May 28, 2011
2011 NBA Finals Prediction: Heat vs Mavs, the Sequel
Before we talk about the present, it's important that we talk about the past.
Five years ago - May/June 2006 - and the last two remaining teams in the NBA were the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat, with their young superstar Dwyane Wade (who was just finishing his third year in the league) and with still not-washed-up Shaquille O'Neal, played some inspired basketball to get to the Finals, but once there, they were against the NBA's deepest and most talented squad in the Mavericks.
It was the first time in the history of either franchise to make the NBA Finals. And it would be a first ring for either of these two teams. Led by Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks were odds-on favourites: they had broken a vicious cycle out West - Since the Jazz did it in 1998, no other team except for the Spurs or the Lakers had won the Western Conference - and even before the 2011 Finals were set up, the Mavericks were the only other team in the West since 98 to win the conference.
What happened next? As expected, a deeply talented Mavs squad won the first two games easily, taking a 2-0 lead over the series as it shifted to Miami. Game 3 looked like it was going to be more of the same: but Dwyane Wade went into superhero mode, scoring 42 points to erase a 13-point 4th quarter lead and help Miami secure a win. Credit Gary Payton for hitting the game-winner, and the series changed.
And from then onwards, it was the Wade show - Wade scored 36, 43, and 36 points in the next three games, putting up the most impressive individual performance I have ever seen over an NBA finals series, and helped Miami win in six games, 4-2, clinching their first NBA title. Unfortunately, the story of the series weren't Wade's heroics - it was the many, many, (many, many, many) arguable calls made by the referees that went Miami's and Wade's way.
On the other end - it was a bitter pill to swallow for Nowitzki, who was so close to etching his name into the Finals' greats, but wasn't good enough in clutch situations to match Wade.
History lesson done, perspective acquired; it's now 2011.
2011: And the two best playoffs teams in the NBA find themselves deservingly facing off in the Finals in a repeat of '06. Some of the names are the same, and some are new, adding a lot more complexities to this already exciting match-up. Seeing how both these teams changed the level of their play between the regular season and the playoffs, I'm not even going to bother looking back at their season match-ups. All you need to know is that Miami hold home-court advantage, and Miami haven't lost at home in the playoffs. The Mavs have only lost once.
The Conference Finals were surprisingly one-sided. I was wrong in predicting a Bulls win after Game 1, because Chicago went on to lose the next four, and their biggest problems were exposed - lack of depth beyond Rose, and their youth/inexperience. Meanwhile, Dallas took care of business versus another very young Thunder team, and most impressively, making two massive comebacks to show heart and hunger that they have never shown before.
And I know LeBron had an incredible series, but I have to give the player of the Conference Finals award to Dirk Nowitzki, who was deadly efficient, especially in that first game where he had 48 points of just 15 shots.
Phew... So we're in the Finals now... And here's what these Finals would mean from the point of view of all the crucial parties involved, in last-name alphabetical order:
Chris Bosh: The man who has suffered innumerable jokes (it's not the big three, it's two and a half men) found his aggression when needed and stepped up to help Miami beat Chicago, completely dominating his opposite number, Carlos Boozer. This could really mean redemption for Bosh, and even though he isn't of the Wade-James-Nowitzki class, he's still an all star (with feelings). Bosh will also have the toughest time in this series as he attempts to defend the league's most unstoppable force right now in Dirk Nowitzki.
Rick Carlisle: It's about time that Carlisle, one of the most efficient coaches of the last decade, is finally getting his shot at the big deal. He has had some up and down years as a coach, but has never wavered his discipline - the work he has done with this Mavs squad, especially in the playoffs, is tremendous: both in the tactical viewpoint as well as inspiring them to stay hungry and make the big comebacks.
Mark Cuban: The owner of the Mavs and a billionaire on the side, there was no man more outspoken about Miami's "unjust" 2006 win than Cuban. A great recent article by Yahoo Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski's talks about how Cuban never gave Miami the respect for winning that title, and criticised them on their rebuilding plan. Well, here we are now - and for his own team's championship, Cuban has to go through his Miami nightmare once more.
LeBron James: Ah.. LeBron James. It's hard to read the word NBA these days without seeing his name nearby. Talent-wise, he deserves to be one of the league's best-known player, but without a championship, talent is nothing but potential wasted. This is James' second trip to the Finals - the first one was a forgettable affair when his over-achieving Cavs got swept by the Spurs in 2007. So what does he do after going nowhere with Cleveland? He makes a Decision and comes to Miami, teaming up with Dwyane Wade to make the most deadly duo since Nagraj and Super Commando Dhruv started to fight crime together.
(FYI: LeBron is Nagraj, Wade is Dhruv).
