all over some poor defenders face, and then drop a couple f-bombs while staring directly at a national TV camera, like he wants to attack it in a dark alley. I don’t like white NBA players, but, honestly, Dirk has been the MVP of the playoffs this year, and it’s not even close. He Who Shall Not Be Named has been nothing but clutch in late games, but his overall performance hasn’t been consistent, and Wade’s play has graphed a negative slope since the first round. Chris Bosh has been very solid, but that’s it, solid. No one has had a postseason this year like Nowitzki has. I already mentioned his numbers in the OKC series. Remember in game 1 how he didn’t miss a single free throw, and went 12-15 from the field? I didn’t even think that was possible in a video game.
The rest of the Dallas roster has been playing above and beyond what their aged, arthritic limbs should allow. Jason Kidd, at a ripe 38 years old, inexplicably developed a reliable 3 point shot. Remember when they used to call him Ason, cuz he had no J? Those days are over. Interesting side note; Jason Kidd is #3 all time on 3-point shots attempted in the regular season, and #10 in 3-point shots made in the postseason. I’m not making this up; I don’t understand it either, but when you’ve been in the league for 43 years like he has, I guess you rack up numbers. Jason Terry is still the best 6th man in the NBA, as he has been since the Paleolithic era; he’s sort of in the Ginobili mold of bench players, in name only, since he’s basically starter quality. As I mentioned before, the Tyson Chandler acquisition was bigtime. He was injured for a bit during the regular season, but he has been a rock during the postseason for Dallas. His athleticism is hard for anyone to match; and his defensive presence has been key. Brendan Haywood, who has proven to be a better return from Washington than Caron Butler, whose corpse still sits on the Dallas bench, brings his size into the equation as well, but more on the offensive side. Shawn Marion lives! He dropped 26 points on the Thunder in game 5 like it was 2004 in Phoenix. The Mavericks also somehow got something out of Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea has been a lil’ sparkplug for them off the bench. Don’t underestimate Corey Brewer’s defensive presence. There’s a reason Miami, Boston, L.A., and OKC all went after him once the Knicks released him for reasons clear only to them. Overall, it’s a very strong, and very deep group.
The Mavericks lineup is a pretty stark contrast to the Heat’s, which is 3 deep. Much ado has been made about Udonis Haslem’s impact, but honestly, it’s minimal. He gets a few rebounds a game, and pounds his chest to rally the troops, and that’s it. Mike Miller has apparently been playing with one arm, and they are starting Mike Bibby at the point. To put it lightly, watching Bibby play right now is like staring Medusa directly in the face. He is awful. I don’t know what’s sadder, Bibby’s atrocious play, or the fact the Heat have no one better on the roster they could be starting ahead of him. It’s hard to name anyone else on the roster. A guy named Mario Chalmers is there, but all I know is that he’s good friends with Dwyane Wade, which I think speaks more to why he is employed by the Heat than his basketball ability does. I think Ilgauskas is there too, whoring himself out to He Who Shall Not Be Named to win an NBA championship, like a more pathetic, and older, version of Sunset Boulevard.
Really though, Miami is 3 people. The self-proclaimed Heatles. Chris Bosh has been a stud these playoffs. He was sort of marginalized in the regular season, and rarely made any kind of strong appearance in games, but he turned it on in the postseason, especially in the Chicago series, where 30 and 15 were seemingly daily contributions. The Boshtrich dragged his head out from under the sand. Wade was having an excellent postseason until the conference finals, where he disappeared like The Situation in Season 3, except for the 4th quarter of game 5. He Who Shall Not Be Named has been great all around. Only Dirk has had a better performance in these playoffs. For all the heat (pun intended) Miami took for their approach to team building, we all need to admit they are exactly as-advertised. Of course, by abandoning fan bases, colluding behind the scenes, and hosting a live circle jerk onstage, they brought a lot of the haterade on themselves, but they have delivered. Most sportswriters made well-reasoned arguments that the Heat as currently constructed wouldn’t go very far in the first few years, and yet here we are, and here they are, in the Finals their first year together. Hate all you want, but they have been living up the considerable hype, and even greater expectations.
