Wednesday, June 07, 2006

NBA Finals Preview--Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks

The NBA Finals are finally here after probably some of the best early-round playoff action the NBA has seen in some time. The Mavs got here by riding the back of the model for the new-breed of 7-footers, Dirk, while the Heat slugged it out in the decidingly more old-school East Conf. playoffs with the help of an old-fashioned low-post stud in Shaq. Both 7-foot centerpieces will need the aid of their supporting casts cause the two big guys will probably neutralize each other's production.

Obviously, Miami's first objective on offense is to get the ball inside to Shaq. Even though the Mavs have two solid post defenders with good size in Diop & Damp, Shaq can still overpower anyone in the league for most stretches of the game. And if Shaq continues to look as spry as he's looked the last couple weeks, the Mavs might need to send double-teams more often; maybe even more than vs. Duncan. Shaq will get his, similar to what Duncan did, as long as he can avoid early foul trouble. The question is, can Wade continue to do the damage off the dribble vs. the Mavs that he did in the Eastern Conf. playoffs. The Mavs have a bevy of 6-6 guys they can throw at him, most importantly Josh Howard, who could give him some frustration. I imagine he is going to have to come up big a couple times in the 4th quarter for the Heat to secure a win, like he's done a few times already in these playoffs. Just like I've mentioned before every series that has involved the Heat, the play of their role players will more than likely make or break them. I've been skeptical of this bunch since the start of the playoffs. They have proved me wrong in the last two series where I've picked the Nets & the Pistons to win, because I did not have much faith in Walker, GP, Zo, JWill, & etc. But since late in the Bulls' series, they hit their shots pretty well and somewhat surprisingly brought good defensive effort of the bench, even from the greybeards--GP & Zo.

The first question for the Heat defense, and probably the only one that matters, is what do with Dirk? Sorry, but Haslem is not going to get it done. And this is where the problems begin. This is what I think makes Dirk the toughest matchup in the league--he makes you cross match, thus causing defensive issues at two positions. See with Shaq, he causes major nightmares but only at his same position of center. I feel the best guy to guard Dirk is Posey, but when you use him on Dirk, this will force Udonis on to Josh, which just leads to more headaches. See, this is what Dirk does to basically every team in the league, and now with Howard developing a better outside shot, the Mavs create more problems. I think the Heat might be better playing Posey & Walker together more, cause even though Walker is allergic to defense, I am guessing he can do a better job of chasing Howard around than Udonis. But maybe not, Haslem might do a decent job of keeping Howard off the off. boards, but all I know is that Posey should get the majority of minutes on Dirk. Also, it would be nice if Shaq can provide the same intensity & movement he showed on defense in two previous series. He was much more active, even doing a decent job, for him, on pick/rolls, and he will have the opportunity to be more involved, cause Diop & Damp don't need that much attention. I am sure he will be looking to help onto Dirk if he tries to take Posey on the block.

Just like the Heat will milk Shaq, the Mavs will go to a steady diet of German. I think Avery understands that the Heat have less options to match on Dirk than either the Spurs or the Suns had, maybe even the Grizzlies, so plenty of Dirk it will be. Last series, I was stressing that Dirk needed to attack the paint at all cost, and when he did, good things usually followed. In this series, its not needed as much. I do think he's needs to mix up his game like he did in Game 5 & 6, but he will have more deterrants in the paint with Shaq & Zo, and they will be more than likely to help onto him. So, I bet you'll see Dirk stationed at his trusty high-post area most of the time. I expect Terry to be run off screens more for two reasons: to get him flowing (he was uneven in the Suns' series) and to try to tire Wade out when he's guarding him. Also, making sure Howard gets his looks has to be a top priority for Avery. He will probably have some mismatches defensively and the fact that the Mavs are 25-0 when he scores 20 or more is a pretty convincing reason to get him going early.

The Mavs do have the luxury of throwing two capable 7 foot guys at Shaq who play solid post defense and have the necessary bulk to at least make Shaq work a little for position. Even with that said, the Mavs, just like every other team, will need to bring doubles often, maybe even more than on Duncan. The good thing for them is they can double with another 7-footer in Dirk who can come off Haslem a fair amount; I'll let Haslem shoot jumpers all day. In general when playing the Heat, I think you should send the doubles onto Shaq & Wade often and force the role players to decide the game. Make them prove it every game early and then make adjustments accordingly. The other question for the Mavs' defense--is what to do with Wade. Personally, I think the Mavs are better off with going with Terry at point and either Stack, Griffin, or Daniels starting at the two. This gives Avery the option of moving Howard onto Wade, while one of those three can guard Walker or Posey. Or Avery can just rotate his collection of 6-6 guys on Wade as well. I don't really think playing Harris & Terry together is that much of an advantage in this series. The point being, that Jason Williams will be a def. liability vs. either guy you play at point, but Wade will not be vs. Terry at the 2-guard. And on the other end, if you go with Terry at the 2-guard, he could have major porblems with Wade, so I like Avery using his 6-6 guys more than Harris in the series. I am not saying Harris can't be somewhat important in this series--he has the ability to possibly get Shaq in foul trouble with his drives and he will cause different problems for JWill than Terry would.

I am not sure either team has a distinct advantage on the glass, as both teams are two of the top rebounding teams in the NBA. So that should be a wash, but their has been one constant thorn in the side of Miami throughout these playoffs that could haunt them--turnovers. They have averaged 15.2 TOs thru this year's playoffs--they averaged 16 in the Detroit series--while the Mavs have been pretty good with only 12 per game. Something to keep an eye on. Miami has done a much better job defensively over the last 12 games or so, and have actually guarded the 3pt. line fairly well (33.8% for the playoffs). I only point out the 3pt. numbers, because in the two reg. season games that the Mavs won (No Shaq in first game), they went berserk from long-distance--8/15 first game, 11/16 second game. The Mavs have not been really utilizing the long-ball in the playoffs much--they have only shot 33.3% so far--and they have been looking for more shots inside the arc the last couple of rounds.

With all that said, I find this series to be pretty close--the Heat remind you of the Spurs in many ways and we saw how close that series was for the Mavs. Shaq must stay out of foul trouble early, because it effects his aggressiveness the rest of the game. As with every series, the Heat role players have to step up to the plate, they've done it so far; Can they continue? The Mavs have to exploit the mismatches that Dirk causes, and thusly, allowing Howard to get his, hopefully for all Mavs fans that involves at least 20 points a game. I am leaning toward the Heat cause I feel more comfortable with the contributions of their secondary players than earlier in the playoffs. If Shaq can stay out of foul trouble and if the Heat can keep their TOs in check, I think they will prevail. Those are two big "ifs" but I think Shaq looks motivated and healthy to keep the Heat rising.


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