Anyways - it was a major decision, and it was going to have major repercussions - anything less than a championship was to be an under-achievement for Miami. And as the regular season went, with teething troubles in alpha-dog status, Wade and LeBron suffered those troubles. But the playoffs have been a whole different animal: as the two of them have perfected the art of surviving and thriving together. Meanwhile, LeBron, especially after his performance in the Bulls' series, has been the best player in the Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
But nothing in the past matters - The Decision was made to win a championship - and so far, the plan seems to be on track for the currently ringless 'King'.
Jason Kidd: Those who know me personally know that I have never been a fan, but even I can't deny what Kidd brings to the table. The last of the remaining 'true' point guards before the era is fully handed over the Rose's, Westbrook's, and Wall's of the world (I know CP3 and Deron Williams will have something to say about that), Kidd's game will never be appreciated by someone who just looks at box scores and recaps. He uses his brain more than his 38-year-old body, and after two unsuccessful runs in the finals nearly a decade ago, this veteran has one final shot. This time, he has a squad better than anything he has ever worked with before. Kidd was brought into Dallas almost three years ago to bring a mature presence to the frequently not-so-responsible Dirk, and he did just that. Will this future hall-of-famer finally get his ring?
Dirk Nowitzki: The nightmares of 2006 must be crashing back in front of Dirk now, and if there's ever been a man on a redemption mission, it's him. Nowitzki has been the best player in this year's playoffs, and is playing at a higher level than I've ever seen him play before. It is fitting then, that, his second chance at the ring once again goes through Miami and through Dwyane Wade. He seems to have left behind the jitters that labelled him a 'soft' player or a 'choker' - but it is this final stand that could make or break his legend, that could decide whether he was one of the greatest or just a damn good player.
Pat Riley: One of the greatest coaches ever, and my personal favourite, and the man who led Miami to that 2006 victory: but this time, Riley is looking for a different kind of win. Now as Heat's team president Riley pulled off a miracle by getting LeBron and Bosh to join the side, and had faith in his young coach Spoelstra to oversee this team make its way to the Finals. Now, he's four wins away from adding to his illustrious trophy collection, and once again, it is the Mavs that stand in his way.
Erik Spoelstra: The man who shouldered all the blame for Heat's early struggles is still here, still standing, and now, in the Finals. The Heat coach always had the support of Riley and always preached defense first. Couple his defensive philosophy and hand him two of the league's best players, and its easy to see why this team is successful - it is just hard to believe that they are successful so soon! While fans were calling for his head early in the season, this post-season performance has turned everything around and made sure that he remains a coaching mainstay for years to come.
Jason Terry: The other star from the 2006 losing Mavs team, Terry has been in the Mavs for a long time, battling alone with Dirk and looking for that championship. It will be a great reward for the fruits of his patience and labour on the bench all these years. Plus, he had a Larry O'Brien trophy tattooed on his arm before the season even began. He better win to justify something like that.
Dwyane Wade: The man who was the undisputed legend five years ago is now being looked at as the third-best player in 2011. Funny how things change - because Wade's game hasn't gotten much worse. His explosive 2006 performance saw him average 33 ppg and 7.8 rpg through the series, and those numbers don't take into account how well he performed in clutch time situations. LeBron came to Miami to play with D-Wade and go to the Finals, and here they are now. Wade had a bad series against the Bulls, but he came up big when most required, scoring 10 points and making massive plays in that incredible 4th quarter rally that saw Miami defeat Chicago in Game 5 to close the series. If there was any time for Dwyane Wade to rediscover himself, it was right before a finals rematch with the Mavericks. And here they are now...
And my Prediction: These two teams are way to close to call, because both have shown grit and heart to win. Mavericks have a deeper squad, but the Heat are more top heavy. In a situation like this, I go to my thumb rule, which is: 'If the difference between 2 teams is too close to call, always go with the better defensive side.'
It's the playoffs, and I'm going to call Defense - which is Miami. Dirk will have a big series, and so will LeBron and Wade, but it will be the Heat's defensive intensity that will end up limiting Nowitzki, and on the other end, their superstars will take care of business, especially during the clutch periods. Plus, having home-court advantage will help Miami, too.
So my Finals Prediction is Miami Heat win 4-2.
And as for Finals MVP? Well it's the question that has been in my mind ever since the season started. Between LeBron and Wade, who will be better when it mattered most? Well, that question could be answered very soon: LeBron has been a better all-round player, but Wade has a reputation of being the best when the chips are down. And in this series, I say that the Mavs will suffer a Dwyane Wade nightmare again. Also, I have a Wade bias. And it's my blog - Dwyane Wade wins Finals MVP
So what are your predictions? Who will be the champion? How many games will they play? Who will be Finals MVP? And who will be the X-Factor?