My gut reaction is to give the coaching advantage to Dallas. Rick Carlisle is a proven coach, and he’s somehow gotten the Mavericks to perform well in the playoffs. Having been a former NBA player himself, he’s got that extra locker room cred, which I think has really helped him in his career, especially in Dallas, where he’s had to coach so many older veterans. However, as out of his depth as Erik Spoelstra (not Spolestra, I know it’s weird) looked during the regular season, his game and roster management has been superb lately, especially in the Chicago series. What he has done is nothing short of impressive, considering he’s got to manage 3 ego maniacs with Pat Riley’s ghost breathing down his neck, and the real pat Riley actually right there, weighing his performance against feathers. Honestly, this series is so loaded with veterans and superstars I don’t think the coaching is going to swing the series one way or another. It’s going to be up to the players.
So, who is going to win the Finals, Miami’s 3 uberstars, or Dallas’s deep collection of veterans? Dallas’ offense vs. Miami’s defense is going to be an interesting dynamic, the power that cannot be stopped against the wall that cannot be moved. All my classicist readers will remember Cephalus’ hound, which always caught its prey, chasing the fox that could not be caught. However, I don’t think Zeus will turn all the participants to stone in the NBA Finals, so one of the forces will need to win out. I’m going to go with the Heat. The Finals are about greatness; they are about stars transcending the rank and file and grabbing a fistful of fate to win the trophy. And the Heat have 3 stars, while the Mavericks have one, who is 32 years old, and has a history of choking, and, more specifically, a history of choking to Miami. Let’s not forget the 2006 Finals, when Dallas had a 2-0 lead over the Heat, and was on its way to handily winning a third game, until Dwyane Wade decided to stop relying on Shaq and single-handedly win the contest during the fourth quarter. Miami went on to win 3 more games in a row, winning the series in 6. A lot has been made about the officiating in the series, but, you need a lot more than crooked referees to blow a best-of-7 series.
This current Miami Heat squad is better than the 2006 team. I say that with confidence. I don’t know if this Mavs team is better than the 2006 version, which I believe had the best record in the NBA that year, or close to it. Nowitzki and Terry were at their peak, and Devin Harris, before becoming a missing-persons case in Jersey, was a more athletic version of Barea. The Mavericks now are certainly older and wiser, but their whole team is a bunch of players past their physical primes who have never won a championship. From Dirk to Kidd to Stojakovic, they’re all players who have had, in some cases, multiple chances to win a ring, and failed to do so. I’m not confident they’re going to start now, when they’re about 2 years from picking strawberries in the woods around Golden Pond. I’m not saying they’re not hungry; I’m sure Dirk wants a title pretty bad to legitimize his career as something more than the trivia answer to “who was the best foreign NBA player ever?” Kidd needs a title too; a big championship ring would give his hand more heft, making beating wives easier (too soon?). Miami’s Big 3, on the other hand, are in their physical primes, and have all been in the league enough to store up some veteran cred. Wade himself has already won it all, actually, and is a former Finals MVP. They’ve also got a huge chip on their shoulder they’ve been nursing all season form the universal hate going their way. The only people on this Earth who want them to win a title wear Miami Jerseys, and they want it bad. They want it because the whole team concept, and their abandonment of former franchises, is predicated upon winning a title. If they do not win, they are failures, quite literally. The very purpose of their professional existence is on the line.
I don’t know how Miami will stop Dirk. I don’t think they’ll stick one defender on him. Bosh seems like the natural fit, but Dirk likes to play away from the basket, where Chris is uncomfortable. Bosh and He Who Shall Not Be Named will probably swap out Dirk duties, so as not to tire out one player too much. Wade can probably handle the Kidd’s and Terry’s of the world. I think Nowitzki will get his points, but I’m not sure anyone else on Dallas will. Conversely, even if Dallas manages to shut down Wade or He Who Shall Not Be Named, the other 2 Heatles will be there to take over. Miami is going to apply intense defensive pressure, and then pick up the speed in the 4th quarter. Let’s not forget, Miami won 58 games this season, and thus has home-court advantage in the Finals, which will be the difference. My money is on the Miami Heat winning the series in 6 games, and becoming the 2011 NBA champions. (POST EDIT: Never mind, I’ll take Dallas in 6!)