Two teams who haven't been there before are about to fight for the right to be called NBA Champions. Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks have shown that they are the team to be reckoned with. Pat Riley has taken over the reins of the Miami Heat and brought Shaquille O'Neal to the promised land once again, and superstar Dwayne Wade to the Finals for the first time in his young career. Matt seems to think it's not very exciting, but I see it as the best possible matchup in the Finals.
It's going to be a series of matchups. As I mentioned on National Fox Sports Radio last night, on the Thompson Brothers show, I think it's about who's going to cover who. Who can cover Shaq? Who can stop Dwayne? OK, they're tough, no question, but who on the planet can stop Dirk Nowitzki? Udonis Haslem tried to in their Feb. 9th game, but did so quite poorly, getting burnt inside at Dirk's will and being shot over like the smaller man he is from the outside. Dirk ended up with 27, and Haslem had eight. It's going to be tough for the Heat. Especially since they need to keep every game under 100 points if they have a chance to win.
Also, it's fundamentals. Shaq, Alonzo Mourning and Antoine Walker all have worse free throw shooting percentages than anyone on the Mavs. Anyone. And those guys are going to see a lot of minutes. Also, can they run the transition game if they need to against the offensive minded Mavericks? Can the Heat overcome their fundamental shortcomings?
Now, I'm not about to say Pat Riley, who is about to coach in his ninth NBA Finals, and Shaq, who's about to play in his sixth, can't find something to do about it. I'm just saying it's going to be as hard as it looks. And once you make a plan to stop Dirk, what about Jerry Stackhouse? Do the Heat have another quick, tall guy to guard him? I'm not sure they even have one. Maybe the 6'7" James Posey? I just don't know. Add Josh Howard and Jason Terry to the mix, and I think the Heat are in trouble.
I've been wrong before, and it's dangerous to not believe in the Big Aristotle, and Wade has performed as good as any other player in the playoffs to this point, but I just think the Mavs are the team to beat in this one. Coach Avery Johnson has finally taught this team that defense matters, and the team believed it and enacted the plan to perfection. They've beaten the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns along the way, which is tougher that the Chicago Bulls and New Jersey Nets.
Of course, the Detroit Pistons were tough, and nobody expected them to fold in six (except maybe the Heat). What's going to happen to Flip Saunders? Expect the riot to begin soon and he'll be running out of Motown from the pitchforks and torches soon enough. Was it his fault? Well, he's the coach and he didn't get enough out of one of the best teams in the NBA, the holders of the best record in the regular season, the team who'd been to the last three finals. I'd say, in a word, Yes. Sort of like the Cleveland Cavaliers coach, Mike Brown. He's terrible. Sorry. But he's somehow getting credit for the Cavs performance in the playoffs, where he should be getting the blame for not getting them further. Next season, watch the huddle when he's "talking" to the players. No one pays any attention. Well, at least not the players. I tell you what, if Kobe Bryant had the supporting players that LeBron James has, he'd have gone much further in the playoffs, I assure you. But, that's a different story, so I'll let that be for now. Bottom line is the coach carries much of the responsibility for the team's performance. Nuff Said.
Alright, Thursday night, 8pm CST, is set for the first game of the 2006 NBA Playoffs. I'm ready. I'm off work that night, so I'll have the popcorn popped and the beverages cold by tipoff time. ABC, here I come. Sorry, Matt, but I'm excited to see this. It might be a Dallas steamrolling, but, hey, I'm going to be there to see it.
And I wouldn't count out Pat Riley just yet.
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