Tag:Jason Terry
Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:22 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 6:12 am
 

NBA Finals Storylines: It Ain't 2006



Posted by Matt Moore

You're going to have the year 2006 emblazoned into your brain over the next five to 10 days if you pay attention to NBA coverage at all. It's going to dominate the talk since these two teams, the Heat and the Mavericks, met five years ago for the title. Everything will be examined in the same context and talk of the officials will be prime in Dallas, and talk of Wade's brilliance will be brought up in Miami, along with Udonis Haslem and his defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Let me stop you there.

The coaches are different. The rosters are different. The identities are different. The styles are different. The approaches are different. Everything is different. If you think that series defines Dirk's career or ability to succeed in the clutch, you just crawled out from under a rock. If you think Wade's still able to draw contact like he did in that series you're bonkers. If you think anything compares to the effect LeBron James can have on this series, you're out of your gourd.

This is not 2006.

This is 2011, and here are your NBA Finals storylines. 


Can Dallas' defense step up? 


The Mavericks gave up a 106.1 defensive efficiency in the playoffs this season through the Western Conference finals. That's seventh-best of all the teams in the league. Sure, they had more games to try and suffer through. But the reality is that the Mavericks for long stretches of the Western Conference Playoffs couldn't get stops. They found ways down the stretch to cut off the Thunder but it won't be nearly as easy against the Heat. We know the Heat's defense is legit. We know Miami's offense is legit. We know the Mavericks' offense is legit. But with so many size issues for the Mavericks, we're going to have questions about how they guard the Heat. Once again the absence of Caron Butler is extremely damaging for Dallas. The Mavericks will wind up with one of the following guarding Dwyane Wade: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jose Barea, or Corey Brewer. That does not bode well. Even more concerning is Shawn Marion, as well as he played against Kevin Durant, guarding LeBron James.  No one can guard those players. But the Mavericks are especially ill-equipped to stop them. If the Mavericks' were ever going to whip out a zone, now might be the time. 


Will point guard play finally hurt the Heat?

Jrue Holiday did it a bit, but it didn't matter. Rajon Rondo was ... er ... not the same. Derrick Rose was shut down due to the offensive weapons surrounding him, or lack thereof, allowing James and Wade to freelance on him with an additional help defender on the double. But the Heat are facing a different beast in Jason Kidd. Kidd's not young, athletic (anymore, comparatively, though he can still get up and down the floor and has a decent amount of muscle). He's not going to try and torch the Heat on drives. He's just going to make the right play. Kidd will try and outsmart the Heat's athleticism and ability with savvy. He'll make passes they don't anticipate and aren't used to, slip between defenders only to beat their reactions defensively and make the right pass. Throw in Kidd's surprising recent ability to hit open 3-pointers and the Heat might be surprised at the old veteran working his Magic


Mavericks on the verge of validation


Dirk Nowitkzi is one of the best players of the past 10 years and he has no rings. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer and doesn't have a ring. Jason Terrry has been a fourth-quarter maestro for the same franchise for the same length of time as Nowitzki, no ring. Mark Cuban has sunk more than $800 million into trying to earn a championship, no ring. Rick Carlisle led successful teams in Indiana and Detroit, no ring. This series is their best shot and in all likelihood, their last chance. This is everything for the Mavericks. The Heat have years to make another run. For the Mavericks, this is their absolute best chance at a title, to catch the Heat confident and still trying to figure themselves out. This isn't just an exciting shot at a title, it's about salvaging legacies and cementing greatness. 


The promise of 'The Decision'

They're there. They have to win four games and they will have backed it all up. All the talk, all the pomp, all the circumstance, all the pyro. The Heat will have lived up to their hype. The only way to shut up critics is to win it all. Miami's not just within sight of it, they're on the doorstep. They just beat the defending Eastern Conference champs and the top seed in the East featuring the best defensive team in the league. Yes, everyone will still regard James as arrogant, and question the value of teaming up with other elite teammates. But the narrative will start to shift if they win the title. James becomes a winner, Wade a two-time champ, and Erik Spoelstra a championship coach. Lose, and everyone's harshest criticism rings true.  Everything changes in four more games, either way. 

Posted on: May 27, 2011 3:22 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 6:12 am
 

NBA Finals Storylines: It Ain't 2006



Posted by Matt Moore

You're going to have the year 2006 emblazoned into your brain over the next five to 10 days if you pay attention to NBA coverage at all. It's going to dominate the talk since these two teams, the Heat and the Mavericks, met five years ago for the title. Everything will be examined in the same context and talk of the officials will be prime in Dallas, and talk of Wade's brilliance will be brought up in Miami, along with Udonis Haslem and his defense on Dirk Nowitzki. Let me stop you there.

