Posted: Thursday May 25, 2006 12:22PM; Updated: Thursday May 25, 2006 1:52PM
2. Highway to the hoop
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban never hesitates to make himself part of the game.
John W. McDonough/SI
I've never seen a stat like this one from Game 1: The Suns and Mavs combined for 146 points in the paint, and neither team has that classic back-to-the-basket center who scores down low. That is truly astounding.
To be sure, some of the scoring in the paint resulted from postups by Diaw and Nowitzki (25 in Game 1). But much of it came about because guards such as Nash and Dallas' Harris and Jason Terry got into the lane almost at will and finished. Might that drive defensive purists crazy? Who cares? Would you rather watch the Heat pound it into Shaquille O'Neal, or a bunch of speed demons slashing to the rack? That's an easy answer for me.
3. The friendly but fierce rivals
Nash and Nowitzki, team leaders and former teammates in Dallas, have a deep and abiding respect for each other. They keep in touch during the season and, when they can, hang out in the summer. But, as was the case when MagicJohnson and Isiah Thomas were best buds in the 1980s, these two competitors absolutely want to destroy each other on the court. Miami-Detroit has no comparable dynamic.
It drove Nowitzki nuts last year when Nash dominated their Western semifinal (Phoenix won in six games), and Dirk was beside himself after Stevie Wonder went for 27 points and 16 assists in Dirk's Domain in Game 1. As for Nash, he so wants to stop Nowitzki that he has assured the Suns' coaches he can play Dirk one-on-one when he gets switched off on him on pick-and-rolls, a shaky prospect at best. I'm looking for that moment in the series when they get in each others' faces, because I think it's coming. In Game 1, Stackhouse and Nash went at it a little bit, and the animosity level in this series is bound to get amped up.
4. Aerobic coaches
Phoenix's Mike D'Antoni and Dallas' Avery Johnson are wanderers. They try to sit but they just can't do it. D'Antoni, as personable a man as you could ever meet off the court, gets arm-wavingly, face-grimacingly angry at defensive breakdowns (of which there is no shortage on his team) and will go at referees, though he rarely gets a technical. Johnson, for his part, spends more time waving at his team than a symphony conductor, calling plays (Dallas has up-tempo players but a down-tempo offense) and trying to choreograph defensive switches in mid-action.
Miami's Pat Riley may be on the Mount Rushmore of coaches and Detroit's Flip Saunders has gotten deserved credit for speeding up the Pistons' offense. But right now the clipboard duel between Johnson and D'Antoni (who finished 1-2, respectively, in Coach of the Year voting) is the more interesting.
5. P.T. Barnum owners
You might think that this one is all Dallas' advantage. There is not an owner in the NBA with as high a profile as the Mavs' Mark Cuban. He barks at the refs from the sideline, stands in the team huddle during timeouts (he almost got bowled over on Wednesday night when the energetic Johnson suddenly sprung out of the huddle to make a point) and, even in mid-game, never stops lobbying on behalf of his team. (Late in the game, Cuban queried a couple of courtside reporters as to whether an offensive foul called on Harris was really a foul. It was a cheap call, though, overall, the whistles did not favor one team over the other.)
But when the series returns to Phoenix for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Tuesday, don't think Suns owner Robert Sarver will sit by quietly. His days of wearing a chicken suit and springing off a trampoline to dunk are probably over, but here is a guy who managed to get into a verbal sparring match with super-fan Penny Marshall during the Suns' semifinal series with the Los Angeles Clippers. Imaging, tangling with Laverne unless you were Shirley. Sarver, like Cuban, will instigate his fans, bait the refs and instruct his scoreboard operators and other various noisemakers to raise the roof.