Tag:Caron Butler
Posted on: May 30, 2011 2:05 pm

Cuban or LeBron: A champion will be crowned

Posted by Royce Young

Think about this for a second: In two weeks or so, David Stern will be handing an NBA championship trophy to either LeBron James or Mark Cuban. My mind? Blown.

Someone's life and career is going to change. Someone will now have the tag "NBA champion" to hang around their neck for the rest of time. Either Dirk, Mark Cuban and Jason Kidd or LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (for a second time) will be hoisting that shiny ball. That's an obvious thing at this point, I realize, but I can't get over it.

Cuban's Mavs had their shot in 2006, of course losing to the Heat in six games. That series is widely known more for the way the officials rewarded Wade free throws than it is for great basketball. Which naturally fits the Cuban narrative. Cuban has always been a bit of a nemesis to Stern and the league office with his crazy over-the-top antics and criticism of officials. For example: Cuban has been fined 16 times in his 12 years as the Mavs owner for a total of more than $1.5 million.

And now that guy is four wins away from the greatest bragging rights of all?

Then there's LeBron. He became the NBA's enemy No. 1 after his decision to play in Miami with Wade and Bosh. The preseason victory parade then set people off more. Then all the arrogance leaking out of South Beach took things to a new level.

Most saw LeBron's move as a total copout, as a guy running from the chance to become a legend in his hometown. Critics said, "Michael Jordan wouldn't want to join them, he'd want to beat them." Larry Bird actually did say that. So did Magic Johnson. There was the best player in basketball, painted as a coward for leaving his Cavs high and dry to try and chase a title with a couple friends.

Instead of battling through and leading Cleveland to the title he promised years before, LeBron ran away. It was always obvious that he lacked proper help with the Cavs. I mean look at what the roster did when you took him away from it. They flirted with the worst record in history for about three-fourths of the season and set a record for most losses in a row. And really, the only thing that would've been different about that team is LeBron would've been on it. They likely would've won 55 games, probably would've gotten to the Eastern semifinals or deeper and almost certainly would've come up short.

Now? It's almost like LeBron's decision could be entirely validated. He could be vindicated. He could win that elusive ring at the age of 26 and possibly start a run to multiple championship, which is again, a promise he made to his new fans in South Beach.

And now that guy is only four wins away from some career validation?

David Stern will be presenting a trophy to either the Mavericks or Heat in roughly two weeks. The fact that on one could be LeBron or Mark Cuban just makes this NBA Finals even more intriguing. And probably, for the fans of 28 other teams, kind of a lose-lose. But to me, it's win-win. I love when a legacy takes a turn. I love when it changes and we have to start re-thinking and re-writing how we feel about people. And after this series wraps up, that's exactly what we'll be forced to do with one of these sides.

Crazy to think about.
Posted on: May 29, 2011 11:36 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:48 pm

Miami Heat: 2011 NBA Finals nightmare scenario

What would a nightmare scenario look like for the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals? Posted by Ben Golliver.

Earlier, we took a look at the Miami Heat's blueprint for beating the Dallas Mavericks and winning the 2011 NBA Finals. This is the flipside: What's the nightmare scenario for the heavily-favored Heat? How does their dream run at the title in the first year since the triad was formed fall apart?

The Chicago Bulls hit upon the formula for taking down this Heat group in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals: dominate the glass, knock down tons of outside shots, win the bench scoring battle, get efficient scoring from your No. 1 option and keep LeBron James in check. The only problem? The Bulls were only able to put all of those pieces together once, in Game 1, and got run out of the playoffs in five games.

The good news for the Dallas Mavericks is that they are well-equipped to accomplish most of the things on that list. 

For starters, Dallas boasts the best overall offensive efficiency, the highest effective field goal percentage and the highest true shooting percentage. Put in simpler terms: The Mavericks have gotten to the free throw line and knocked down their three-pointers, two critical factors if you need to keep pace with the Heat during a halfcourt game. 

Leading the way is Dirk Nowitzki, who is a significantly more efficient offensive player than Derrick Rose. Without question, Nowitzki is the key cog in this machine. If he can regularly command double teams, even if James is matched up on him, all of Dallas' fringe offensive players become much, much more effective threats. Shawn Marion can cut hard to the basket with less interference, Tyson Chandler is more open for lob plays, Peja Stojakovic can set up in the corner, and Jason Kidd can have enough to set his feet and stroke the long ball.

