- General ( 15 )
2011 NBA Finals Preview
This, ladles and gellyspoons, is the Wildly Random and Obscure Pop Culture References edition of the 2011 NBA Finals Preview.
Why? Well, why not? Peppered into the analysis are going to be 11 comically and ridiculously random pop culture references, if for no other reason than to keep myself entertained. You don’t think I’m serious? Let me tell you, I’m as serious as attorney Wayne Jarvis from Arrested Development (Hiyooo! There’s 1).
For last year’s Finals Preview, I took a different approach to breaking down the matchup, examining advantages and disadvantages based on which team had the ball, and I thought it turned out okay, so I’ll stick with that format this year. Here we go:
When Miami Has The Ball
Advantages for Miami:The most glaring mis-match is Dwyane Wade vs. The Guy Assigned To Attempt To Guard Dwyane Wade. There will be stretches when either DeShawn Stevenson or Corey Brewer will be The Guy Assigned To Attempt To Guard Dwyane Wade, but that probably won’t be for too long considering how their lack of shooting will hurt the Mavs offense.
For the most part, either Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, or (gulp) Peja Stojakovic will be The Guy Assigned To Attempt To Guard Dwyane Wade. The best bet of those three will be Jason Kidd, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up at all. Kidd is only equipped to guard guys without explosive first steps the rely on a lot of shot fakes and high-post moves. His lateral quickness is basically shot, but against those types of players, he can get by.
Wade is not that type of player. He’s an explosive, attacking guard that plays a lot of pick-and-roll. Miami doesn’t have the type of player that Kidd is able to defend, so he will be exposed against Wade. If Dallas wants to play a combination of the Barea/Terry/Kidd/Peja group (3 of the 4), they’ll be even more exposed because then Marion won’t be on the floor to guard LeBron. It could basically be the end of the super-small lineup for Dallas. Expect Wade to have a series more like he did in Round 2 against Boston (30.2 PPG, a ton of free throws) than he did against Chicago. Wade should abuse Dallas' backcourt worse than Gary Matheson abused his wife and daughter in Season 2 of “24” (2).
Another major advantage that Miami has is Chris Bosh. Bosh poses similar problems for Dallas as he did against Chicago. If you guard him with Dirk (like Chicago with Boozer), you have a mediocre defender checking one of the more versatile scoring bigs in the league. If you guard him with Chandler (like Chicago with Noah), you’re robbing yourself of your best rebounder and shotblocker when Bosh steps outside or plays pick-and-roll. You can’t win. Even worse for Dallas is that they don’t have a backup power forward like Taj Gibson that can come in to harass Bosh. Their backup power forward is Shawn Marion, which is a bit of a problem because he’s also their starting small forward and the only guy on their roster that can guard LeBron. Although, of course, they could call on Brian Cardinal, but my money says that he stays on the bench looking as awkward as Bo Burnham during his “Bo Burnham and (No) Friends” tour (3).
Advantages for Dallas:Unfortunately, there aren’t any obvious ones that jump out.
If Caron Butler somehow makes a miraculous comeback, that would definitely help, considering it would give them someone who could guard Wade or LeBron and not be a liability on offense, but from everything I’ve read, the likelihood of Butler coming back at any point this series is about on par with Zach Galifianakis playing anything besides a socially-awkward man-child in his next role (4).
My feeling is that if Miami was able to get (and make) the shots they needed to down the stretch of games against defenses like Boston or Chicago, they shouldn’t have too much trouble against Dallas. The Mavs have played good, but not great defense throughout the playoffs, and most of that has been because they’ve matched up well defensively with their opponents. I expect that to change against Miami.
One thing that could throw the matchups for a loop would be if Dallas decided to play a lot of zone. Dallas used a fair amount of zone in their two regular-season meetings, but I’m not sure how much stock can be put into that, considering both of their regular season meetings came before Christmas. Mike Miller only played 4 minutes in one of the games (missed the other with his thumb injury), Carlos Arroyo and Zydrunas Ilgauskas started both games, and Udonis Haslem didn’t play in either of them. With Haslem and Miller healthy, and Bibby at point guard instead of Carlos Arroyo, Miami is better able to knock down the open shots that the zone would give them.
When Dallas Has The Ball:
Advantages for Dallas:Besides the obvious choice of Dirk, who has been as clutch as Wayne Knight in “Space Jam” (5), Dallas has guys that will either force Wade and LeBron to defend, or will punish them if they are too aggressive in cheating away from them. Terry, Kidd, and Stojakovic will knock down open shots if they get them, and Marion always seems to find holes in the defense.
