Mavericks Vs. Heat, NBA Finals Preview: Veterans Give Dallas The Edge

DALLAS, TX - MAY 25: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts late in the fourth quarter before the Mavericks defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-96 in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 25, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Eric Gay-Pool/Getty Images)

2nd seed Miami Heat (58-24) 3rd seed Dallas Mavericks (57-25) Mavericks swept the season series 2-0.

The Dallas Mavericks will face the Miami Heat for the right to hoist the Larry O'brien trophy this June. It's to no one's surprise that the Heat are the Eastern Conference representative in the finals. After all, they were built for this. Just ask them. The Mavericks on the other hand? Even the most optimistic Mavericks fan could not have imagined a scenario in which they would've made this far. Especially after the loss of Caron Butler on New Year's Day and the failure of Rodrigue Beaubois to assert himself as the much needed offensive force this team had been lacking. But here they are.  Four wins away from an NBA title. Against those same Miami Heat that have been the source of nightmares for every Mavericks player associated with the 2006 debacle and fans alike. And they wouldn't have it any other way.

Offense

Team

OffEff

Fg%

3pt%

TS%

Points in paint

DAL

107.6

47.5%

36.5%

56.5%

40.9

MIA

109.3

48%

37%

57.3%

31.7

 

The Dallas Mavericks are the better offensive team in their half-courts sets. They have been exemplary in their half-court sets this postseason and the spacing provided by the presence of their three point shooters has made them an extremely tough cover on the offensive end. The Miami Heat have the better offensive efficiency rating because they have Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. And with that personal, you don't need to be an effective half-court team to be efficient on offense. You run, run and run some more. The Heat are virtually unstoppable in transition and limiting the Heat's fast break opportunity will be paramount from a Mavericks perspective.In order to do that, they must hit the boards hard. The Mavericks averaged 47 rebounds during the regular season against the Heat and they will need to match that or best it in a seven game series.

Surprisingly, the Miami Heat score significantly fewer points in the paint than the Mavericks. The Miami Heat attack the basket on a consistent basis, why haven't they scored more points in the paint? The answer is pretty simple. When Wade and James attack the basket they are approaching the rim at such speed and ferociousness that more often than not the opposing team has no choice but to foul them. If the Mavericks intend to become champions this season, this cannot become a free-throw contest. Easier said than done. James and Wade were both in the top five in free throws attempted this season with 8.5 a piece. Keeping them off the line is imperative for the Mavericks defensively. After giving up a combined 26 free throws to Wade and James in their first matchup this season, the Mavericks were able to limit them to 13 in the second meeting. That needs to continue.

Defense

Team

DefEff

FG%

3pt%

Points allowed

Points allowed in paint

DAL

102.3

45%

34.3%

96

36.6

MIA

100.7

45.8%

34.5%

95

36.4

 

The Heat are the better defensive team of the two. Although, as you can see, it's closer than you might think. The Heat rely on their athleticism and agility to make life miserable for the opposition. Their quickness allows them to recover when they are beaten and they are always able to get their hands in the passing lanes as they're rotating. They are a nightmare defensively. Much has been made about Lebron James' exceptional defensive display in these playoffs and rightfully so. As a result, many are clamoring to see James guard the best offensive player in these playoffs in Dirk Nowitzki. While that would make for excellent television, it would be terrible news for the Miami Heat.Lebron James cannot guard Nowitzki.

The Lakers attempted a similar strategy earlier in the playoffs by putting Ron Artest against Nowitzki. James is a better defender than Artest but they are very similar. Artest is 6'7, 260lbs while James is 6'8, 250lbs. That futile attempt prompted Nowitzki to declare, "I saw Artest was on me and I just pushed [Jason Terry] out and said let me take care of this matchup on the low post." James on Nowitzki would cause numerous problems for the Heat defensively. It would hurt their defensive rotations and, among other things, put James in foul trouble. The Mavericks have become a good defensive team thanks to Tyson Chandler and the presence of two viable centers. Their ability to alter shots in the paint will be crucial against the Heat. Marion has done an excellent job so far in this postseason guarding the wings of opposing teams but he's going to need help. As will Jason Kidd. The Mavericks will undoubtedly attempt to double on occasions and they will surely go zone at times. Thankfully, the Heat are a terrible team against the zone.  They were limited to only 38% shooting against the zone this season-sixth worst in the NBA. That might be the Mavericks' best hope defensively.

