Seems as if the Heat already believes it has won the NBA title. With the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh blasting their way through the 76ers, Celtics and Bulls, the Heat and its faithful act as if beating the Mavericks in the Finals, which begin Tuesday in Miami, is a foregone conclusion. But not so fast. Sure, the Heat is the heavy favorite to knock off Dallas, but the Mavs should not be counted out until games are actually played. Here are five reasons why the Mavs could give the Heat fits and pull off the upset.
The Mavs played the Heat twice during the regular season and won both times.
The Mavs beat the Heat 106-95 in Dallas on Nov. 27, then won 98-96 in Miami on Dec. 20. While many would argue the Heat is a much better team now than it was early in the season, it should be noted that the Heat did not lose a game between its two against the Mavs. After losing at Dallas, the Heat reeled off 12 victories in a row until that streak was snapped with the loss to the Mavs on Dec. 20. After that loss, Miami won nine in a row.
So adding it all up, the Heat went 22-2 from Nov. 26 to Jan. 9 and both losses were to Dallas. Plus, this is a Mavs team that swept the defending champion Lakers in four games in the West semifinals, proving it isn't intimidated by the other team's jerseys.
Two words: Dirk Nowitzki.
The 13-year veteran has been dominant this postseason, averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Only once in these playoffs has he been held to fewer than 20 points, and he has scored 30 or more five times. He's shooting 51 percent from the field, including nearly 56 percent in the West final against the Thunder. And he's 130-of-140 from the free-throw line. All remarkable numbers made even more impressive by the fact he can fill it up from the outside and he's 7 feet tall.
Because of his height, toughness driving to the hoop and ability to create his own shot, he creates serious matchup problems for the Heat. Chris Bosh likely will be assigned to guard him, but Nowitzki averaged 24 points in the two victories against Bosh and the Heat. Plus, Nowitzki causes foul problems for whoever is guarding him. He has averaged nearly 27 points in his past 11 games against the Heat.
"The main thing, first and foremost, when talking about defending the Dallas Mavericks, (Heat coach) Erik Spoelstra has got to decide who his initial defender is going to be on Dirk Nowitzki,'' ABC analyst Mark Jackson said. "Who is the secondary and the third option going to be defending him, how you're going to defend him, whether you're going to double, and if and when you do double, forcing the ball out of his hands, how you're going to rotate to their shooters? So it's going to be crucial to contain Dirk Nowitzki and make life tough for him.''
Dallas is deeper than Miami and extremely poised.
The Heat has been running an eight-man rotation in the playoffs and isn't really getting much from its bench. Of course, when you have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, you don't need much of a bench. But consider this: When these teams last met, James, Wade and Bosh had at least 22 points, but no one else was in double digits as the Mavs won. And during the grind of the playoffs, it's never a bad thing to have more options coming off the bench than the other team. Led by J.J. Barea and Jason Terry, left, the Mavs have one of the deepest teams in the league.
"I think the most impressive thing is how they have incredible poise,'' ABC analyst Mark Jackson said. "They've stayed calm in the face of tough runs. They totally believe in their system and in each other, and they find ways to win ball games. I think, ultimately, when you're talking about great basketball teams, you're talking about teams that in spite of not playing their best, taking their game to another level and finding a way to win, and that's been the most impressive thing for me about this Mavericks team."
Jason Kidd is better than any point guard the Heat has faced in these playoffs.
Chicago's Derrick Rose looked like a deer in the headlights against LeBron James and the Heat. Rajon Rando was far from 100 percent physically when the Celtics played the Heat. Kidd, however, is a veteran who isn't going to get rattled. He's averaging nearly 10 points a game, 7.7 assists and only 2.3 turnovers. Unlike Rose, Kidd doesn't need to look for his own shots or score a bunch for his team to be successful. He's averaging only 8.3 shots. Rose, for instance, averaged 24 against Miami and committed nearly four turnovers per game. And Kidd is a much better defender than any point guard the Heat has played.
"Jason Kidd has been incredible,'' ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay said. "This guy, 38 years old, still runs the show on offense and is a surprisingly good defender. He did a great job against Kobe Bryant in the L.A. series in significant spots of games. He doesn't have the quick feet any longer, but he has great hands and great anticipation.''
D stands for Dallas … and defense.
The Mavs are allowing just more than 92 points per game in the playoffs , and their opponents are shooting only 44 percent. The Heat is averaging 92 points in the playoffs. Dallas also runs an effective zone defense, and zone defenses have caused problems for the Heat this season. If Dallas can keep the Heat somewhere around 90 points, it has a shot. And to go along with the strong defensive team, the Mavs, with players such as Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, left, might be tougher physically than Miami.
"I've never seen a team that is so dedicated to winning a championship,'' ESPN analyst Jack Ramsay said. "Everybody talks the talk. These guys had focus on winning from Day 1. And it's surprising to me because I didn't think during the course of the regular season, especially at the beginning, that they were that good a team. But they have become a great team. They have become a very resilient team, extremely poised, physically tough.''