The coaches are different. The rosters are different. The identities are different. The styles are different. The approaches are different. Everything is different. If you think that series defines Dirk's career or ability to succeed in the clutch, you just crawled out from under a rock. If you think Wade's still able to draw contact like he did in that series you're bonkers. If you think anything compares to the effect LeBron James can have on this series, you're out of your gourd.

This is not 2006.

This is 2011, and here are your NBA Finals storylines. 


Can Dallas' defense step up? 


The Mavericks gave up a 106.1 defensive efficiency in the playoffs this season through the Western Conference finals. That's seventh-best of all the teams in the league. Sure, they had more games to try and suffer through. But the reality is that the Mavericks for long stretches of the Western Conference Playoffs couldn't get stops. They found ways down the stretch to cut off the Thunder but it won't be nearly as easy against the Heat. We know the Heat's defense is legit. We know Miami's offense is legit. We know the Mavericks' offense is legit. But with so many size issues for the Mavericks, we're going to have questions about how they guard the Heat. Once again the absence of Caron Butler is extremely damaging for Dallas. The Mavericks will wind up with one of the following guarding Dwyane Wade: Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Jose Barea, or Corey Brewer. That does not bode well. Even more concerning is Shawn Marion, as well as he played against Kevin Durant, guarding LeBron James.  No one can guard those players. But the Mavericks are especially ill-equipped to stop them. If the Mavericks' were ever going to whip out a zone, now might be the time. 


Will point guard play finally hurt the Heat?

Jrue Holiday did it a bit, but it didn't matter. Rajon Rondo was ... er ... not the same. Derrick Rose was shut down due to the offensive weapons surrounding him, or lack thereof, allowing James and Wade to freelance on him with an additional help defender on the double. But the Heat are facing a different beast in Jason Kidd. Kidd's not young, athletic (anymore, comparatively, though he can still get up and down the floor and has a decent amount of muscle). He's not going to try and torch the Heat on drives. He's just going to make the right play. Kidd will try and outsmart the Heat's athleticism and ability with savvy. He'll make passes they don't anticipate and aren't used to, slip between defenders only to beat their reactions defensively and make the right pass. Throw in Kidd's surprising recent ability to hit open 3-pointers and the Heat might be surprised at the old veteran working his Magic


Mavericks on the verge of validation


Dirk Nowitkzi is one of the best players of the past 10 years and he has no rings. Jason Kidd is a surefire Hall of Famer and doesn't have a ring. Jason Terrry has been a fourth-quarter maestro for the same franchise for the same length of time as Nowitzki, no ring. Mark Cuban has sunk more than $800 million into trying to earn a championship, no ring. Rick Carlisle led successful teams in Indiana and Detroit, no ring. This series is their best shot and in all likelihood, their last chance. This is everything for the Mavericks. The Heat have years to make another run. For the Mavericks, this is their absolute best chance at a title, to catch the Heat confident and still trying to figure themselves out. This isn't just an exciting shot at a title, it's about salvaging legacies and cementing greatness. 


The promise of 'The Decision'

They're there. They have to win four games and they will have backed it all up. All the talk, all the pomp, all the circumstance, all the pyro. The Heat will have lived up to their hype. The only way to shut up critics is to win it all. Miami's not just within sight of it, they're on the doorstep. They just beat the defending Eastern Conference champs and the top seed in the East featuring the best defensive team in the league. Yes, everyone will still regard James as arrogant, and question the value of teaming up with other elite teammates. But the narrative will start to shift if they win the title. James becomes a winner, Wade a two-time champ, and Erik Spoelstra a championship coach. Lose, and everyone's harshest criticism rings true.  Everything changes in four more games, either way. 

Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:11 am
 

NBA Finals: Heat, Mavs make a battle of closers

Finals will feature battle of great closers in Heat, Mavericks.

Posted by Matt Moore

You want a story for  the Finals? How's this. 

"No lead is safe."

The 2011 NBA Finals will feature two teams riding some of the strongest fourth quarter and final minutes play in recent history, maybe ever. Both teams absolutely crushed their opponents in the final minutes of the Conference Finals. You can talk about the inexperience they faced to get to the Finals, but the reality is that both teams crushed their opponents with long runs to close out big deficits and crush their opponent... multiple times.

The Finals set up an epic battle of notable clutch players. Dirk Nowitzki is on a roll of epic proportions at the moment, absolutely unstoppable with a seven foot frame and the single best jumper in the NBA. Jason Terry has been known to absolutely take over fourth quarters with huge shots. Jason Kidd won't wow you with 3-pointers (well, except you, Thunder, sorry), but he will always, always, always make the right decision and as Derrick Rose showed in the East. That's big. And Shawn Marion's clutch play has been quietly the defensive counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki. For the Heat? James, all day. LeBron has been another creature all-together in the fouth quarter of these playoffs. He hasn't just closed out, he's decided games are over and then made it so. Dwyane Wade had terrible quarters 1-3 in Games 4 and 5, and yet closed out the fourth and overtimes to make the difference. Even Chris Bosh has been clutch. 

