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Saturday, June 10, 2006

NBA Finals: Mavs-Heat

From One Hot Extremity to another

The last time Miami beat Dallas was in the 2003-04 season, thanks to a lucky three by Rafer Alston. Dallas has beat Miami 10 out of their last 12 matchups, and they are 2-0 this season, including a 36 point victory.

But if there's one thing the Heat have proven these playoffs, it's that the regular season does not mean anything.

Both teams have flexed their muscles over their, in superhero terms, arch nemeses. The Heat defeated the Pistons emphatically, four games to two, and Dallas has overcome not one, but two rivals – the Spurs in 7 and then the Suns in 6. The matchups will prove to be intriguing and entertaining, as playoff experience will come in handy – both teams are NBA Championship virgins.

It will be a battle of superheroes, and the most fitting way to end one of the greatest NBA playoffs in years. So, what does Dallas have to do to win the debacle?

First and foremost, there’s a little matter of Shaquille O’Neal, who has no nice feelings for opposing center Erick Dampier. As the Big Aristotle said himself, “Dampier is soft. Quote it, underline it, tape it and send it to him.” Damp will need to have a big series, as he rarely played against Phoenix. However, a tactic Avery Johnson wisely uses is bringing in Keith Van Horn to draw Shaq out of the post. Dallas will need to contain a motivated Shaq, who is trying to bring true on his promise to win Miami a championship.

Secondly, Dirk Nowitzki needs to continue to pump out Larry Bird-like performances in order for Dallas to win. He is averaging upwards of 28 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in the playoffs, dispelling all theories that he struggles during the playoffs – many thanks to his recent 22 point fourth quarter / 50 point game in game 5. We are all Nowitnesses to Dirk’s clutch performance, and a big NBA finals will push him further into superstardom. Look for Antoine Walker or James Posey to attempt to guard the real MVP.

Josh Howard needs to continue to step up and score over 20, as Dallas is yet to lose this season when he reaches that mark (25-0). Howard also needs to stay on top of his defensive game – Dwyane Wade lives for the limelight and will be looking to carry Miami.

As one can tell – the series will be filled with interesting matchups, but the coaches gameplan will be equally important. Dallas should look to the opposite of what they did against Phoenix, and try to force Antoine Walker and company into longer shots. Dallas should try to avoid letting any Heatians (I’m looking at Wade) walk through the defense. If worse comes to worse, Dallas should employ the infamous Hack-a-Shaq, but with a defensive tandem of Diop and Dampier, Dallas is as set as they ever will be to take on Shaq.

Dallas also needs to go back to their Nellie roots and be able to stroke the 3 consistently – Jason Terry needs to step up and get back to performing consistently. In its two games this season, Dallas hit a combined 19 three’s out of 30 which paved the way for easy drives. The X-Factor for Dallas will be Devin Harris whose speed will have Payton or Wade gasping for breath. If he can drive and get Shaq (like he did to Duncan) in foul trouble, then Dallas is in a good position to bring home the Maurice Podoloff trophy.

Dallas needs to watch out for Miami’s equally-deep bench. Players like Walker, Posey, Payton and even Williams will all be looking to get some recognition by playing their hearts out. Dallas needs to reply to them with guys like Marquis Daniels, Keith Van Horn and Jerry Stackhouse stepping up and giving 100 percent effort. They need to make smart decisions (Mr. Stackhouse…) and have an equal balance between threes and driving.

First it was Michael Finley, then Steve Nash. Now look for Dallas to leave behind Antoine Walker – Mr. Detrimental in 2004.

“I think for the first time in my life I'm speechless,” said Mark Cuban, something I don't believe.

I have correctly predicted Dallas over Memphis in 4, San Antonio in 7 and Phoenix in 6. If Dallas wins in 6 again versus Miami, I will consider becoming clairvoyant. Dallas will need to play their best and get the little important things done correctly; make free throws, offensive rebound and control the ball.


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