That's really the only reason to give the Mavericks any legitimate advantage, because other than potentially getting an extra game in Dallas, this series looks like a toss-up.
|The suddenly spry Shaquille O'Neal will loom large over this series. (Getty Images)|
Miami has put it together at the perfect time. Shaquille O'Neal doesn't look like he needs a walker to get from the training room to his locker. Members of his supporting cast no longer play like wasted investments.
Dirk Nowitzki has proved to be clutch, finally able to put Dallas on his back after a few postseasons where he struggled. Avery Johnson, wrapping up his first full season as head coach, has gained invaluable experience for this opportunity to test his X's and O's against the legendary Pat Riley.
So who wins? I've given it a lot of thought and am leaning toward Miami in seven games. Reason: I can't doubt the Diesel -- again.
O'Neal's energetic play against the Pistons offered proof that he has been conserving himself for this time of the year, and that was a nasty surprise Detroit's tired legs weren't ready for.
There are televisions, radios and computers in Dallas, so O'Neal having shaved off about five years off his age won't come as a shocker, but the Mavs are still pretty powerless to stop him.
Though they do have big bodies in DeSagana Diop, Erick Dampier and even Keith Van Horn, the likelihood of those guys ending up in quick foul trouble is far better than any of them having extended success against a determined Shaq Daddy.
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"We need him a lot," Johnson said of Dampier, who didn't play after Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. "Obviously, nobody out there is going to stop Shaq. But you need bodies."
Bodies like D.J. Mbenga -- who won't be available until Game 5 due to suspension. So expect Johnson to find ways to compete by going small.
Luckily, adjustments have been his strength throughout the postseason, and it's not going to take him long to figure out that the best remedy for stopping O'Neal might be to turn the series into a track meet with a heavy dose of small ball, forcing the Big Fella to hustle up and down the court.
"Shaq's going to get points, he's going to get some easy opportunities. Just don't get discouraged about that," Dallas' Jerry Stackhouse said. "We didn't get discouraged by Tim Duncan. Those are just things that can happen. True dominant players are going to find a way to get their numbers. We have to find a way to control the other guys."