Posted May 27 2011 11:01AM
If the game itself is often described as poetry in motion, then this is a matchup that can only be called poetic justice. Miami vs. Dallas: The Rematch. The Mavs have been trying to get back to The Finals ever since they let the Larry O'Brien Trophy slip from their grasp with a 2-0 series advantage and a 13-point lead with five minutes to play in Game 3 over the Heat back in 2006. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have had the bitter pill stuck in their craw since then.
The Heat are making their first appearance in The Finals in five years with a completely revamped lineup with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem the only holdovers from 2006. Now, of course, they are all about the Big Three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, about celebrity, about taking talents to South Beach, about living up to the outlandish expectations they set for themselves with that wild pre-championship celebration last summer.
1. Has Dirk Nowitzki changed?
Yes. He's older and tougher and just as deadly.)
2. Has Dwyane Wade changed?
No. But he doesn't have to win it all by himself this time.
3. Who guards LeBron James?
Shawn Marion, Deshawn Stevenson and anybody in the neighborhood.
4. Who is the key supporting player for the Mavs?
Jason Kidd. The 38-year-old point guard is drinking from the Fountain of Youth.
5. How many games have the Mavs lost to Miami since the 2006 Finals?
None. They are 10-0 since watching the Heat raise the O'Brien Trophy on their home floor.
While Dirk Nowitzki has been the best individual player in the 2011 playoffs and primary option every trip down the floor, the Mavs are best in the league at moving the ball and finding the open man in their offense. From Jason Kidd to Jason Terry to Shawn Marion to Peja Stojakovic to J.J. Barea, they have capable 3-point shooters who can make defenses pay for double-teaming Dirk. They'll try to get out and run at any opportunity, but it's the half-court game where they operate like surgeons.
After starting out trying to guard him 1-on-1, the Heat, like every other team in the league, will eventually be forced to have two or three players crowd Nowitzki to take the ball out of his hands. Their biggest challenge when Dirk goes into the lane or down into the low post to operate with his spin moves will be to recover in time to get a hand in the face of so many different deadly Dallas shooters. As usual, Miami will want to jump the passing lanes, create steals and turn defense into offense.
Of course, it's all about the Big Three. They want to run, run and run some more to take advantage of their speed and athleticism in the open court and to avoid having to set up what they try to pass off as a half-court offense. Who'll carry the scoring load on a given night -- Wade, James or Bosh? They've all proven themselves more than capable of being the main man all through the playoffs and have been willing and able to hand off the lead role at different times over the course of a game and series.
The Mavs' challenge will be more difficult than the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City, where they could try to throw a blanket over Kevin Durant, get him rattled and disrupt the offense. And that didn't always work. They are going to have to play the Heat stars more straight up. They'll have to get back in transition so Miami can't take advantage of unmatchable open-court talent. Dallas will also have to do a much better job of rebounding off the defensive glass. It was almost costly against OKC and you just can't give Wade, James and Bosh too many second chances.
While the Mavs have more than a handful of capable and confident shooters, when the clock runs down and the game is on the line, it's all about getting the ball into Nowitzki's hands. He can not only score inside and outside with a shooting range that is almost limitless, but he's one of the most clutch free-throw shooters in the league.
Of course, the whole point of bringing the Big Three together with their talents in Miami was to give the Heat a trio of late game options and that plan has served them well through the playoffs. James, Wade or Bosh -- pick your poison.
The Mavs have a deep roster full of potential wild cards. Anyone from Terry to Marion to Stojakovic to Barea is capable of exploding for a big night from the perimeter and the pesky little J.J. will also find a way to get into the paint and all the way to the basket. It would be a huge bonus if Tyson Chandler could stay out of foul trouble and defend Miami's drives to the rim. Coach Rick Carlisle is meticulous in his planning and doggedly intense about having his team ready to execute in any situation.
The Heat have been waiting for the supporting cast to step up and take advantage of the defensive attention paid to the Big Three all season. That has not happened often. Now the return of Udonis Haslem could be a big boost on the front line for defense and rebounding. He'll give the Heat coach Erik Spoelstra another big body to throw into the mix against Nowitzki. He did an outstanding job back in 2006.
The Mavs have waited five years for another turn in the spotlight of The Finals stage. Be careful what you wish for. Heat in six.
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