Nowitzki being unguardable one-on-one, therefore, is absolutely the first chapter in Miami's nightmare scenario.

Deriving from that is multiple Mavericks getting hot from deep. Stojakovic and Kidd have already been mentioned, but neither of those guys, as good as they have been, boast the high-end scoring capability of Jason Terry. While Dwyane Wade figures to be a good individual defensive match-up on Terry, the Mavericks are able to get him loose in the pick-and-roll and as a release spot-up shooter too. The Heat will undoubtedly be very aggressive in defending Dallas' pick-and-roll plays. By this point, though, Terry and Nowitzki have seen just about every defense in the book. If Terry is effective enough to command blitz attention from Miami, the Mavericks have the ability to both swing the ball to the open shooters and have those shooters knock down the shots. Chicago, obviously, didn't have that capability past Game 1.

On top of that Dallas has a more potent bench: Stojakovic, Terry and Barea should easily offer more offensive punch than Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. Miami has won by being top-heavy; The Mavericks need to prove, like the Bulls did in Game 1, that a balanced approach can counteract that skill level.

If Nowitzki is rolling, the Mavericks' shots are falling and the Dallas bench is showing up big, Miami's nightmare would deepen if James and Wade get frustrated, reverting to forcing shots in isolation, over-relying on their outside shooting, or settling too often for fadeaways. To their immense credit, Miami hasn't displayed these bad habits very often in the playoffs, but they were an issue at times during the regular season. With Heat coach Erik Spoelstra playing his superstars so many minutes and the Mavericks comfortable turning up the pace a bit, the creeping bad habits are certainly something to keep an eye on. For high-volume shooters like James and Wade, it only takes roughly five extra non-ideal shots over the course of a game to send the efficiency numbers plummeting. It might look like a lot in the boxscore, but one additional bad shot every eight or nine minutes of playing time from your primary ball-handlers and offense initiators isn't that much.

Whether those bad shots come from Marion and DeShawn Stevenson being physical, from a tough-to-crack zone defense or from Miami falling in a hole early and looking to score in bunches to get back into a game, dropping efficiency from James and Wade is not inconceivable. It doesn't feel likely, given how well they've played over the last two series, but again we're talking about a nightmare scenario.

To this point, the Heat have displayed an almost otherworldly focus and ability to execute. A nightmare scenario would also see that focus replaced by jitters, indecision or panic. Dallas has demonstrated in each of its three playoff series that it has a knack for striking at the moment its opponent is most vulnerable, launching monster comebacks and winning games on the road with ease. 

Always a tipping point issue: Foul trouble, and here it cuts both ways. The Heat, with their aggressive and athletic style, are used to getting to the free throw line regularly and often rely on those points to be difference-makers in low scoring games. So far in the playoffs, they've been able to play James, Wade and forward Chris Bosh extensive minutes -- even in overtime games -- without encountering too much foul trouble. A nightmare scenario here could go two ways. First, it could see one or more of those star players rotting away on the bench due to careless early fouls. Second, it could see Chandler playing heavy minutes in every game in this series, able to avoid fouling on Miami's paint attacks and during rebounding scrums. Surely Miami would much rather play smallball against the Mavericks given their talent advantage and the fact that they don't have anyone that can truly match Chandler's length and at-rim ability. 

Last but not least, there's the matter of homecourt advantage. Miami has yet to lose at home in the playoffs, but doing so in one of the first two games of the Finals could prove particularly costly. Why? Because the Finals switches to a 2-3-2 format, and the Mavericks would then have the ability to close things out by winning three consecutive games at home. Losing in five games is an unlikely scenario but it is a plausible nightmare for Heat fans given Dallas' own home dominance (the Mavericks are 7-1 at home during the playoffs).

To pull this all together, the Heat's worst case scenario sees Nowitzki getting loose and the Mavericks (including their bench) bombing away from deep while their offense degenerates to isolation, contested outside shots and unfocused play. It also sees the Mavericks bigs staying out of foul trouble while Miami's skill players made early mistakes or get called for charges that sideline them for stretches at a time. It would then see them drop a game early in the series and be unable to recover homecourt and momentum. Is it unlikely that all of these things happen at once? Sure. But that's why they call it a nightmare scenario.
Posted on: May 29, 2011 10:31 pm

The Blueprint: Dallas Mavericks

Posted by Matt Moore

How the Mavericks' ideal strategic approach looks against the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals

So you want to beat the Heat. : The Mavericks overall strategic design starts on offense. The Mavericks' defense knows that the elements of the Heat are pretty simple. All you have to do is stop LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Easy! If the Mavericks are going to hang they're going to have to do it the way they have all postseason. By scoring, consistently, efficiently, and with guile and accuity as opposed to brute force.