Against Chicago, Wade was free to cheat off either Bogans or Brewer, and LeBron could cheat off of Deng (to a slightly lesser extent) because they weren’t very good range shooters, and other than Brewer, they aren’t very adept and cutting towards the rim and finding a good spot to receive a pass. All of Dallas’ wing players can shoot, (with the exception of Corey Brewer, I suppose, but he’ll likely play less than Julie “The Cat” Gaffney did in the first game against Iceland (6), so Wade won't be able to cheat off them the way he did against Chicago.
Just to play devil’s advocate for a second, Miami did easily dispatch of Boston, and play phenomenal defense while doing so, and Boston is a team that features guys at the swing spots that you can’t leave open. However, to swing it back the other way, I think that Wade and LeBron will be much more likely to freelance a bit defensively off of Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic.
And then, obviously, Dirk. He’s been about as unbelievable as Denise Richards trying to play a nuclear physicist in "The World Is Not Enough" (7). Who can guard him? Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem are the types of guys that used to be able to defend Dirk fairly well (and Haslem did a remarkable job of it during the 2006 Finals), but Dirk has evolved as a scorer to the point that he will just take them to the block and shoot over them. Bosh might have enough length to be able to bother Dirk’s shot, but I don’t think Miami would want him guarding Dirk for extended stretches, at the risk of getting in foul trouble. LeBron is another possibility, but like Bosh, I wouldn’t expect to see him covering Dirk much during the first three quarters.
My guess is that Miami will throw a bunch of different looks at Dirk to try to keep him off-balanced. One possession they’ll try to play close to him with Haslem or Anthony. Maybe the next they play off him a bit with Bosh, knowing that Bosh can still challenge his shot with his length. Maybe another possession they run LeBron or Wade at him on a double-team.
I wrote glowingly about Nick Collison on Saturday, saying how well he defended Dirk in Game 3 of the Western Finals. And while this was true on one hand, at the same time, he was guarding Dirk with basically the exact same approach every time. Eventually, Dirk figured out how they were defending him, adjusted, and was almost as dominant as Roland Tembo in “The Lost World” (8). Miami’s best bet, in my opinion, is to utilize as many different matchups as they can. I wouldn’t have the same guy guarding him for more than 4 or 5 possessions in a row. Keep changing it up.
Advantages for Miami:Like with Dallas on Defense, I don’t see any direct disadvantages for Miami on Defense. The only tangential disadvantage that exists is one that I already talked about a bit; Dallas’ best offensive lineup – Kidd/Terry/Barea (two of three), with Marion, Dirk, and Chandler, will have just as many problems defending Miami as Miami will defending them.
Comparatively speaking, Dallas should have more difficulty in the pick-and-roll game against Miami (one of the best pick-and-roll defenses in the league) than they did against LA in Round two or in the Western Finals (two mediocre pick-and-roll defenses), but I still think Dallas’ offensive execution is slightly better than Miami’s defensive execution, especially if guys like Terry, Kidd, and Peja are knocking down shots.
Eleven Bigger-Picture NotesONE: This series will be a lot more like the Western Finals than the Eastern Finals. Because of the way the matchups work, these teams will just have a hard time stopping each other.
TWO: That being said, I think I trust Miami more to get stops down the stretch. Maybe I’m buying into LeBron’s superhuman capabilities a bit too much, but I trust him to guard Dirk a hell of a lot more than I trust Shawn Marion or Jason Kidd to guard Wade or LeBron. Really, Kidd guarding Wade I would trust less than Xander Berkley’s character from "Air Force One" (9).
THREE: Dallas hasn’t lost a road game since Game 4 against Portland in Round 1. Miami hasn’t lost a home game yet this postseason. One of those streaks will have to end.
FOUR: The big winner in this year’s Finals? American Airlines. Dallas plays in the American Airlines Center, Miami plays in the American Airlines Arena. They aren’t winning as much as everyone who made a “Is Clay Aiken Gay?” bet between 2003-2008 (10), but it’s close.
FIVE: Since the inception of the 2-3-2 Finals format, the team with home-court advantage has won 20 of 26 times. This is a big advantage for Miami. It’s just too hard to win all three games in a row, even if they’re all at home. The only two teams to do it are Detroit in 2004 and Miami in 2006. In fact, there have been more teams that have swept all three on the road (Detroit in 1990, Chicago in 1991, LA in 2001) than swept all three at home.