Point Guard: Mike Bibby Vs Jason Kidd

Mike Bibby reached a buyout with the Washington Wizards and waived his $6.2 million salary in order to play for a ring with the Miami Heat. He's going to get his opportunity but he's been nothing more than an interested observer for the Heat thus far. Bibby has averaged four points on 26% shooting in the playoffs. He's very limited defensively and is a starter in name only. The Heat have had James facilitate the offense while entrenching Bibby on the pine this postseason. At 32, Bibby looks finished and other than an occasional three he won't be much of a factor in this series. Compare that to Kidd who at 38 has been playing some of his best basketball. He's been able to keep defenses honest by draining the three point shot and has been nothing short of a marvel defensively. Sure, he's lost a step but he still guides the Mavericks offense with his precision passing and his other-worldly ability to harass the game's best wing players with his physicality has been spectacular.

Advantage: Dallas

Shooting Guard:  Dwyane Wade Vs Deshawn Stevenson

Wade averaged 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 38% shooting against the Mavericks this season. Stevenson saw limited minutes against Wade this season but when he did he held Wade to 33% shooting. Jason Kidd was able to limit Wade's penetration a bit but as a result allowed Wade to shoot 43% from three against him. However, that's an anomaly as Wade is a career 33% shooter from three. After a monstrous start to the playoffs, Wade struggled against the Bulls and his bum shoulder has become a concern for the Heat. His jumpshot looked awful at times against the Bulls and if the Mavericks are somehow able to limit his penetration, they'll live with the results of his jumper. Stevenson will try his best to make life difficult for him but Wade still possesses the speed to get by him and it will be once again be a battle of attrition as the Mavericks will be throwing as many bodies as possible on Wade in hopes of slowing him down.

Advantage: Miami

Small Forward:  Lebron James Vs. Shawn Marion

James has been breathtaking this postseason. He's averaged 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists while playing phenomenal defense. He's excelling on both ends of the floor and finishing games. His combination of size, strength and vision has left his opponents in the dust and now it's up to the Mavericks to attempt to put a halt to his terrorizing play. James was held to 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists on 30% shooting against the Mavericks this season.  Jason Kidd played a big part in that and limited James to 21 points during the regular season and only 33% shooting per 36. Shawn Marion did not. James averaged 35 points  on 38% shooting when Marion was guarding him. Marion has ratcheted up the defensive intensity in the last series and the intensity needs to stay at that level in the finals. Deshawn Stevenson, the self-proclaimed "Lebron Stopper," will get his chance against James as well. As with Wade, they will throw as many bodies as possible on him and hope to wear him down. Marion was able to average 11 points and nine rebounds coming off the bench against the Heat this season. Marion's offensive game may suffer but he will be heavily relied upon the defensive end and his ability to attack the boards will be essential.

Advantage: Miami

Power Forward: Chris Bosh Vs Dirk Nowitzki

Bosh  has quietly silenced his critics in this postseason. He hasn't done anything spectacular, he's just taken what's given to him. And with defenses collapsing on Wade and James, that's been open shots. He's averaged 18 points and nine rebounds in the playoffs which is in line with his production during the regular season. Nowitzki will likely see time against Bosh in this series but you will likely see Tyson Chandler on him as well. Chandler will attempt to get physical with Bosh and his length should bother Bosh's jumpshot. Chandler was able to rebound at will when these two were matched during the regular season, averaging close to 15 rebounds. This does have it's disadvantages. Chandler will have to leave the post at times when he's guarding Bosh and that will leave the lane open for the penetrating James and Wade. Which is why I would leave Nowitzki on Bosh for longer stretches. He has shown the ability to hold his own on the defensive end of the floor and played a part in limiting Pau Gasol this postseason. Offensively, Nowitzki has been a juggernaut.  He's averaging 28 points and eight rebounds on 51% shooting from the field and three. He will likely see a combination of Bosh, Haslem, Anthony and maybe even James. They will try to get physical with him and try to disrupt his game by doubling him and showing him different looks throughout the game but they'll quickly learn that the best defense against Nowitzki is to just hope he misses.