Now, It's Nowitzki: It starts with Dirk, naturally. You know what the best part of having a seven-footer with superb range is? You can post him over and over and over again at the elbow and let him decide what he wants to do. You don't have to get him close to the basket. You don't have to get him space on the perimeter to drive. You just have to get him the ball and let him work. And the best part about Nowitzki is that he does most of his damage from the place hardest to guard, and the place that it's hardest to hit from. Mid-range. Or as it has come to be known in the playoffs, The Dirk Zone.

Being able to post Dirk this high allows him to drive and then spot-up if the defender overplays to the baseline. Nowitzki has gone to his right out of the left block 53 percent of the time in these playoffs, and shot 47 percent from the field while scoring 55 percent of the time. Nowitzki's handle and ability to attack the rim with quickness and size forces the defender to jump to the baseline, which means that when Nowitzki pulls up? It's game over.

Nick Collison played Nowitzki exceptionally well in the Western Conference Finals. Particularly, he attacked Nowitzki's face-up game. This works better on the left block than the right. On the right, Nowitzki can bring the ball up off his left pivot foot while keeping space between the ball and the defender. On the left, he's bringing it up through the defender. Which is problematic, and not just because defenders take as many whacks as they can. Nowitzki has gone face-up out of the left block just five times in the postseason, versus 24 times in the right.

Nowitzki's fadeaway ability from the right elbow has another effect. Defenders are forced to play up to try and defend that shot, which results in Nowitzki being able to dribble with his dominant hand (right) across the lane. From there Nowitzki can pull-up, fadeaway, or, as he often does, stops, pump-fakes, then pivots and either shoots or pump-fakes again to draw the foul.

Perimeter Assault:
Keeping spacing and knocking down 3-pointers is going to be key for the Mavericks. The more they do that, the less the Heat can justify sending help to Nowitzki's right shoulder where he's less comfortably. Sadly, he's just as deadly, scoring 1.09 points per possessions. The Heat will challenge Nowitzki to pass out of the double. From there, it'll be up to the shooters Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson to punish the Heat and keep Dirk one-on-one.

Outside of Dirk, the key is transition opportunities. Jason Kidd is particularly effective despite his age due to his ability to victimize the defense when the transition defense sets in. Kidd is king of finding scorers in-between the fast break and settling into the half-court set. Barea provides an excellent change of pace. Barea's greatest strength is the dribble probe, where he loops under the basket. The Mavericks want Barea's suprising speed and touch to frustrate the Heat defenders who attack most often at the rim.

Bread and Butter:
The final component is the pick and roll. Nowitzki will often set and reset off the pick, exhausting defenders. But the sneak attack for the Mavericks is from Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion. Marion and Chandler are more athletic than the big defenders the Heat will bring. The Heat are likely to hedge significantly on the ball-handler, which will leave Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh, or Udonis Haslem trying to cover the more athletic Marion and Chandler. Both of those two have significant experience in the alley-oop (Marion working with Steve Nash, Tyson Chandler with Chris Paul). Those kinds of easy scores demoralize the interior defense and will force the Heat to collapse into the paint even more. Against the Bulls this was an advantage, but the Mavericks' perimeter shooters are good enough to make good on that threat, creating an impossible counter for the Heat.

Cooling Down the Heat:
Okay, I'm going to level with you. The Mavericks' model for stopping the Heat looks an awful lot like what the Bulls did, forcing the Heat into long-range 2-pointer field goals, fading away, contested. Unfortunately, the Heat can hit a boatload of those. The Mavericks will send help defense, but in reality, they've got liabilities in personnel on the perimeter and in the post. The Mavericks are likely to double aggressively to dare the Heat's 3-point shooters to keep pace with Dallas, who is a superior shooting team. The Mavericks want to try and turn the game into a shootout, not a slugfest. If they can just manage to contain Dwyane Wade or LeBron James from going ballistic from mid to long-range, that's the game they want to play.