There's not a player on either team you're concerned about in the key moments right now. Not one that will get the ball anyway. Defensively, Miami's got the edge, but the Thunder didn't fall apart on their own. These are veteran teams with amazing players, primed to finish strong.

These Finals may not be close. But if the game is within five after three quarters, heck, if it's within 20 after three quarters, neither team can feel safe. Each team will put the pedal down. For the Mavericks, it will be Dirk Nowitzki trying to overcome a much better set of defenders and the Mavericks using the inevitable doubles to find the open corner shooter. For the Heat? Just standing back and watching James and Wade do their thing. Can the Heat really stop Nowitkzi? Hard to see anyone playing better defense than Nick Collison did and Dirk made him look silly. Can anyone stop LeBron James right now?

No, really, can anyone, anywhere, stop LeBron James right now?

This isn't just the two best teams of the playoffs meeting to decide the title, it's the two teams who have shown consistently they want the game more, know how to win the game more, and have the will to close the game more.

And we get to see them settle which one of them wants a ring more.  
Posted on: May 27, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 2:11 am
 

NBA Finals: Heat, Mavs make a battle of closers

Finals will feature battle of great closers in Heat, Mavericks.

Posted by Matt Moore

You want a story for  the Finals? How's this. 

"No lead is safe."

The 2011 NBA Finals will feature two teams riding some of the strongest fourth quarter and final minutes play in recent history, maybe ever. Both teams absolutely crushed their opponents in the final minutes of the Conference Finals. You can talk about the inexperience they faced to get to the Finals, but the reality is that both teams crushed their opponents with long runs to close out big deficits and crush their opponent... multiple times.

The Finals set up an epic battle of notable clutch players. Dirk Nowitzki is on a roll of epic proportions at the moment, absolutely unstoppable with a seven foot frame and the single best jumper in the NBA. Jason Terry has been known to absolutely take over fourth quarters with huge shots. Jason Kidd won't wow you with 3-pointers (well, except you, Thunder, sorry), but he will always, always, always make the right decision and as Derrick Rose showed in the East. That's big. And Shawn Marion's clutch play has been quietly the defensive counterpart to Dirk Nowitzki. For the Heat? James, all day. LeBron has been another creature all-together in the fouth quarter of these playoffs. He hasn't just closed out, he's decided games are over and then made it so. Dwyane Wade had terrible quarters 1-3 in Games 4 and 5, and yet closed out the fourth and overtimes to make the difference. Even Chris Bosh has been clutch. 

There's not a player on either team you're concerned about in the key moments right now. Not one that will get the ball anyway. Defensively, Miami's got the edge, but the Thunder didn't fall apart on their own. These are veteran teams with amazing players, primed to finish strong.

These Finals may not be close. But if the game is within five after three quarters, heck, if it's within 20 after three quarters, neither team can feel safe. Each team will put the pedal down. For the Mavericks, it will be Dirk Nowitzki trying to overcome a much better set of defenders and the Mavericks using the inevitable doubles to find the open corner shooter. For the Heat? Just standing back and watching James and Wade do their thing. Can the Heat really stop Nowitkzi? Hard to see anyone playing better defense than Nick Collison did and Dirk made him look silly. Can anyone stop LeBron James right now?

No, really, can anyone, anywhere, stop LeBron James right now?

This isn't just the two best teams of the playoffs meeting to decide the title, it's the two teams who have shown consistently they want the game more, know how to win the game more, and have the will to close the game more.

And we get to see them settle which one of them wants a ring more.  
Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:09 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 5:58 am
 

Mavericks-Heat 2011 NBA Finals Preview

An early preview of the NBA Finals matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Posted by Ben Golliver.

lebron-mavs

I. Intro: Western Conference Champions: No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. Eastern Conference Champions: No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24)

II. How They Got Here: A look at the playoff track records

Dallas: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, 4-0 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder). Dallas is 7-1 at home and 5-2 on the road in the playoffs.

Miami: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1 against the Boston Celtics, 4-1 against the Chicago Bulls). Miami is 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road in the playoffs.

In the regular season, Dallas had the No. 8 offense and the No. 7 defense from an efficiency perspective. Miami had the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Dallas has the No. 1 offense and the No. 9 defense. Miami has the No. 4 offense and the No. 2 defense.

Both teams have played at a relatively slow pace in the postseason: Dallas is ranked No. 10 and Miami is ranked No. 13 out of 16 playoff teams.

III. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Mavericks and Heat matched up just twice in the regular season, with Dallas winning both times. The teams haven’t faced each other in almost five months, as the two games took place all the way back on Nov. 27 and Dec. 20. Dallas won 106-95 at home on Nov. 27 and they won 98-96 on the road on Dec. 20.

Of course, much has changed for both teams, but the regular season results are interesting for one main reason: The Heat went 22-2 from Nov. 26, 2010 until Jan. 9, 2011 ... the best stretch of their season by leaps and bounds. Both losses during that time period came at the hands of the Mavericks.

Keep in mind, Dallas had the services of small forward Caron Butler and Miami was without power forward Udonis Haslem. In all likelihood, that situation will be reversed for the Finals: Butler is expected to be out as he continues to rehab from knee surgery while Haslem has returned from foot surgery to provide a major spark for the Heat against the Bulls.

IV. Secret of the Series: Late-Game Execution

Nobody has finished games like Dallas and Miami in this playoffs. Not even close.

The main weapons have been Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, but both teams have benefited from substantial defensive contributions from the likes of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Throw in dagger shots from Jason Kidd and Wade, as well as meaningful role player contributions from Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and you start to understand why these two teams have stood up so well under pressure. They’ve got tons and tons of options.

Nowitzki has left longtime NBA observers speechless with his shot-making and play-making over the last month but James has matched him shot for shot, comeback for comeback. What might prove to be the difference is James’ lockdown defense late in games. Never before has he appeared to enjoy ball-hawking as much as he did against the Bulls. Derrick Rose, one of the league’s best shot creators, often looked absolutely hopeless in crunch time with James draped all over him. What’s more, he has seemed immune to pressure ever since a critical late-game turnover against the Celtics. James closed out Boston with a monster run, and he combined with Wade to do the same to the Bulls on Thursday night. If the Mavericks can find an answer for James in the game’s final minutes four times during the Finals, they will have more than earned their rings.

V. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Miami Heat have dealt well with Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose so far in the playoffs, despite a middling point guard rotation featuring Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. The defensive versatility of James and Wade helps a lot to cover up for those two. Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, has been one of many unsung heroes for the Mavericks, surviving Andre Miller, Derek Fisher and Russell Westbrook. Both sides will be thankful here. Miami will be glad they don’t need to worry about a paint-crashing young All-Star again while Dallas will take comfort in the same. Rather than worry about the Roses and Westbrooks of the world, Kidd can do what he does best: steady the ship, distribute the rock to the open man and force opportunistic turnovers. Kidd is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in the playoffs. Phenomenal numbers considering his age and the competition. Advantage: Mavericks. 

SG: Dwyane Wade or DeShawn Stevenson? Let’s not overthink this one. While Stevenson has been a nominal starter with reserve guard Jason Terry, an impact player on both ends, playing the bulk of the minutes, the Mavericks' combination falls far, far short of what Wade brings to the table. While the All-Star took a bit of a backseat in the scoring department in the Eastern Conference finals after torching the Boston Celtics, he’s a match-up nightmare for the Mavericks. Really, he’s what Kobe Bryant was supposed to be in the second round, if Bryant hadn’t decided to shoot only contested jumpers and never get to the rim or the free throw line. Wade’s been a menace on defense as well. He can cover tons of ground, which should help limit Dallas’ hot outside shooting. Huge advantage: Heat. 

SF: Like Kidd, Shawn Marion has been a major, chronically overlooked factor during Dallas’s playoff run. Marion put the stamp on the Western Conference finals, coming up with two huge late steals and a brilliant and-one dunk to push the Mavericks past the Thunder in Game 5. But even in his best days, which are behind him, Marion was no LeBron James, and, over the last month, we’ve realized just how impactful James can be. From being able to interchangeably cover three or four positions, to closing out games, to sacrificing his body for crucial hustle plays, James has been everywhere. His postseason averages: 25.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 points, 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals (entering Thursday) are just ridiculous. Perhaps, best of all, despite playing almost 44 minutes a night and handling the ball a ton, he’s committing less than three turnovers a game. Marion will have his hands full. Really, really, really full. Huge Advantage: Heat. 

