Friday, May 27, 2011

NBA Finals 2011: The More Things Change...

The Miami Heat vs. the Dallas Mavericks- round two.  It's five years later, and we're back to the exact match up.  It's five years later, but Miami and Dallas seem 20 years removed from where they were in 2006.  Has an NBA Finals ever had so many classic conflicts, parallels, and role reversals as this year's Finals?

The anti-climatic answer which will undoubtedly deflate the serious tone I was setting and bring levity to this opening is a simple "Yes, perhaps last year when L.A. faced Boston."  The storyline was that L.A. was out for revenge for 2008, this time armed with Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum to combat Boston's physicality.  It worked when L.A. destroyed Boston on the glass in game seven, earning them their redemption.  Boston finished the 2010 series without their brute center, Kendrick Perkins, just like L.A. with Bynum two years prior.
Round 2: "I want a good, clean fight." 

Still, this year's matchup compels the basketball lover's mind.  You saw it coming in the Conference Finals when both teams went up 3-1.  Your mind wondered forward and you started thinking about LeBron James vs. Dirk Nowitzki in a fourth quarter, salivating at the chance to watch somebody shut down Dirk or torch LeBron.  Then you started thinking that it couldn't happen because if it did, somebody loses.  The way both are performing, losing seems out of the question.  It's like when you compare John Wall's dougie against Skip Bayless' dougie.  OK, maybe not.

Anyway, here are some particulars and perpendiculars:        

  • The two teams combined to punch out the youngins who led Team USA 2010 to victory, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose, in the Conference Finals.  Rose won MVP and Durant has won two scoring titles, yet the older guard taxed the rebels their dues before team success.
  • Both teams stomped on last year's NBA Finalists in the second round.  They also defeated the Blazers and Sixers, both of which have the letter "P" as the first letter of their respective cities (it's not the best I can do- I promise).
  •  Both James and Nowitzki saw a dip in their regular season raw numbers compared to previous years, yet might be playing better than ever.  Both have changed their games to combat perceived past weaknesses in their play:  Nowitzki's mid-post game allows him to dominate smaller defenders, and LeBron's mid-range game is now elite.
  • James and Nowitzki made the Finals in consecutive years.  They both had their legacies tarnished by embarrassing defeats, resulting in the last titles for the great bigs of the era, Duncan and Shaq (with help from Dwyane Wade of course).  Both are seeking vengeance against the NBA Finals itself.
  • It was possible last summer that Dirk could have joined the Heat, likely in place of Bosh.  Bosh has played well in these playoffs despite my T.V. heckling, but could you imagine if Dirk landed on this team instead of Bosh?

Where the individual players are in their career, and how they came together, is probably the most interesting subplot.  Again, 2006 comes into play.  In '06, Miami was in win-now mode, saturated with veterans and ring-chasers like Antoine Walker and Gary Payton and coached by legend Pat Riley.  This version's core is made up of younger players in their prime who came together, at the beckoning of Riley, to form a dynasty.  They are coached by a more modern tactician in Erik Spoelstra.

Dallas has a contrasting narrative.  They were young in '06, featuring a seemingly prime Dirk with Devin Harris, Josh Howard and prime Jason Terry as his unproven supporting cast.  The current incarnation has players that can tell a common theme- "I lost my chance before, and I'm hungrier than ever."  Shawn Marion  with Phoenix, Jason Kidd with New Jersey, Chandler with New Orleans in 2008, Peja Stojakovic with Sacramento and Terry and Nowitzki with Dallas have all had their hearts broken.

LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki will meet in the NBA Finals.
 Let's get to some basketball.  I thought OKC would do a better job of contesting Dallas on the perimeter, but Dallas hurt them on the secondary break as OKC began to play lazy defense after they turned the ball over 86 times per game.  Miami has similar length and even more speed than OKC on the perimeter, and they are much better at defending in transition and on secondary breaks because they seemingly don't care about hitting the offensive glass. 

This will be the key to the series.  How Dirk is defended isn't what decides this series- LeBron might guard Dirk in spots, but that matchup is definitely going to get more hype as a deciding factor this week than it deserves.  Dirk will get his, but will the peripheral Mavericks get theirs when they need to put the ball on the floor after Miami closes out on them.  That's the key variable for Dallas.

Miami can go big on the perimeter, which means trouble for Dallas when Miami is on offense.  It's Dallas who is going to have trouble closing out on Miami's perimeter players.  J.J. Barea and Terry are too small to take on James/Wade/Mike Miller.  Kidd can decently defend when he has help behind him and can funnel, but what happens when he needs to close out on James or Wade and they get to have a step on the older Kidd?  What happens when Miami targets Nowitzki in the pick-n-roll like they did with Boozer?

Miami has a better chance of winning the series.  They have the top-end talent advantage, and after seeing how they closed out game four (that one play where Wade blocked and James against Chicago, I'd say this team has the effort and chemistry to disrupt Dallas's primary variable- their peripheral perimeter players.

2011 is different from 2006:  Osama's been done taken care of, The Wire is gone and Louis C.K. thankfully has his own show.  Some things stay the same though.  Miami wins the title in six or seven.                  

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