Winning the NBA title in only five not-so-easy steps
Posted: Monday June 19, 2006 12:06PM; Updated: Monday June 19, 2006 12:56PM
As much as the Heat need Shaquille O'Neal to help patrol the lane, they can do without his inability to help them close out games.
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The Miami Heat are just a win away from the NBA championship, and though their situation is considerably more dire, the Dallas Mavericks are but a win away from being a win away from the NBA championship. What does each team need to do to ensure its first ring? With apologies to my Hall of Fame colleague Jack McCallum (never has the meaning of the word "colleague" been stretched so much, as if almost in open defiance of the definition), we're offering a five-pack of suggestions to both sides about how to end this, starting with the Heat.
1. Find Wade early and often
Save for a few stretches, no Maverick has had a defensive answer for Dwyane Wade thus far, and the All-Star has taken full advantage. Wade is averaging 34.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in the Finals, while playing a hefty 43.2 minutes per game but turning the ball over 3.4 times an outing. Better yet, the Mavs can't even stop him from getting the ball; he's averaging 24 shot attempts and almost 15 free throw attempts a game in the Finals. To close out Dallas, Pat Riley needs to eschew any semblance of a balanced attack and secure Wade his 25 (or more) shots.
2. Limit Shaq's minutes in penalty situations
The Mavs went with a Hack-a-Shaq philosophy at times during Game 5, and it's hard to blame them. Even the worst offensive teams average a little better than one point per possession, and with Shaquille O'Neal shooting a ridiculous 13 of 44 (29.5 percent) from the free throw line in the Finals, odds are you can force Miami into a fruitless trip down court with one flick of the wrist. If the Heat go with Alonzo Mourning (not the greatest foul shooter, though he's hit 6 of 9 in the Finals) late in quarters, Dallas' big defensive option is eliminated. Shaq may not like any strategy that keeps him on the bench, but all hurt feelings should be shoved aside once the champagne corks start popping.
3. Go with the hot hand
If Mourning or James Posey (44 percent from deep in the Finals) or Shandon Anderson or Jason Williams or any sort of unheralded Miami role player gets hot, Riley needs to stick with him. The Heat may have two games to win one and the championship, but they have to play a desperate brand of basketball in Game 6 to avoid a dreaded Game 7 on the road, where the Heat have won just four times since the playoffs began. There are only 48 minutes to work with, so Miami has to take advantage of that surprisingly good touch before the regression to the mean sets in.
4. Work the boards
Riley is into his third decade of pushing his celebrated mantra: no rebounds, no rings. The rebounding in this series is about even, but the game-by-game stats don't lie: The Heat have been outrebounded by six per game in their two losses and have outrebounded the Mavs by six per game in their wins.