PF: Nowitzki has earned gushing praise. He has taken his scoring versatility, efficiency and creativity to new heights. The leaners have been great, a dagger three has been mixed in here and there, and his passing to keep teams honest has been exceptional. His effort level on the boards and on defense have both been superb. His postseason numbers -- 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists – reflect his dominance. In Heat forward Chris Bosh, though, he’s matched up with an athletic, talented player who is somewhat similar to Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started the first round series with good success before the Mavericks adjusted and forced Portland’s perimeter players to beat them, which they couldn’t. Against the Heat, the Mavericks won’t have that luxury, so they’ll have to defend Bosh with single coverage a lot more often. That, plus the confidence and scoring touch Bosh showed against Chicago, will help Miami keep this match-up closer than you might expect. Still, it’s Dirk’s world and we’re all just living in it. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Joel Anthony has been the man in the middle fill-in that Miami so desperately needed. Better than a stiff, his activity level helps keep Miami from getting overrun on the glass and his help defense dissuades forays into the paint. That’s about it for Anthony, which is OK from Miami’s standpoint given the offensive talent they always have on the court. Tyson Chandler, though, has proven to be an effective two-way player for the Mavericks. Not only has he been a pest getting into the heads of his opponents, he’s been huge on the glass, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in the postseason. Foul trouble is always a lingering issue with Chandler, but his length and energy level, plus his ability to finish lob plays to prevent teams from overloading on Nowitzki, are all big plusses that tilt this match-up in his favor.  Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: The Heat haves scaled things back to an eight-man rotation, using only Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Chalmers. Although Miller and Haslem haven’t really peaked in this playoffs, they’ve both made important contributions. Not much was expected after their respective injuries so it feels like an added bonus. If one of those three guys doesn’t get hot, Miami’s bench is really just buying time for its starters. Dallas, on the other hand, has enjoyed a big-time positive bench scoring differential throughout the playoffs. In addition to Terry, J.J. Barea has been a tempo-changing, gameplan-altering, pesky presence, Peja Stojakovic has provided the knockdown shooting and Brendan Haywood can give some fouls and pull down the occasional rebound. (He can also be counted on to get posterized.) The huge issue for Dallas’ bench will be its perimeter defense. Will the subs be able to get their full runs through the rotation? How long can they stay on the floor if James and Wade continue to play heavy, heavy minutes? Hard to say. But Dallas’ bench has been more consistent, more prolific and it does enjoy the depth advantage. Slight advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: As mentioned above, both teams enter the series having played very, very well at the end of games. Both teams have also survived against a variety of opponents, overcoming significant mental hurdles along the way. For the Heat, it was finally pushing past the Celtics. For the Mavericks, it was surviving a miracle comeback against the Blazers. Both teams have closed out series on the road. Both teams have played the “proving the doubters wrong” card during the course of the season and both have stayed true to their self-perceived identity, resisting criticism and believing in their fundamentals. Simply put: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both deserve their share of the credit for those accomplishments. Advantage: Push.

VI. Conclusion

As dominant as the Mavericks have been in this postseason, they haven’t played a team that is as talented, focused and steady as the Heat. In the Blazers, Dallas was able to exploit a weak shooting team. Against the Lakers, Dallas made a disorganized and sloppy team pay. With the Thunder, Dallas forced Oklahoma City's younger players to crack under pressure.

Miami is well-rounded enough so that it resists straightforward tendency analysis. It’s fully motivated and focused as evidenced by its dismantling of the Celtics and Bulls in back-to-back series. And it’s proven to be very resilient in big moments, coming back to beat both Boston and Chicago in dramatic fashion.

While the Mavericks own positional advantage at three starting spots, and for the bench as a whole, they have no answer for James and Wade. This year, it’s starting to feel like no one in the NBA has an answer for that duo. Prediction: Heat in 6.


Posted on: May 27, 2011 12:09 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 5:58 am
 

Mavericks-Heat 2011 NBA Finals Preview

An early preview of the NBA Finals matchup between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Posted by Ben Golliver.

lebron-mavs

I. Intro: Western Conference Champions: No. 3 seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. Eastern Conference Champions: No. 2 seed Miami Heat (58-24)

II. How They Got Here: A look at the playoff track records

Dallas: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-2 against the Portland Trail Blazers, 4-0 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 4-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder). Dallas is 7-1 at home and 5-2 on the road in the playoffs.

Miami: 12-3 in the 2011 NBA playoffs (4-1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1 against the Boston Celtics, 4-1 against the Chicago Bulls). Miami is 8-0 at home and 4-3 on the road in the playoffs.

In the regular season, Dallas had the No. 8 offense and the No. 7 defense from an efficiency perspective. Miami had the No. 3 offense and the No. 5 defense. In the postseason, Dallas has the No. 1 offense and the No. 9 defense. Miami has the No. 4 offense and the No. 2 defense.

Both teams have played at a relatively slow pace in the postseason: Dallas is ranked No. 10 and Miami is ranked No. 13 out of 16 playoff teams.

III. What Happened: A look at the season series

The Mavericks and Heat matched up just twice in the regular season, with Dallas winning both times. The teams haven’t faced each other in almost five months, as the two games took place all the way back on Nov. 27 and Dec. 20. Dallas won 106-95 at home on Nov. 27 and they won 98-96 on the road on Dec. 20.