Advantage: Dallas

Center: Joel Anthony Vs. Tyson Chandler.

At 6'9, Anthony has been a liability on the boards for the Heat. Anthony's value for the Heat will be the excellent help defense he provides. He will likely be matched up against Nowitzki for a few positions but it's his ability to provide cover in the Heat's rotations as they're chasing the Mavericks around the perimeter that will keep him on the floor. Chandler was able to take advantage of Miami's lack of bigs in the regular season averaging 11 points and 13 rebounds on 69% shooting. As always, keeping Chandler out of foul trouble will be a priority for the Mavericks. They need him on the floor as much as possible. Chandler will also be able to use his size advantage on the offensive end. Offensive rebounds, alley-oops and put backs should be readily available in this series.  

Advantage: Dallas

Bench

As with the previous series' the Mavericks have the superior bench. The Mavericks will need to punish the Heat's bench in this series in order to prevail. Jason Terry will need to keep provide instant offense off the bench and will need to make up for his defensive shortcomings by abusing the Heat off the pick and roll. Jose Juan Barea has shown the ability to drive to the lane at will this postseason and with the overreliance on smaller lineups by the Heat, Barea will have to make them pay by driving to the basket consistently. Peja Stojakovic struggled for the first time in these playoffs against the Thunder. He was never able to get in rhythm offensively and was an abysmal 5/21 from three. They were open looks for the most part so hopefully the time off will help him regain his stroke. If the Mavericks are not able to make the Heat pay when they converge on Dirk by draining open jumpshots and particularly open threes, it's very hard to see them pulling this out. With Brendan Haywood coming off the bench the Mavericks will have a menacing defensive presence at all times against the Heat.

The Heat will counter with Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. Haslem will be another body to throw at Nowtizki but other than game two against the Bulls has been non-existent offensively. Mike Miller finally remembered he was basketball player and began to show life in the final two games against the Bulls playing crucial minutes for the Heat. His three point shot will have to be accounted for as will that of Chalmers. Chalmers could possess problems for the Mavericks as he can also put it on the floor and drive and his defensive ability could hamper Barea's ability to attack on the pick and roll. The Heat's bench is not capable of keeping up with the Mavericks' bench and if on any given night they do or come close to matching it, something has gone horribly wrong.

Advantage: Dallas

Prediction

Lebron James. Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh. They assembled and turned the basketball world on its head overnight.  The question wasn't if they were going to win a title but, rather, how many? To begin the season there was a scroll at the bottom of ESPN comparing the Heat to the 72 win Bulls. Just like that. It was predestined. The Miami Heat were going to win the NBA title this year and for the foreseeable future and there wasn't a thing anybody could do about. How many? Seven, Lebron proclaimed.  Seven.  The Heat could very well win multiple championships and this could be the first of their seven titles.But they've run into a team that seemed to be able to float on water at some points in this postseason.

There is something very special about this Mavericks squad. Unlike the predestined path the trio of the Heat decided to embark on, the Mavericks decided to let destiny take its course. And it has in ways they could not have imagined. This was not supposed to happen. But is has and with it went all the stereotypes. Soft, chokers, playoff failures. All gone. Spearheaded by the remarkable play of Dirk Nowitzki and the impervious Jason Kidd, the Mavericks have earned their shot at redemption. The roster has been filled with veteran players many had deemed washed up.  Shawn Marion,  Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, the list could go on and on.  It's a strange cast but it fits. With the exception of the closeout game against the Lakers, it's hard to say they've played anywhere close to perfect basketball this postseason and yet they've kept on racking up wins.  And somehow, someway, they'll rack up four more.

Mavericks in 6

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