SIX: I think most people will agree that LeBron James is the best player in this series. Given that, let’s also say that Dwyane Wade is the 2nd-best player in this series (although Dirk may have something to say about that). However, if we operate under the assumption that both of the two best players in this series are both on Miami, history tells us, surprisingly, that it’s not such an overwhelming advantage.
Here are the times that a team had the two best players and LOST (and I promise, I’m not picking on the Lakers here):
1. 2004 Lakers (Shaq and Kobe over anyone on Detroit)
2. 1973 Lakers (Wilt and Jerry West over anyone on New York)
3. 1970 Lakers (Ditto)
4. 1969 Lakers (Wilt and West over anyone on Boston)
And if you want to stretch it a bit, you could include the following cases where the 2nd-best player is more up for debate:
1. 1989 Lakers (Magic and Worthy (?) over Isiah Thomas)
2. 1978 Bullets (Elvin Hayes and Bobby Dandridge (?) over Gus Williams)
3. 1968 Lakers (West (?) and Baylor (?) over Russell)
Now, here are the times that the team with the two best players ended up WINNING the series:
1. 2010 Lakers (Kobe and Gasol over anyone on Boston)
2. 2002 Lakers (Shaq and Kobe over anyone on New Jersey)
3. 1999 Spurs (Duncan and Robinson over anyone on New York)
4. 1978 Bullets (Hayes and Dandridge over anyone on Seattle)
5. 1976 Celtics (Havlicek and Cowens over anyone on Phoenix)
6. 1972 Lakers (Wilt and West over anyone on New York)
7. 1971 Bucks (Kareem and Oscar over anyone on Baltimore)
If you include the questionable ones from the first list, it turns out that having the two best players in the series doesn’t mean you’re any more likely to win, and, like I said in the beginning, I’m not even completely sure that Miami has the two best guys in the first place.
SEVEN: Neil Paine of basketball-reference.com had an interesting article last week, saying how of any finals re-match within six years of the first matchup, this year’s has the least roster turnover, with Wade, Haslem, Dirk, and Terry being the only four holdovers. Last year’s Celtics/Lakers rematch featured 15 common players, and the highest ever was in 1985, when the Lakers and Celtics featured 21 common players from the previous season. Technically, this is a re-match. But not really.
EIGHT: It’s interesting what is at stake historically in this series. A title would vault Dirk above the Malone/Barkley/Ewing group, possibly even over guys like KG and Isiah, and putting him in the neighborhood of Hakeem, Moses Malone, and Jerry West. Meanwhile, a title for LeBron would allow us to finally have actual discussions about where he ranks historically without having to insert fifty qualifiers about if and when he wins a title. So in that sense, it matters a ton.
NINE: A rebuttal to the previous point would be that Dirk’s legacy is already pretty much set regardless if he wins or not. He’s already one of the best power forwards ever, one of the most versatile scorers ever, and it’s not like he’s had a slew of massive playoff chokes (or at least certainly not more or not worse than the guys I compared him to in the previous point). It’s not like one title all of a sudden is going to push him into the Magic/Bird/Duncan/Shaq discussion. He’s going to be remembered as one of the 20-30 best players ever regardless if he wins this series.
With LeBron, yes, a title would improve his legacy, but at the same time, it’s not like he won’t have more opportunities in the future. Miami has their Big 3 signed through 2016. If he doesn’t win this year, his career isn’t over and his career and legacy doesn’t take a nose-dive worse than Nicolas Cage’s has over the last ten years (11). He’ll be back next year, and the year after, and the year after.
TEN: Dwyane Wade has 5:1 odds to win the Finals MVP. I am tempted. Very Tempted.
ELEVEN: A breaking news tid-bit, courtesy of my friend Adam: “A close source mentioned to me that Juwan Howard is not expected to start Game 1 instead of LeBron.” Something to keep in mind.
The Pick:I like Miami in 6, and here’s why:
Like I wrote earlier, I think both teams will be able to get the shots they want, when they want, but I trust Miami just a smidge more than I trust Dallas to get stops.
Miami has home-court, and they have the best player in the series. Last year’s Finals was dead-even in terms of the talent level, but the Lakers won thanks to home court and Kobe and Gasol winning the fourth quarter in Game 7. It really just came down to that.
Overall, I think more matchups favor Miami. Dallas’ bench will make less of an impact because Miami doesn’t play their bench much. Dallas still has a puncher’s chance because of how well they shoot the three and their amazing level of offensive execution down the stretch, but I think they’ll come up just short. I’m putting my money behind superior talent, favorable matchups, and home-court advantage.
I know. I take such controversial stances.