Of course, much has changed for both teams, but the regular season results are interesting for one main reason: The Heat went 22-2 from Nov. 26, 2010 until Jan. 9, 2011 ... the best stretch of their season by leaps and bounds. Both losses during that time period came at the hands of the Mavericks.

Keep in mind, Dallas had the services of small forward Caron Butler and Miami was without power forward Udonis Haslem. In all likelihood, that situation will be reversed for the Finals: Butler is expected to be out as he continues to rehab from knee surgery while Haslem has returned from foot surgery to provide a major spark for the Heat against the Bulls.

IV. Secret of the Series: Late-Game Execution

Nobody has finished games like Dallas and Miami in this playoffs. Not even close.

The main weapons have been Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, but both teams have benefited from substantial defensive contributions from the likes of Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Throw in dagger shots from Jason Kidd and Wade, as well as meaningful role player contributions from Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, and you start to understand why these two teams have stood up so well under pressure. They’ve got tons and tons of options.

Nowitzki has left longtime NBA observers speechless with his shot-making and play-making over the last month but James has matched him shot for shot, comeback for comeback. What might prove to be the difference is James’ lockdown defense late in games. Never before has he appeared to enjoy ball-hawking as much as he did against the Bulls. Derrick Rose, one of the league’s best shot creators, often looked absolutely hopeless in crunch time with James draped all over him. What’s more, he has seemed immune to pressure ever since a critical late-game turnover against the Celtics. James closed out Boston with a monster run, and he combined with Wade to do the same to the Bulls on Thursday night. If the Mavericks can find an answer for James in the game’s final minutes four times during the Finals, they will have more than earned their rings.

V. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?

PG: The Miami Heat have dealt well with Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose so far in the playoffs, despite a middling point guard rotation featuring Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. The defensive versatility of James and Wade helps a lot to cover up for those two. Jason Kidd, at 38 years old, has been one of many unsung heroes for the Mavericks, surviving Andre Miller, Derek Fisher and Russell Westbrook. Both sides will be thankful here. Miami will be glad they don’t need to worry about a paint-crashing young All-Star again while Dallas will take comfort in the same. Rather than worry about the Roses and Westbrooks of the world, Kidd can do what he does best: steady the ship, distribute the rock to the open man and force opportunistic turnovers. Kidd is averaging 9.9 points, 7.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 steals in the playoffs. Phenomenal numbers considering his age and the competition. Advantage: Mavericks. 

SG: Dwyane Wade or DeShawn Stevenson? Let’s not overthink this one. While Stevenson has been a nominal starter with reserve guard Jason Terry, an impact player on both ends, playing the bulk of the minutes, the Mavericks' combination falls far, far short of what Wade brings to the table. While the All-Star took a bit of a backseat in the scoring department in the Eastern Conference finals after torching the Boston Celtics, he’s a match-up nightmare for the Mavericks. Really, he’s what Kobe Bryant was supposed to be in the second round, if Bryant hadn’t decided to shoot only contested jumpers and never get to the rim or the free throw line. Wade’s been a menace on defense as well. He can cover tons of ground, which should help limit Dallas’ hot outside shooting. Huge advantage: Heat. 

SF: Like Kidd, Shawn Marion has been a major, chronically overlooked factor during Dallas’s playoff run. Marion put the stamp on the Western Conference finals, coming up with two huge late steals and a brilliant and-one dunk to push the Mavericks past the Thunder in Game 5. But even in his best days, which are behind him, Marion was no LeBron James, and, over the last month, we’ve realized just how impactful James can be. From being able to interchangeably cover three or four positions, to closing out games, to sacrificing his body for crucial hustle plays, James has been everywhere. His postseason averages: 25.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 points, 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals (entering Thursday) are just ridiculous. Perhaps, best of all, despite playing almost 44 minutes a night and handling the ball a ton, he’s committing less than three turnovers a game. Marion will have his hands full. Really, really, really full. Huge Advantage: Heat. 

PF: Nowitzki has earned gushing praise. He has taken his scoring versatility, efficiency and creativity to new heights. The leaners have been great, a dagger three has been mixed in here and there, and his passing to keep teams honest has been exceptional. His effort level on the boards and on defense have both been superb. His postseason numbers -- 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists – reflect his dominance. In Heat forward Chris Bosh, though, he’s matched up with an athletic, talented player who is somewhat similar to Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge started the first round series with good success before the Mavericks adjusted and forced Portland’s perimeter players to beat them, which they couldn’t. Against the Heat, the Mavericks won’t have that luxury, so they’ll have to defend Bosh with single coverage a lot more often. That, plus the confidence and scoring touch Bosh showed against Chicago, will help Miami keep this match-up closer than you might expect. Still, it’s Dirk’s world and we’re all just living in it. Advantage: Mavericks.

