MIAMI (CBSMiami.com) – Dallas here we come. After dispensing of the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, all eyes in Miami now turn to Dallas where the Mavericks are the only team standing between the Heat and an NBA championship.
The Heat are playing at the top of their game heading into the Finals, but that hasn’t been the case against the Mavericks this season. Dallas swept the season series 2-0, but both games were before Christmas when the Heat was still trying to figure out how to play together.
On the injury front, Caron Butler will likely be benched for the Mavericks as he is still nursing a recovery from knee surgery in the middle of the regular season. For the Heat, Mike Miller has two injured thumbs but will play; and James Jones should be back near full strength when the Finals start.
A key element to watch will be how Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra manages the minutes of Udonis Haslem. He’s still only six months out from major foot surgery, but his presence is definitely needed to help on the defensive side against Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki.
Speaking of Nowtizki, the 7-foot German is averaging 28.4 points per game on 52 percent shooting and grabbing 7.5 rebounds in the playoffs. He’s been playing out of his mind and his fadeaway jumper is almost impossible to defend.
The Heat will likely counter with Joel Anthony and Haslem to try and match the athleticism Nowitzki uses to get open shots. And if it becomes absolutely necessary, don’t be surprised to see Spoelstra deploy defensive ace LeBron James to try and slow down Nowitzki.
The Mavericks are averaging 114 points per game, which is best in the NBA during the playoffs. On the flip side, they are giving up 106 points per game in the playoffs, which is not good. The Heat average 107 points offensively and only give up 101 points during their playoff run.
But as good as Nowtizki is on the offensive end, he becomes a liability on the defensive end. That means he’ll either have to guard Joel Anthony to hide his defensive foibles, or the Mavs will have to have him guard Chris Bosh.
If it’s Bosh, the Heat will target Nowitzki and try to get him in foul trouble early and often in the NBA Finals.
That said, the Heat is going to need a little bit more from Heat guard Dwyane Wade. The Heat superstar looked off throughout the Eastern Conference Finals and didn’t seem to have the same lift in his jumps in Game 4. But, when the Heat needed him, he was there and was money from the floor.
LeBron has built a trust from his teammates by burying teams at the end of games. He’s averaging 25.9 points per game and pulling in 8.7 rebounds per in the playoffs, but he’s been both a facilitator of the Heat offense and the best defender on the court.
But, it’s going to come down to a question of which one will break the Heat’s phenomenal defense, or the Mavericks high-octane offense. The Mavs have the size advantage, but outside of Dirk, their big men aren’t all that talented offensively.
Still, they are going to use the size of Tyson Chandler to try and take away the Heat’s ability to get to the rim and turn the Heat into a jump shooting team. It’s essentially the same type of approach the Bulls took to the Heat using Joakim Noah.
But, the matchup headaches the Heat can cause will be just as much of an issue for the Mavericks, who have been playing average at best defense in the Finals. How they guard LeBron and Bosh will be an interesting conundrum.
If the Mavs try to shut down the lane, Bosh will step back and hit a 17-20 foot jumper without any hesitation. If he does that consistently, it opens the lane for either LeBron or Wade.
The Mavs will also employ something the Heat hasn’t seen thus far in the playoffs, the zone defense. A good zone defense can mask some defensive weaknesses, but trying to employ a zone consistently with the slashers and shooters the Heat has will be difficult.
The Mavericks will also be looking to erase the demons of the last time they made it to the NBA Finals in 2006, when coincidentally, they lost to the Heat. That Heat team rode the hot hand of Dwyane Wade to the championship, but this Heat team has three options to burn the Mavs.
And that will likely be the difference in the series. Miami plays much better defense than Dallas and as they have proven throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, the myth about the Heat not being able to win close games is just that, a myth.
CBSDallas has already engaged in the trash talking on Twitter against CBSMiami telling us to “bring it.” Well, with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh, consider it brought.