The Finals start tonight (9 PM ET, ABC) and there seems to be a feeling of dread emanating throughout NBA fans around the country, as the Miami Heat get ready for the final hurdle in their quest for a title that started in earnest last summer with LeBron’s Decision.
One Celtic fan I know is angry because his team is about to fall off a cliff, and Miami’s Big 3 are poised to control the East for the foreseeable future. One Laker fan I know doesn’t want to see LeBron win a title because it somehow tarnishes Kobe’s legacy (i.e. it happened on his watch). When he isn’t worrying about LeBron, he’s scratching his head thinking about the Mike Brown hire. One Bulls fan I know is wishing that his team had done a little more to shore up the two guard position after watching Kyle Korver shoot 29% from long range against the Heat. He thinks that perhaps the Bulls should have blown Ray Allen away with an offer when he was briefly available as a free agent last summer.
One thing all three have in common is that they’re rooting for the Mavs, even if it means pulling for a team owned by Mark Cuban.
But Dallas is the underdog for two reasons: 1) The Heat have three of the four best players in the series, and 2) Miami has home court advantage.
It’s going to be tough to overcome both, but the Mavs are playing great basketball right now and definitely have a shot to win the series. But they’re going to have to find success in two areas if they’re going to pull the upset:
1. Dirk Nowitzki must find a way to score efficiently.
Against Miami during the regular season, Dirk shot 17-for-44 from the field (39%) and averaged 24.0 points per game in two Dallas wins. If he continues to shoot less than 40% from the field, it’s going to be tough for the Mavs to win. It will be interesting to see who the Heat decide to use to defend Nowtzki. LeBron is an obvious choice and with his athleticism and quickness, he is likely to give Dirk some problems. The Heat could also use Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem, but Dirk would have the advantage on both.
2. The Mavs’ bench has to make an impact.
The Heat’s stars are a lot better, but Dallas is deeper. They bring Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, Brandon Haywood and J.J. Barea off the bench, and those guys really deliver offensively, but can they keep up with the Heat defensively? I asked ESPN’s John Hollinger about this in today’s chat, and this is what he said:
“It’s going to be difficult. The strength of Dallas’ bench is against other benches, but Miami’s bench hardly plays because LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all going 40-plus a night. And Dallas’ bench guys are weak defenders who will have a very hard time matching up defensively. I think that’s the key to the series, how those guys can line up.”
The Heat are playing their best basketball of the season and Hollinger argues that has nothing to do with being able to close games at a higher level. He feels that the Heat are able to go from good in the regular season to great in the playoffs because they have the luxury of playing three superstars in their prime 40+ minutes every night.
This makes sense. To stop the Miami juggernaut, Dirk is going to have to continue to superstar-level basketball and Dallas is going to have win the X-factor battle at least four times in the next seven games.
My pick: Heat in 7.