C: Joel Anthony has been the man in the middle fill-in that Miami so desperately needed. Better than a stiff, his activity level helps keep Miami from getting overrun on the glass and his help defense dissuades forays into the paint. That’s about it for Anthony, which is OK from Miami’s standpoint given the offensive talent they always have on the court. Tyson Chandler, though, has proven to be an effective two-way player for the Mavericks. Not only has he been a pest getting into the heads of his opponents, he’s been huge on the glass, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game in the postseason. Foul trouble is always a lingering issue with Chandler, but his length and energy level, plus his ability to finish lob plays to prevent teams from overloading on Nowitzki, are all big plusses that tilt this match-up in his favor.  Advantage: Mavericks.

Bench: The Heat haves scaled things back to an eight-man rotation, using only Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Chalmers. Although Miller and Haslem haven’t really peaked in this playoffs, they’ve both made important contributions. Not much was expected after their respective injuries so it feels like an added bonus. If one of those three guys doesn’t get hot, Miami’s bench is really just buying time for its starters. Dallas, on the other hand, has enjoyed a big-time positive bench scoring differential throughout the playoffs. In addition to Terry, J.J. Barea has been a tempo-changing, gameplan-altering, pesky presence, Peja Stojakovic has provided the knockdown shooting and Brendan Haywood can give some fouls and pull down the occasional rebound. (He can also be counted on to get posterized.) The huge issue for Dallas’ bench will be its perimeter defense. Will the subs be able to get their full runs through the rotation? How long can they stay on the floor if James and Wade continue to play heavy, heavy minutes? Hard to say. But Dallas’ bench has been more consistent, more prolific and it does enjoy the depth advantage. Slight advantage: Mavericks.

Coach: As mentioned above, both teams enter the series having played very, very well at the end of games. Both teams have also survived against a variety of opponents, overcoming significant mental hurdles along the way. For the Heat, it was finally pushing past the Celtics. For the Mavericks, it was surviving a miracle comeback against the Blazers. Both teams have closed out series on the road. Both teams have played the “proving the doubters wrong” card during the course of the season and both have stayed true to their self-perceived identity, resisting criticism and believing in their fundamentals. Simply put: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle both deserve their share of the credit for those accomplishments. Advantage: Push.

VI. Conclusion

As dominant as the Mavericks have been in this postseason, they haven’t played a team that is as talented, focused and steady as the Heat. In the Blazers, Dallas was able to exploit a weak shooting team. Against the Lakers, Dallas made a disorganized and sloppy team pay. With the Thunder, Dallas forced Oklahoma City's younger players to crack under pressure.

Miami is well-rounded enough so that it resists straightforward tendency analysis. It’s fully motivated and focused as evidenced by its dismantling of the Celtics and Bulls in back-to-back series. And it’s proven to be very resilient in big moments, coming back to beat both Boston and Chicago in dramatic fashion.

While the Mavericks own positional advantage at three starting spots, and for the bench as a whole, they have no answer for James and Wade. This year, it’s starting to feel like no one in the NBA has an answer for that duo. Prediction: Heat in 6.


Posted on: May 26, 2011 3:14 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 12:21 pm
 

Mavs-Thunder series grades

Posted by Royce Young



The Mavericks moved on to the NBA Finals with a five-game series win over the Thunder, topping OKC in the clincher 100-96. Let's grade.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Dirk Nowitzki: What can you possibly say about Dirk? The whole time I watched him drop jumpers and impossible leaners I thought, "This is just Dirk's time." His close to Game 4 was heroic and the clutch 3 he drilled in Game 5 won his team the series. He could not have been more fantastic and this was with defense from Nick Collison that almost everyone could agree was outstanding. Dirk was on another level in the Western Finals. And it's going to have to continue for him to reach his goal. Grade: A++

Jason Kidd: His numbers won't blow you away (9.6 ppg, 8.6 apg) but he managed the Mavs offense masterfully and played pretty solid defense on both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Kidd, at 38, was ready for every challenge thrown his way and stepped up in big moments for Dallas. He hit big shots, made extra passes, drove to the basket, created looks -- he was wonderful. And not to mention his all-world hands that knocked away countless passes and stripped the Thunder a number of times. He steal of Westbrook in Game 4 really might've been the playof the series. Grade: A

Rick Carlisle: I don't think anyone can necessarily cite any big move Carlisle made or any brilliant adjustment. But that's the thing -- he let his team be his team. He knew their strengths, their weaknesses. And he made sure they played their game. He did make a tweak in the way the Mavs defended Durant sending some doubles at him high, but really, Carlisle managed his rotations well, matched up against the Thunder and made Scott Brooks really rack his brain to make a move. Grade: A-