Discourage and Contain:
The Mavericks are going to need all six fouls from both Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, because the Heat will attack relentlessly to try and a. get to the line and b. get the bigs in foul trouble or c. you know, lay the ball in. The Mavericks are going to have to accept those fouls to a degree. It'll help if other defenders can step in to draw charges and distribute the fouls while the Dallas bigs can make an impact strong enough to lower the Heat's FT percentage. Missed free throws lower their points per possession and make the Heat an ugly duckling in a swan race, offensively.

Speed Kills:
Dallas wants to create fast-break opportunities. The Heat are a superior offense in transition, but Dallas can create easy opportunities by playing the passing lanes. The Heat still try and make flashy and cross-court passes. The Mavericks' ideal results in converting those into buckets which allows their defense to reset at the other end. The Heat run off of misses, not makes. Dallas can keep pace by capitalizing on the Heat's sloppy handling.

Posted on: May 29, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:03 pm

Miami Heat: Blueprint for a 2011 NBA Finals win

Here's a look at the blueprint for the Miami Heat to win the 2011 NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver.


One more series, four more wins. The Miami Heat are on the verge of proving their many, loud naysayers wrong in the very first season since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to team up during the summer of 2010. The team's strategy for completing their journey to the 2011 NBA title will feature the same philosophies that have produced a 12-3 postseason record, perhaps with a few tweaks to account for specific aspects of their opponent: the Dallas Mavericks. Let's break it down.

When Miami is on offense:

The foundational element of Miami's offense is pure talent and athleticism. With James, Wade and Bosh, the Heat boast three players who are capable of scoring in multiple ways and from many, many different locations. They'll enter the NBA Finals presenting the Mavericks with match-up problems at all three positions. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has played all three increasingly heavy minutes during the Finals push. Look for that to continue on the grand stage, obviously.

The biggest disparity in talent comes at the two spot, where Wade is too quick, crafty and multi-dimensional for DeShawn Stevenson, and too big and athletic for Jason Terry. Wade was a bit limited against the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals and there's speculation that he might be suffering the effects of an injury. Regardless, he can get to the basket with an array of moves, is an expert at drawing fouls and has a good sense for when to take over a game. He's developed a nearly seamless one-two punch with James in the playoffs, and pretty much everyone has been left reeling.

Speaking of James, he will own a major match-up advantage as well, even though Mavericks forward Shawn Marion has played very well in the playoffs. James' strength will be a major asset here, as Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant struggled against Marion because he was often not able to establish position or get himself open. James, who handles the ball regularly and has one of the best physiques in the league, will not have those problems. Marion and Stevenson will settle for making James work and limiting his efficiency. He's going to produce in a big way no matter what.

Dallas will surely look to counter these perimeter deficiencies by switching to zone defenses and hoping that Miami settles for contested three-pointers. It's a pick your poison approach that likely will not be sustainable for major stretches. Shifting quickly between different looks and using center Tyson Chandler as a rim protector will help. With both James and Wade playing such heavy minutes, Dallas likely won't be able to use its bench as much as it might want to, as Peja Stojakovich and J.J. Barea are defensive liabilities. Barea can probably be hidden, but finding minutes for Stojakovic will be difficult. There's no zone in the world that can help him stay with James or Wade.

In other words, this series belongs to James and Wade if they show up determined to steal it. They're an overpowering, talented duo that doesn't have a match. 

On top of that, Bosh's range will present problems for Dallas, just as Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge did in the beginning of their first round series. The Mavericks will look to muscle Bosh, but he just stood up nicely against the Bulls and Boston Celtics, perhaps the two hardest-nosed teams in the league. Attending to Bosh at all times will leave Dallas that much more vulnerable to penetrating attacks from James and Wade, and certainly all three players are capable of getting Chandler into foul trouble. 

With Mike Miller coming on a bit to help space the floor, Udonis Haslem adding some energy and occasional offense, and the point guard pair of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers showing up just often enough to not completely stand out as weak links, the Heat have proven why they are the No. 1 ranked Eastern Conference team when it comes to offensive efficiency. There's balance and a nice array of scoring options in the halfcourt.

Dallas has survived on defense in the playoffs by forcing and capitalizing on the mental breakdowns, especially late in games, of their opponents. The Heat have passed every test in that regard, showcasing huge spurts against both the Celtics and the Bulls when they needed it most. This series will be decided by who executes better late in games; It's hard to bet against the Heat, especially coming off of their spectacular Game 5 comeback against the Bulls in which James and Wade were both timely and unstoppable.

