The moment is finally here. Its NBA Finals time. The Miami Heat come in riding an emotional high after finishing the Chicago Bulls in five games while the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki come in with nightmares of the 2006 NBA Finals still haunting them. Will those thoughts fuel Dirk this series? That's a question that everyone wants an answer to.
The Heat present matchup issues for the Mavs because of SF LeBron James and SG Dwyane Wade. SF Shawn Marion still has good quickness and can matchup alright with LeBron, but other than that, the Mavs are an older team and aren't quick enough to keep up with the Heat defensively. That's why I expect seldom-used SF Corey Brewer to be a factor. No offense to Deshawn Stevenson, but he is the only player that the Mavs have besides Marion that has the quickness and height to even try and keep up with D Wade or LeBron. They must do their best to keep these two superstars out of the paint and force jump shots, which will be a tall order.
Another thing the Mavs may do is play a zone. Every now and then they have broke that out against teams and they must do something to slow the Heat attack down. Now the zone won't be effective if the Heat are knocking down jumpers, but the Mavs have to at least try it once to break any kind of rhythm the Heat may get. The zone could also help the Mavs slow down the pace of the game.
A key matchup defensively for the series will be Mavs C Tyson Chandler vs. Heat F Chris Bosh. Bosh has began to be a steady force in the paint. Well, this series, he will be going up against more length in Chandler. Chandler is 7-foot tall with a huge wingspan. He must stay out of foul trouble and make things difficult for Bosh all series.
The Mavs must also rebound well. The Heat have been one of the best rebounding teams in the playoffs, which has allowed them to get out and run more. The Mavs must make sure they block out guys like C Joel Anthony and PF Udonis Haslem on the defensive end of the court. The Mavs must also have Chandler have some effect on the offensive boards. The rebounding advantage will go a long way to telling who will win this series.
Dirk Nowitzki has been on a mission to get back to the NBA Finals this year. For the Heat to have a good chance, they must make things difficult on Dirk. I expect the Heat to guard Dirk with Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, Chris Bosh and even LeBron James at times. Where the chess match comes into play will be if the Heat decide to double-team Dirk or not. If they do, shooters like SF Peja Stojakovic may come into play. The Mavs are a three-point shooting team primarily and if those are going, then the Heat have problems.
The Mavs have one of the best sixth men in the league in G Jason Terry, along with Peja Stojakovic and JJ Barea. The Heat must at least try and match their scoring punch off the bench with Mike Miler and Udonis Haslem. These two guys, along with a little Mario Chalmers sprinkled in, helped neutralize the Bulls bench last series and will be call on this series to do the same thing.
LeBron James is on the big stage again. Will he continue to be the cold-blooded assassin he's been or will he crumble under the pressure? My thinking is that James is a different player now than he was his whole time in Cleveland. He came to Miami with one mission in mind: to win championships. His jump shot has been automatic and he's been doing all the things that championship players do. I expect him to continue to play well as he will be matched up with guys like DeShawn Stevenson and Corey Brewer all game long.
This series will ultimately come down to the will of Dirk vs the will of LeBron. I think Dirk is locked in and I would like to see him avenge his 2006 NBA Finals loss, but LeBron is on a whole different level right now then he's ever been in his career. The doubters have fueled him and this Heat team and they're now complete with Haslem and Miller picking up the slack. The Heat fulfill their promise this year and hoist the trophy.
Prediction: Miami wins series in 7