2011 NBA Finals Roundtable (cont.)
Jenkins: Dirk vs. LeBron. The Heat will throw a lot of people at Dirk -- Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony being the most obvious candidates. But at the end of the fourth quarter, it is hard to imagine we will not see James on Nowitzki, the confrontation everyone is waiting for. At 6-foot-8, James was quick enough to stay in front of Derrick Rose, and now we will see if he is rangy enough to alter Nowitzki's patented step-back fadeaway.
Thomsen: Dirk vs. LeBron. They're totally different players, yet LeBron will surely try to guard Dirk at times. There will also be times when they'll find themselves trying to outscore each other for the good of their teams. This Finals will showcase each at his best.
Amick: Dirk vs. LeBron. They might not actually square off against each that often, especially if Mavs small forward Marion can be aggressive enough offensively to force James to guard him. But it's rare that two stars with so much at stake meet like this, with Nowitzki desperate for his first ring to take his legacy to new heights and James needing his first championship because, well, the Big Three were talking about winning five or six last summer when they put this dream team together. Both are clearly the alpha-dogs for their respective teams right now, and seeing whose will and determination to win is greater should be fun.
Mannix: Dirk vs. Bosh. No one has been able to stop Nowitzki this postseason, and some pretty good defenders have tried. Bosh isn't known for lockdown defense, but if he can contain Dirk -- or at the very least, score with him -- Miami will have a big advantage.
Lowe: Chandler vs. Bosh. Chandler is an active help defender, and Bosh figures to have many chances to score if Chandler helps aggressively on pick-and-roll plays involving Bosh as the screener and on separate action involving LeBron and Wade. The Heat need Bosh to take advantage of these chances as efficiently as he did against the Bulls. Chandler needs to rotate like a mad man, stay out of foul trouble and hope someone has his back when he gets far from Bosh.
Jenkins: Jason Terry had the Larry O'Brien Trophy tattooed on his arm. Outside of Nowitzki, he is the longest-tenured Maverick, still haunted by the 2006 Finals and the first-round pratfalls that followed. Terry savors the big stage, and like Nowitzki, does not know how many more turns he will get. Although Terry does not start, he fashions himself a fourth-quarter closer, and he has scorched from three-point range in the playoffs. The Mavs will need to win this series from the three-point line, and so far Terry has owned the arc.
Thomsen: Can we call Terry a role player? If so, then his role as a scorer off the bench will be enormous in creating a thrilling Finals. I expect him to shoot very well.
Amick: Marion. Two games into the Oklahoma City series, his teammates and coaches accused him of being too passive. He responded in a series-changing way, giving Durant fits with his blanketing defense while scoring 26 points in the Game 5 finale. Marion's ability to stay engaged and force James into respecting his game on both ends will be huge. Nowitzki doesn't have a Wade, so he needs scoring help wherever he can get it. And considering no Heat player is better equipped to guard Nowitzki than James, the big German wouldn't mind if Marion was good enough offensively to keep that from being a viable option for Spoelstra.
Mannix: Chandler. Ask Durant how many times he saw Chandler's spidery body lurking in the lane every time he started to drive. The pressure will undoubtedly be on the Mavs' perimeter players to stop (or at least slow) dribble penetration, but it's Chandler -- the closest thing to a young Kevin Garnett that we have in the NBA -- who will be responsible for correcting their mistakes. He will likely get plenty of reps on Bosh, too, making his potential impact on the game immeasurable.
Lowe: The Haslem/Mike Miller pairing. They were huge against Chicago, allowing the Heat to play their five-man dream lineup consisting of these two and the three stars. The Bosh/Haslem combination allows the Heat to both stretch the floor and protect the glass, and Miller's versatility helps everywhere. Haslem is just finding his rhythm and Miller is dealing with thumb injuries, so we don't quite know yet how consistent they can be. Miller is especially crucial, because he's the place Dallas figures to try to hide one its so-so defenders. If Miller can punish Terry, Peja Stojakovic or J.J. Barea, the Mavs have a problem.