When Dallas is on offense:

While Dallas has the No. 1 overall offense in this year's playoffs, the Heat just might be breathing a sigh of relief entering this series. Why? Because the Mavericks do not have an elite athlete at the point guard position, an asset that has forced the Heat to switch their positional match-ups regularly because of Bibby's deficiencies as a defender. Now that Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are in the rearview, the Heat can get back to more conventional match-ups.

That is, of course, unless Spoelstra wants to turn his best defender, James, loose on Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas' All-Star forward has been pretty much unstoppable in the postseason, scoring in as many ways as you can think of and getting to the foul line whenever his shot hasn't been falling. In James, Nowitzki might be meeting his match: He's strong enough to force him away from the hoop, quick enough to get up and contest any shot, and savvy enough to play solid ball denial defense without exposing himself to backdoor plays or other counters. In other words, if James sets his mind to make Nowitzki's life miserable he is fully capable of doing it. 

The Heat will likely turn to that smaller defensive lineup, but they also have the option of using Bosh, Haslem or center Joel Anthony on Nowitzki as well. In that trio, the Heat have good quickness, size and strength options, as well as three intelligent players who understand time/score situations and will do their best to limit Nowitzki's cheap points. 

Aside from Nowitzki, the key to stopping Dallas is to maintain total commitment to your perimeter defensive rotations. With Jason Kidd at the helm, the Mavericks move the ball very, very unselfishly, finding the open man and taking high-percentage shots. The Heat have the athletes on the perimeter to close down space very quickly and have shown the defensive commitment that the Lakers, for example, were unable to maintain. The Heat's stars also have an uncanny ability to remember tendencies: James, Wade and Bosh are all well above average in their ability to size up their opponents' strengths and weaknesses. They'll force players like Stevenson to beat them.

Barea might very well be the role player who poses the most difficult match-up for the Heat, who lack an undersized, quick guard to stay with him. However, there will be plenty of athletes looking to help from the weakside should he attempt his patented forays into the paint. One-on-one, players like Marion and Chandler are not capable of hurting the Heat. They'll have much more success when the ball is moving, so you can expect the Heat to do everything they can to disrupt that rhythm and movement. 

Finally, the Heat will look to continue their solid team work on the glass. The Heat have been top five in defensive rebound rate in the playoffs, getting big contributions from both James and Wade, as well as the big men. That will need to continue given the presence of Chandler and Nowitzki, who have been a fearsome rebounding combination as well. 


To sum this up: The Heat will look to win the 2011 NBA Finals by exploiting their clear offensive match-up advantages: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. That duo will be encouraged to be in full attack mode from the opening tip, looking to get to the foul line and scramble Dallas' defense off the dribble, opening up shooting and passing lanes for Chris Bosh and the rest of Miami's role players. 

While the Mavericks only have one player that can be expected to stay with James, the Heat have four quality options to throw at Dirk Nowitzki. Constant pressure and extra attention on Nowitzki will be a major defensive goal, but just as important will be Miami's ability to keep its shape and limit uncontested shots.

On paper, crafting a blueprint for victory in this series for the Heat is much easier than it is for the Mavericks. The element of luck or chance is not really at play here. It's about exerting clear advantages -- perimeter athleticism, top-end talent, high basketball intelligence -- rather than hoping, praying or getting unusually hot from outside.

Miami isn't in the NBA Finals by accident. And it won't be a surprise if they execute this plan with ruthless efficiency.
Posted on: May 29, 2011 6:30 pm
Edited on: May 29, 2011 11:38 pm

Dallas Mavericks: NBA Finals nightmare scenario

Posted by Royce Young

The Mavericks have made their living this postseason on two things, three I guess if you count Dirk: 1) really good, creative defense and 2) consistent shooting. One of those two things can stay a constant no matter what. But another can sometimes come and go.

And if the Mavs gifted touch were to leave them, their chances at a championship likely will too.

Unlike the Heat, the Mavs don't have the ability to really grind out wins. That's why the Western Conference Finals were pretty much the exact opposite of the Eastern Finals. The Mavs won with some timely offense, a pretty consistent defense and incredible shot-making in big moments.

Another thing? They made darn near every free throw they took. In their extremely tight five-game win over the Thunder, the Mavs made 134 of 153 free throws. That's almost 88 percent as a team. Now historically, the Mavs are one of the best free throw shooting teams every season. But if that were to disappear for a game and they missed eight or nine, it could be the difference between winning and losing.

