Below, Chris Ballard offers five reasons how the Miami Heat can win the 2006 NBA Finals. For Jack McCallum's five reasons why the Mavericks will win, click here.
Let's be realistic: The Mavericks are the favorites in the NBA Finals. They're a better defensive team, they're more versatile, and they're deeper (some would argue that Dallas' backup point guard, Devin Harris, is better than the Heat's starter, Jason Williams). But Miami can pull this off. Especially coming off the Detroit series, in which the Heat drubbed the suddenly lifeless Pistons, momentum could carry the day. And if that's the case, here's how the Heat can bring home a ring to all of those white-T-shirt clad fans.
1. Contain the Big German
This is easier said than done, but Dirk Nowitzki is prone to having one or two 13-point nights in a series if he is bothered or is turned into a passer. Pat Riley said he'd start with Udonis Haslem on Nowitzki, then rotate. Chances are that means we'll see James Posey some, using the same strategy San Antonio and Phoenix used in going small. (Then again, look what happened to San Antonio and Phoenix.) It's crucial that Miami keep Dirk off the free throw line -- get a hand in his face, but don't foul. He doesn't miss many, it forces Miami to go further into a short bench and it slows down the game (which leads to more TV shots of Mark Cuban clapping violently or grimacing, and none of us want that).
2. Vintage Shaq
Last Sunday, Shaquille O'Neal sat and mused about "the Jopster," as he called DeSagana Diop. He declined to take the bait from reporters and rip Erick Dampier (as he has done before), but it's clear he's looking forward to both matchups. When Dwyane Wade was woozy because of the flu last Friday, O'Neal promptly abused the Pistons inside. The thinking here is that you can never throw the ball into the post too many times if you're Miami. Shaq has become such a good passer that he'll find three-point shooters in rhythm or inside cutters. In particular, watch for Wade to make jump passes to Shaq, then cut off of him. Often defenders leave their feet with Wade, then don't recover and follow him through for the return pass, leading to easy baskets. The same works in reverse: Whenever Wade draws a double, he can shotput up that lob to Shaq.
3. Sharp- (and smart-) shooting Walker
Antoine Walker is the classic example of a guy who will shoot you into a game and shoot you right out of it just as fast. Riley says he gives Walker two "mulligans" every game -- those crazy, out-of-the-offense heaves. In Game 5, Walker pulled up on the fast break -- on a 2-on-1 fast break -- and launched a three. It went in, but that's a dangerous equation. Still, if Walker can continue to spread the defense, he forces Dallas to guard three guys, not two. It will be especially huge if Josh Howard, the Mavs' best help defender and one of the best recover guys in the league, is on Walker.