Eight Factors To Winning A Ring - NBA Finals Preview: Miami vs. Dallas
What started out as the wildest NBA off-season of all time quickly evolved into a much anticipated season. Never before I seen a team be crowned, uncrowned, and then crowned again only to again uncrowned once more like the 2010-11 Miami Heat.
Like the Titanic itself, LeBron’s maiden voyage with Miami started out with celebration. As Pat Riley smashed his champagne of his newly built ship and South Beach’s Big Three counted down championship that they had yet to win. This was the ship which could not be sunk. It wasn’t a matter of “if” this team would win, it was a question of “how soon” and “how many”.
Miami got off to a rough start and when they finally had looked like they had figured things out, more injuries and bad luck came their way. The journey to LeBron’s first ring looked as cursed as the city of Cleveland. Although Miami was headed into the playoffs, many were still unsure their ability to surpass the Chicago and Boston icebergs.
Like an Arctic cutter, they shred through those teams in 5 games a piece. Lebron seemed to be running his propellers at maximum speed to close out two foes that had given him trouble through the course of this season and the last.
The only thing preventing Miami from docking their ship at the Championship harbor now is the U-Boat from Dallas.
The Dallas Mavericks spent the majority of the season lurking below the public’s radar. They put up a 57-win season, their 11th 50-win season in a row, yet many pegged them to be sunk by the Blazers. The media again picked Dallas to fall two more times, picking both the Lakers and Thunder to defeat them. And again, Dallas conquered, this time sweeping the 2-time champs and crippling the young guns of Oklahoma with a barrage of long distance bombs delivered with ultimate precision and efficiency.
So here we are today, the 2011 NBA Finals, locked in for a battle of an unstoppable offensive power and an unmovable defensive force. The narrative seems like a classic story from Greek Mythology (or a replay of the 2008 NBA Finals). Who shall overcome? Who’s weakness will give way and allow their season to be swallowed up whole?
Here’s seven factors that will determine who we crown the 2010-11 NBA Champion:
1. No Rebounds, No Rings - I’m putting this first because rebounding is one of the oldest concepts to winning that still plays a factor in the ever-evolving NBA. Many things have changed about the game but rebounding has remained a vital part of success. Perhaps it’s those extra possessions that they can provide or pivotal stops when needed. I care to think that rebounds go further than that. The energy that a team puts into rebounding directly influences how hard they play on both ends. Nothing is as underrated as a clutch rebound. You never hear about it, but the grit that’s on display by players who are hungry for those boards is the same grit that helps champions gut it out through June. Pat Riley wasn’t kidding when he said “No Rebounds, No Rings”. If it means anything to you, the Heat are ranked above the Mavs in both OReb% and DReb% in the playoffs.
2. J.J. Barea - JJ’s been a big for Dallas as a 5’9” NBA player can be. He’s provided ample scoring and a great change-of-pace that Jason Kidd’s 38-year old body can no longer provide. The only problem for JJ and Dallas is that Miami might have the best back-up point guard they have faced all post-season.
Mario Chalmers might not have the reputation of a good NBA point but he certainly has the repertoire. Not only is Mario a potent 3-point threat, he’s also a viable defender that has both the quickness and I.Q. to lock Barea up. This might be the most unheralded yet most important battle of the series.
3. Turnovers - Jason Kidd has been a prolific pocket-picker in these playoffs. He’s nabbed himself 33 steals in 15 games, good for 2.2 a night. LeBron and Wade are pretty good at turning it over. Wade’s averaging 3.3 turnovers a night and LeBron is giving it away 2.8 times a night.
But it’s not just Miami who has issues. Dirk’s losing the ball 3.2 times a night in the playoffs. If Miami can come up with some forced turnovers, they can get out and run the ball, something they excel at.
4. Odd Lineups - Miami’s quickness and speed will have to be on full display if the Heat want to win the whole thing. Dallas showed some weakness when Oklahoma went with a smaller lineup and ran the heck out of the ball. (see Game 2, Western Conference Finals). If Miami effectively implements either their small-ball or odd-ball look, it could be an ugly series for the older and much, much slower Mavericks. Miami’s small-ball lineup usually has LeBron James playing the 4 or even the 5 with Chalmers, Jones, Wade and Bosh running and gunning.