The Heat play more of an attacking, brutal brand of basketball. The Mavs play a bit more finesse, using the mid-range jumpshot and a lot of drive and kick to open up looks. Miami's plan is a bit more reliable because in playoff style games, especially when you play the same team over and over, the grind out type of game beats the jumpshooting style most times.

That is, unless the jumpshooting stays good. Which so far in the postseason for the Mavericks it has. Opening round against the Blazers, Dallas shot the ball well. Against the Lakers, everyone expected them to cool at some point. They didn't. And against the Thunder -- a solid defensive team that closes on shooters well -- the Mavs stayed above 40 percent in every game and still used the 3-pointer effectively.

Now the Heat though are one of the truly elite defense teams. Especially on the perimeter where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James can limit penetration almost all on their own because of their man-to-man skills. So it will be up to the Mavericks to hit contested shots consistently. In at least four games, that is.

Another worst case for the Mavs is the dreaded "O" word -- officiating. Not because of what happened in 2006 necessarily, but in a game where one team attacks the rim hard and the other doesn't quite as much, a group of referees can sometimes take over a game.

Dirk has gotten the benefit of the whistle most of this postseason, taking 24 free throws in Game 1 versus the Thunder. But if points become very difficult to find in the last six minutes of a game and the Heat are attacking the paint, the whistle could turn against Dallas. I'm not saying that will happen, but in terms of worst-case, a Maverick nightmare definitely included an official awarding free throws possession after possession to Wade and LeBron un crunch time.

In that same vein, Tyson Chandler could prove to be the most important player in the series. He can protect the rim, seal off the paint and keep Wade and LeBron from driving at the iron non-stop. But if the game is touchy and he finds himself in foul trouble, the world could open up for the Heat. So if you're following me here, worst-case, the way a game is called could affect how the Mavs play.

The Heat are the favorites in this series. Most look at their talent and the fact that all the apparent weaknesses they had during the regular season -- depth, role players, execution -- aren't having nearly the same affect right now. So far, the Heat have disposed of every opponent in five games. And if things go bad for the Mavs, the same fate could be headed at them. Shoot the ball poorly, go cold, give away points or get in foul trouble and Dirk and company might be coming back empty handed from The Finals again.
Posted on: May 28, 2011 11:42 am

LeBron, Dirk still dwell on NBA Finals losses

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki still dwell on their NBA Finals losses. Posted by Ben Golliver.


The 2011 NBA Finals features a match-up between arguably the two best players in the NBA yet to win a title: Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.

While neither has won a ring, both have had a chance before. In his second NBA season, James, just 22 years old, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, where he was promptly swept out. The previous year was Nowitzki's title shot: The Mavericks lost in six games in the 2006 NBA Finals to the Heat, then led by Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal.

Memories of coming up short on the big stage all those years ago still haunt both players.

The Associated Press reportsthat James regularly watches tape of the 2007 sweep to motivate himself.
“I think about it all the time,” James said of that 2007 series. “I even go back and watch some of those games and see how I wasn’t that good of a player, especially on both ends of the floor. You just try to use those moments. I feel like there’s no way I should be out on the floor and the team that I’m on can’t win a game in a series. I use that as motivation. … I’ve got a lot of motivation.”
Hoopsworld.com -- citing a Dan Patrick Show interview -- writes that Nowitzki says he has taken the opposite approach, refusing to watch the tape. But he still remembers every detail of the loss vividly.
"Honestly, I've never went back to watch those games," Nowitzki admitted. "I think I would just be so sick to my stomach so I decided shortly after to never watch those games, but I still have a lot on my memory. Trust me. Game 5 down the stretch, we go up by one. Then, they get two free throws to win it and I kick the ball. I mean, all sorts of stuff is still on my mind. Five years ago seems like a long time, but some of the stuff is still fresh on my mind."
The differing approaches to the film study makes sense. James and the Cavaliers simply weren't ready yet and they got taken apart in surgical fashion. When James watches the tape, he likely sees a younger version of himself making all sorts of mistakes he wouldn't make now. For Nowitzki, the Mavericks and their fanbase, the tapes from the 2006 Finals are far more tortuous, as many still believe the officiating played a key role in determining who won that series. Nowitzki doesn't have the luxury of watching an unfinished version of himself losing to a clearly better team. There's no question Nowitzki is a stronger, better all-around player today than he was five years ago. But if he were to watch the 2006 tapes he would still be watching a very similar, already mature version of himself collapsing in four games straight.