Crunch time execution: In the fourth quarter in this series, the Thunder actually outscored the Mavs 133-130. I find that very interesting. But in those last six minutes of the game, things changed. In Game 4, Dallas outscored the Thunder 17-2. In Game 5, 17-6. The Mavs knew how to finish, the Thunder didn't. Grade: A+

OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Kevin Durant: I don't think anyone would say that Durant had an impressive series. He struggled at times getting looks, making shots and staying involved. But he was the entire focus of the Dallas defense as the Mavs doubled and locked down on him the entire series. He averaged 28.0 ppg on 43 percent shooting which is pretty impressive considering what the Mavs threw at him. He lacked a bit in the biggest moments in Games 4 and 5 though, which is something he'll be thinking about the next six months. Grade: B+

Russell Westbrook: Another series, another Russell Westbrook debate. Whether you like his style of point guard play or not, Westbrook was completely vital to OKC's success. His relentless attacking in Game 5 nearly was enough to push the Thunder to a sixth game. He averaged 23.6 ppg and 4.8 apg, but his turnovers (4.8 per game) were an issue. Grade: B

James Harden: I think the best player on the floor in Game 5 -- Dirk included -- was James Harden. The way he ran the pick-and-roll, created shots, made shots and basically dominated the game was something that should have Thunder fans giddy about next season. He was a bit inconsistent though as he only had two truly great games and three average ones. Consistency is the key for the bearded one. Grade: B-

Nick Collison: His numbers never impress you and his plus-minus wasn't even all that stellar in this series. But the work he put in against Dirk was outstanding. And that's even with Dirk having a series for the ages. That should just tell you how good Dirk was. But Collison worked like crazy, never gave an inch and challenged Dirk the entire way. He was OKC's most valuable player against the Grizzlies and really may deserve my made up one for the Thunder in this postseason. Grade: A+

Scott Brooks: A bumpy series for the Thunder's young coach. He was praised for his bold move to sit Westbrook in the fourth quarter of Game 2. He made another slick decision going super small in Game 5, which OKC almost rode to victory. But the little things seemed to sneak up on Brooks. He missed a couple good opportunities to go offense-for-defense at times. The team failed to execute plays out of timeouts. Of course the late-game execution was bad. He was stubborn with his starting five which may or may not have cost the Thunder this series. Brooks is a good coach. He fits this Thunder team well. But like the young team, he was brilliant at times and didn't quite cut it at other moments. Grade: C+
Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:35 am
Edited on: May 26, 2011 5:07 am
 

Durant 'not happy at all' that Dirk advances

Dirk Nowitzki is getting a second chance at the NBA Finals, but Kevin Durant isn't happy about that. Posted by Ben Golliver.

The Western Conference finals was set up as a battle between two of the league's most unguardable forwards: Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Long, coordinated, multi-talented and efficient, both players present nightmare matchups every time they step on the court. Nowitzki, 32, may very well be getting his last crack at an NBA title. Durant, 22, was taking his first real swing at a deep playoff run.

After just five games, the old head overcame the young gun.

Following Thursday's 100-96 Dallas win, Durant was asked what his feelings were about Nowitzki getting a second chance at the NBA Finals. Nowitzki's Mavericks lost a controversial 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat and that was the only time in Nowitzki's 13-year career, prior to this year, that he had made the Finals. The Mavericks had been bounced in the first round in three of the last four seasons.

When faced with that question, most players would mumble some generic show of support for their competitor. Durant is not most players.

"I'm not happy at all," Durant said, shrugging and smiling. "I'm a competitor, man, I really didn't care about what he went through the last three or four years. I know that's been tough for him, you know. He lost three of the last four years in the first round. I'm sure he's happy now that he's going back to the Finals but I'm not happy for him at all because I wanted to be there. But it happens like that."

Here's video of Durant's answer to the question. 



In this Western Conference finals, the battle of the superstars was a clear win for Nowitzki. He averaged 33.8 points and 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists to Durant's 27.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. More importantly, though, Nowitzki shot 56.2% from the field while Durant shot just 43.4% and a measly 23.3% from deep. Nowitzki also got to the free throw line more and was huge late in Dallas' wins, particularly in the remarkable Game 4 comeback.

Nowitzki was the better of the superstars, but he also had the better, more tested team. Durant seems to understand that fact intimately. Will some people misinterpret his comments about Nowitzki as a sign of disrespect? It's possible. But they shouldn't. True competitors respect each other by respecting the game first, and that means focusing on the ultimate prize at all times, even in the midst of a disappointing defeat. 

After all these years -- more than a decade -- of heartbreak and frustration, Nowitzki surely knows where Durant is coming from.

 
 
 
 
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