Below, Jack McCallum offers five reasons how the Dallas Mavericks can win the 2006 NBA Finals. For Chris Ballard's five reasons why the Heat will win, click here.
Well, I was right all along. See, after my first pick, the San Antonio Spurs, got beat in the Western Conference semifinals, and my second pick, the Detroit Pistons, got beat in the Eastern finals ... well, I just knew that the Dallas Mavericks were going to win it all.
Sorry. Please allow me some rationalization. I can't take credit for the Mavs. Throughout this season I thought they were really good, possibly second-best in the league, but with Dallas on a collision course with the defending-champion Spurs in the conference semis, I figured they were doomed.
I was wrong, and now, (having been asked) to do a five-pack on my Finals pick, I'm on the Mavs' bandwagon.
It's going to be a long series, but the Mavs are accustomed to them, having won a seventh game on the road against the Spurs and beaten Phoenix on the Suns' home court to make it to the Finals.
Herewith the reasons Dallas will take home its first championship.
1. They won't care about the Shaq factor
If any single personality is destined to dominate the Finals, it's Miami's Shaquille O'Neal. He's been in five championship series and was named MVP in all three that he won. (Seems to me it was with some team out in Los Angeles....)
But Dallas will use that to its advantage. The Mavs love to play the we-have-the-modest-superstar card and the we're-used-to-being-ignored card. Anyway, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson has won a championship, and that will count for something. Plus, owner Mark Cuban will act like he's already won a title.
2. The Josh Howard factor
The three best players in the series are Shaq and Dwyane Wade of Miami and Dirk Nowitzki (the modest superstar) of Dallas. You pick the order, but the fourth-best player -- right now -- is the Mavs' Howard, and he tilts the advantage to Dallas with his versatility. He guards bigs, smalls and mediums. He runs the floor and, in the half-court offense, shoots it outside and drives it to the hoop. He pounds the glass at both ends and has the kind of aggressively intense demeanor that will get under the skin of Heat players like Antoine Walker and Jason Williams.
3. The perimeter pick-and-roll factor
A suddenly spry Shaq has been much more active on the defensive end in the postseason than anyone could've imagined. (Well, Pat Riley probably imagined it, since he was the one imploring Shaq to get out there and defend.) But the Heat do not have anyone in Nowitzki's class as an outside shooter. When Shaq or anyone else is involved in a pick-and-roll that results in a switch, that defender will have to come out and guard Nowitzki, not to mention others Mavs like Howard, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse. And there is no way that Shaq or power forward Udonis Haslem wants to be that far from the basket.
On their own, obviously, Shaq and Wade are excellent options. But nothing drives a team to frustration as quickly as continually getting beat on pick-and-rolls.
4. The Shaq foul factor
We're talking about a few things here, most obviously the Big Fella's struggles at the free throw line, where he has averaged only 40 percent in Miami's 17 playoff games. (That is worse than his 46 percent for the regular season.) But here are two other things to keep in mind.
The Mavericks are a driving team. Guards Devin Harris and Terry, Howard, off-the-bench forward Stackhouse, reserve Marquis Daniels when he plays -- all of them are eminently capable of getting by their men (especially considering Miami's porous perimeter defense) and finishing at the basket. And though he looks ponderous, Nowitzki takes it to the hole too, generally employing a spin move that enables him to finish near the basket. That means Shaq will have to come over to help, exposing him to foul trouble.
The Mavs have enough players in DaSagna Diop, Erick Dampier and KeithVan Horn to pile up some fouls and get O'Neal to the line. And when D.J. Mbenga comes back for Game 5 after serving a six-game suspension for going into the stands in Phoenix early in Game 4 of the Western semis (he went up there when the coach's wife, Cassandra Johnson, became involved in an altercation with a fan), they'll have one more. Mbenga isn't much of a player, but he's 7-foot and more than capable of mauling O'Neal.
5. The depth factor
Sometimes this doesn't matter. It's the Finals, and by this time every coach has shrunk his rotation. But depth will be important in this series, and it works in Dallas' favor, as it did in the conference final against the Suns.
Howard, Terry and Harris force the opposition to play hard, as do Stackhouse and Daniels when they come off the bench, and Miami is at a distinct disadvantage in this respect. No one competes harder than Wade, who spends more time on the floor than a push broom, but he sometimes plays himself into exhaustion, as he will against Dallas. He doesn't have nearly enough help. The Heat go seven-deep, while one could argue that the Mavs can send 11 players into the fray, and that doesn't include the aforementioned Mbenga. Daniels has averaged only 12 minutes a game in the playoffs, making him the 10th man, and I think, as a player, he's comparable to James Posey, the Heat's capable sixth man. In a war of attrition, the Mavs have a huge advantage.
I wish I would've been prescient to have said it earlier. But I'm saying it now: Mavericks in six.