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Finals Preview: This is Not ’06

Having witnessed the fiasco that was the 2006 NBA Finals, it seems rather fitting that the Dallas Mavericks would again face the Miami Heat in a final best of seven series that has the potential to be just as memorable; Hopefully this time, it will be for the level of play, rather than the one-sided nature of the officiating.

While officiating is always an uncertainty, one thing we can be certain about in this series is that we are seeing two completely different versions of the teams that faced off in 2006, and the series should play out as such.

This year’s incarnation of the Mavericks feature a much tougher, more aggressive team that has only two returning players from the 2006 series. The starting five in 2006 looked like this: DeSagana Diop at the five spot, Dirk at the four and Josh Howard at the three with Jason Terry and Adrian Griffin at the two Guard spots.

The Mavericks have significantly upgraded in almost every position. Tyson Chandler has provided much better defense this year, coming in third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and he doubles as a better offensive player then Diop.  Shawn Marion has proven to be an extremely effective defender and has also shown the ability to contribute on the offensive end, both in the post and slashing to the basket. Although DeShawn Stevenson essentially provides much of the same qualities that Adrian Griffin possessed—Defense and toughness— the point guard position is a big area of improvement. Jason Kidd has proven to be a significant upgrade over Jason Terry in terms of running the offense and finding the open man. Kidd’s play is a big reason why the Mavs have made it this far and his play in the Finals could be a deciding factor on how well his team performs as a whole.

In 2006 the Mavs had several key reserves: Devin Harris, Erik Dampier and Jerry Stackhouse, with Marquis Daniels and Keith Van Horn also playing steady minutes. Comparatively, this season the key reserves for the Mavs have been Jason Terry, J.J Barea, Peja Stojakovic and Brendan Haywood. Much like 2006, the bench performance has been crucial for this team; they have depth at center with Haywood, they have shooting and scoring in Stojakovic and Terry and they have received great backup point guard play by Barea; these contributions essentially replicate, and advance the very same things their bench was able to contribute in 2006.

The one key difference between this seasons Mavs team, and the 2006 version is the play of Dirk Nowitzki. In 2006 he was heavily relied upon to both rebound and score, while not having the luxury of shooters that could relieve some of the pressure he was facing. He also did not have an experienced point guard that was able to get him the ball in his spots. This season, perhaps because he now has these things, he has shot better in every category including over 50% from the floor, and has become the crunch time scorer this team needs in order to win close games.

The Dallas Mavericks are a very different team this time around; they are much deeper, they are better shooters and perhaps most importantly, they are much tougher. This year they will not be pushed around, not like they were in 2006.

The Miami Heat have also seen a great deal of turnover since their last trip to the Finals. Their starting lineup that year featured Shaq at the five, Udonis Haslem at the four, and Antoine Walker at the three, with Jason Williams and Dwayne Wade at the guard spots.  Much like the Mavericks, the Heat have made significant upgrades in a number of spots; the most obvious of which being the replacement of an aging Antoine Walker with LeBron James in his prime. Although the Heat no longer possess a post presence like Shaq, Chris Bosh and LeBron James more than fill the void offensively, while defensively Joel Anthony has done a nice job and shouldn’t have too much trouble guarding the offensively challenged Chandler.

At point guard the Heat’s platoon of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers serve as a slight upgrade over Jason Williams and Gary Payton, but that spot remains a weakness of theirs going into the Finals. Mike Bibby’s defensive issues will likely be exploited by Jason Kidd, which could mean that we will see a little more of Chalmers, who is a better defender.

Despite the fact that the starting lineup for the Heat is much better this year, their bench is much weaker than it was in 2006. The key reserves last time around for the Heat included: Alonzo Mourning, James Posey and Gary Payton. Posey and Mourning were both very big contributors that changed the game defensively. Payton added stability at the point, and Posey contributed some much needed three point accuracy.

This time around the bench is thin; the Heat’s key reserves are  Udonis Haslem, James Jones, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller. On paper this sounds like a deep bench, however when you consider that Haslem has just returned from an injury, Mike Miller has been largely ineffective and James Jones has been streaky it’s easy to see why the bench has been such an issue for the Heat all season. But, if the Heat can get some three-point shooting out of Miller or Jones, and Haslem can defend Nowitzki as well as he did in 2006, the Heat will be a tough team to beat.

For the Heat, the big difference between this year’s Finals squad and the previous one is their offensive potency; the ability of Wade, James and Bosh to take over any game at any given time sets them apart, and it is also the key to overcoming the lack of bench depth and potentially winning the series.

It is clear that both teams have undergone great change in personnel and team identity, yet this matchup is still considered a “rematch” of the 2006 Finals. Despite that title, which is undeservedly thrust upon this series, there is one thing you should remember heading into this series: don’t expect to see the same series we saw in 2006, because this series is going to be something much more memorable.

 

Hardwood Paroxysm