Posted: Tuesday June 13, 2006 3:08PM; Updated: Tuesday June 13, 2006 6:35PM
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One trait showcased in the first two games was Dallas' ability to run. The Mavs had 91 and 92 possessions, respectively, in Games 1 and 2. This despite having been of the slowest teams in the league in the regular season -- their mark of about 87.6 possessions per game was the sixth-slowest. But because they were so incredibly efficient on offense (113.2 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the league behind Phoenix), and because this team has been known to dash up and down the court in years past, the Mavs still get labeled a running team.
Miami averaged 90.1 possessions per game during the regular season, good for 16th in the NBA, but they've played their best when they slow things to a crawl in the playoffs. In four wins during the Pistons series, Miami averaged 83.3 possessions per game. In the two losses they averaged 89. In this series they're averaging 90 possessions per game -- right on par with their regular-season style but much too fast if they want to compete with Dallas.
So Riles needs to take control of the play-calling. He can encourage early offense, but only from his guards, and he needs to make sure his Heat exhaust every option they can within that 24-second window. Their championship hopes depend on slowing things down and working their way toward a good look at the hoop.
Riley also may want to take a page from his Dallas counterpart and mix things up with the bench a bit more. I'm not calling for more minutes for the Heat bench, but one unofficial count had Dallas coach Avery Johnson substituting 31 times to Riley's 19 during Game 2, including a 19 to 10 disparity at halftime. It's an odd thing to watch, as I was right there with you during the first quarter of both games of these Finals, wondering aloud if DeSagana Diop had earned one or two fouls (he had one, both times) as Erick Dampier came in to give him a blow.
It turns out that Johnson learned quite a bit from the Phoenix series: mainly that one can't play perfect defense forever, and even if the legs are fresh, you tend to relent against a talent like Shaquille O'Neal after so many trips down the court. By bringing in a fresh Dampier (who had yet to calcify after starting the game on the pine) to pick up the slack against O'Neal, it threw Shaq out of his comfort zone. O'Neal has been playing against rusty backup centers his entire life, going against them only after the starter had gathered the requisite two fouls, and the new look added to Shaq's general sense of unease. Riley has to find a way to counter this.
I don't know how or when the Heat will get a win, but I can't see Dallas sweeping this series in spite of how dominating the Mavs have looked at times. The bottom line is that it's still damn hard to beat a 52-win team more than four times in a row (as Dallas has done this year, including the regular season); no matter how good you are or how well you match up.
Eventually Miami's talent will come out, and this in no way will reflect a sense of complacency on Dallas' part. The Mavs will continue to get better, as they have all postseason, game by game. It's just that Miami, while never playing better than the sum of their collective parts, can still put together a win or two based solely on individual skill -- even if those individual skills never mesh into a cohesive, world-beating unit.