Jenkins: James is potent enough that he was going to eventually win a championship whether in Cleveland, Miami or Minnesota. To fully validate "The Decision," he has to win multiple championships, and build a dynasty in South Florida. If he can win in his first season, with a roster that was slapped together at the last minute, he will be well on his way. But I still say it takes three titles in Miami to match the impact he would have made with one in Cleveland.
Thomsen: It isn't. I always believed that he wanted to define himself on his own terms -- as a Magic-styled playmaker, rather than as a finisher like Jordan -- and that he needed star power around him in order to win, knowing that most champions have won because of their teammates. LeBron's problem last year wasn't based so much in what he was saying but rather in how he was saying it. If he wins the Finals, he will be credited once and for all with having a vision and seeing it through.
Amick: It's like your parents always told you: It's not about what you say, it's how you say it. I never had a problem with him leaving Cleveland, but the self-indulgent way in which he sent his message out -- not telling owner Dan Gilbert or Cavaliers officials what he intended to do and making them watch the embarrassing production on ESPN -- was classless. Winning a title doesn't change that.
Mannix: I never -- not once -- had a problem with LeBron's defecting to Miami. I, like many others, had a beef with the way he did it. It's not my place to tell a 26-year-old where to work or where to live. LeBron's a grown man and he can do what he wants. He just didn't need to kick, punch and elbow-drop Cleveland on his way out the door. Perhaps in the minds of some people a championship will validate his decision to play in Miami. Because if the Heat win a title this season, it could kick-start a historic run.
Lowe: No, and no.
Thomsen: I have no certainty whatsoever about this pick, which is why this has the makings of a terrific series. Dallas is just as competitive and driven as Miami, but the bigger question of whether Nowitzki is a better closer than James remains to be seen. The Mavs need strong ball movement early in the series to pry open their shooters around Nowitzki, because if they're blitzing from the three-point line it will be difficult for the Heat's defense to dominate. I'm looking for these teams to take turns excelling at what each does best. In the end I'm deferring to Miami's defense, home-court advantage and the pairing of LeBron and Wade to prevail in a tight Game 7.
Jenkins: Dallas has the better point guard, frontcourt and bench, with superior ball movement, three-point shooting and late-game experience. But Miami's transcendent wings of James and Wade present a near impossible matchup. The Mavs will find more ways to score against the Heat than the Bulls did, but they won't be as effective in slowing them down. Though Dallas has made significant upgrades since 2006, the Heat have made even more, and they are set to claim the first of what will probably be several championships with this group. Miami in six.
Amick: No matter how impressive Dallas' run has been, there are just too many "ifs" in this equation for me to see the Mavs winning. They can avenge their 2006 Finals loss to Miami if Nowitzki maintains his epic play, if their ball movement is so elusive and so flawless that they can avoid the ball-hawking LeBron and Wade on the perimeter and keep the sight lines open for their shooters, if they can count on Marion to not only slow James on one end but to score consistently on the other, and if they can force the league's most explosive transition team to walk it up the floor. Spoelstra is putting the ball in James' hands more than ever before, and with the way he's been handling it, we should be witnesses to his first championship ceremony very soon. Miami in seven.
Mannix: Many thought the Mavs wouldn't be able to defend Durant and Russell Westbrook in the last round, but Dallas did a pretty credible job on them. I think Kidd -- who has had a phenomenal postseason defensively -- will give Wade some trouble, and the creative coaching of Rick Carlisle will find ways to load up on LeBron and force him into difficult shots. Offensively, Dirk will have a field day on Bosh, Haslem, et al, and the Mavs' dynamic bench will win at least one game for them. Dallas in seven.
Lowe: Heat in 6. This will be the toughest series yet for each team, but Miami has all the necessary answers to beat Dallas. The Heat -- like the Thunder -- have talent on the wing, and in the backcourt that will give Dallas trouble. But the Heat's talent is on a different level than Oklahoma City's, and unlike the Thunder, they have the kind of big men who can punish teams for loading up on James and Wade. They have defenders to bother Nowitzki, the quickest rotations in the league to close out on the Mavs' shooters and the tools to solve their zone. A Mavs win wouldn't shock me, but Miami is better suited to beat them than any team they've faced so far. Heat in six.
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