The odd-ball line up isn’t that odd because it’s the “dream” five that Miami envisioned would play the majority of the season. I call it the odd-ball line up because it dares to change the concept of basketball positions. Miami has used it since Haslem was healthy enough to play against Miami and it has Wade, LeBron, Bosh, Haslem and Mike Miller playing an undefined amoeba-like offense that has no positions, only nightmares for opponents. According to BasketballValue.com, that unit has played 23 playoff minutes together and is an astounding +46.34 points per 100 possessions, scoring at a efficiency rate of 124.39 and limiting opponents to 78.05. You should be very, very scared of those numbers.
5. Chandler, Marion and Haywood - The Dallas Mavericks will rely heavily on these three to lock up the middle and turn LeBron and Wade into long distance shooters.
According to NBA’s Stats Cube, LeBron James shot just 31% vs. the Mavericks in two regular season games, both of which Dallas won. If Dallas can turn LeBron and Wade into jump shooters, like they have previously, they have a very good shot at winning the title.
6. Like A Bosh - Chris Bosh has been playing incredible this post-season. It’s almost as if he’s the 2nd best player on the Heat (someone wake up Dwyane Wade, we have reached the Finals!). In two regular season games vs. his home town Mavericks, When Bosh was on the floor with Dirk, he held Dirk Nowitzki to just 34% shooting. That’s nearly 16% less than Dirk shot for the season. And here we all were, for years, thinking that Chris Bosh was the reason Toronto played no defense (I’m looking at you, Andrea…). Speaking of 7’ Power Forwards that don’t play defense…
7. Getting Dirk’d On - Okay, fine, I’ll be the first to say it, Dirk’s been getting a bad rap this entire season. According to Synergy Sports, Dirk’s a decent defender, giving up just 0.82 points per possession. That’s a decent mark that has him ranked 71st in the NBA.
But let’s be honest here, the Mavs didn’t get to their 2nd franchise Finals by riding Dirk’s defensive prowess. Dallas is here because Dirk hasn’t missed a mid-range-one-legged-fall-away jumper in over a month (okay, maaaybe he missed one). If Miami can’t stop it wouldn’t surprise anyone. No one can stop Dirk right now. He’s averaging a silly 28.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on 52% shooting from the field, 52% shooting from the homeland and 93% from the Wade-throw line. Which brings me to my favorite factor of them all…
8. Free Throws - Is it 2006 all over again? Coming into the Finals, Dirk is averaging 9.3 free throws per game and he is making 8.7 of them (93%). When I first read this number on NBA Stats Cube, I nearly fell out of my chair. Not because 9.3 is an obscene amount, Durant average 10.8 FTAs last season, but because it’s an obscene amount for a player that spends the majority of his time 18-feet from the basket lobbing up impossible fall away after fall away. it’s rare for someone that doesn’t attack the basket to make so many trips to the line.
On the flipside of things, LeBron is averaging 9.1 Free Throw Attempts per game in the playoffs, hitting 7.1 of them. Bosh is getting 6.3 Free Throws a game, hitting 5.3 of them. And their best friend and infamous free-thrower, Dwyane Wade has gotten to the line 8.7 times a game in the playoffs, making 7 of them a game. Bringing Dwyane back to a place he was very familiar with in 2006 might be the catalyst that finally wakes him from his post-season slumber. If there has ever been a series that will see a ton of stand-still scoring, it’s going to be this one.
With all of that said, here are the predictions from the NBAO crew:
Myself - Heat in 6 (for all the reasons above)
Doug - Heat in 6 in the boring series, In the Bronze medal series, Thunder in 7.
Keith - Mavs in 6, so says my psychic octopus.
Kristin - *Sobbing* Heat in 6
Mark - Bulls in 6, oh wait.
Thomas - Heat in 5. I really don’t feel good about giving the Mavs that one game, but I feel obligated to respect the chance of there being one night where Tyson Chandler and/or Shawn Marion negates Bosh, Jason Terry & Jason Kidd are unconscious from the outside, & Dirk has a 4th quarter where he is getting calls & converting a few three point play opportunities. This Miami team is a force of nature and it’s a little scary, and very depressing, to think this was the season the rest of the NBA had to exploit the holes in their roster. Just think of where they were the last time these two played back in December. Dallas won that game by 2. Sure, the Mavs are better, but how much better is Miami? The last 12 weeks Miami is 27-6. SIX LOSSES IN THREE MONTHS. It seems as if they are actually improving as the competition gets tougher. The player most “experts” thought would end up costing Miami dearly against Boston & then Chicago, Chris Bosh, is playing at an All-Star level(crucial when going up vs. a zone-like defense that the Mavs employ). Then there’s LeBron…and Wade…Eh, I’m just going to stop now before I change my pick to a HEAT sweep.
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