To boil it down: James isn't really in a position to regret what happened in 2007. Nowitzki certainly is in that position with regard to 2006. That both get a chance to put their past failures behind him and redefine their historical NBA identity is probably the single best reason to watch the 2011 NBA Finals.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 7:52 pm

LeBron James is Vegas favorite to win Finals MVP

Miami Heat forward LeBron James is Las Vegas' favorite to win MVP of the NBA Finals. Posted by Ben Golliver. lebron-james

No surprise here: Miami Heat forward LeBron James is the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP award. (Mandatory disclaimer: the following is for entertainment purposes only.) 

The Dallas Mavericks and Miami are set to start the NBA Finals on Tuesday night in Florida. Here is the full list of odds via Bodog.com for the award, which is formally known as the Bill Russell Trophy.  
Odds to Win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP (The Bill Russell Trophy)
LeBron James 5/4
Dirk Nowitzki 2/1
Dwyane Wade 7/2
Chris Bosh 11/2
Jason Kidd 10/1
Jason Terry 10/1
Field (Any Other Player) 7/1
James enters the NBA Finals with every reason to be the favorite. His team is favored to win the series. He was a force of nature on both ends of the floor against the Chicago Bulls. Perhaps most importantly, he was clutch: nailing huge three-pointers on offense and making Derrick Rose's life miserable on defense.

And, of course, his playoff stats have been monstrous: 26.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists, plus 1.5 blocks and 1.7 steals to boot. 

James, then, looks like the total package for this pick, which is almost always given to the player with the best numbers and/or biggest impact on the title winning team. 

In case you were wondering, Vegas set odds on James' regular season stats prior to the season. Here's how he performed compared to projections.
Points Per Game Over/Under: 23.0 PPG -- (James was over: 26.7)
Rebounds Per Game Over/Under: 7.5 RPG -- (This was a push: James finished with 7.5)
Assists Per Game Over/Under: 7.7 APG -- (James was under: 7.0)
While Dirk Nowitzki is almost a lock to win the Finals MVP should the Dallas Mavericks spring the upset, Heat guard Dwyane Wade represents a fairly good value pick at 7/2. Wade did look a bit limited -- perhaps by injury? -- against the Bulls so there's a risk factor there. He certainly has a huge match-up advantage, however, as neither DeShawn Stevenson nor Jason Terry figures to be able to meaningfully impact his ability to score in volume.
Posted on: May 27, 2011 11:56 am

Butler is unlikely, but not ruled out completely

Posted by Royce Young

After Caron Butler's knee surgery back in January, he said he was going to try and get back for the postseason. I think we all sort of said, "Yeah right" and forgot about it.

Butler ruptured his patellar tendon on New Year's Day against the Bucks. Butler, a Racine, Wis. native, popped his kneecap back into place and actually walked off the floor because he didn't want to be carried off in front of friends and family.

But Butler's been working extremely hard during this past month rehabbing and trying to get himself ready for a return. Plus, he's gotten quite a lot of extra time because the Mavs have extended their postseason run all the way to The Finals. Via ESPN Dallas:

"It's unlikely, but I can't say no for sure," coach Rick Carlisle said.

Jason Terry said that Butler doesn't even have to play. Just having him out there would be a lift.

"I just want to see him in layup lines," Dallas guard Jason Terry said recently. "If he can get up in layup lines, it's going to boost us immensely emotionally. He's been here the whole way, though. This guy has worked so hard to get ready."

It's very unlikely Butler will make an appearance, but maybe he does suit up for a couple games. And like Terry said, that would be a nice bit of inspiration.

But what if Butler got healthy enough to play a little? Obviously he wouldn't return to the starting lineup, but if he were to see minutes, he'd like fill the role Peja Stojakoic has had off the bench. It's always dangerous to start tweaking and messing with rotations when what's got you here has clearly worked, but Butler would probably fit back in nicely.

Again, very unlikely though. Butler is obviously trying to rush things, which isn't a good idea. The Mavs could use him, but they need the Caron Butler that was playing really well back in December. Not one that's not even done rehabbing. But in terms of an emotional boost, the Mavs will take anything they can get.
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