Czar’s Finals Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat

The Western Conference Champion Dallas Mavericks bring their collective talents to South Florida tonight to face off with the hot to trot Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals.

Coach Erik Spoelstra and his team entered the postseason as the number two seed in the East and fought their way through the upstart Philadelphia 76ers, the time-tested Boston Celtics, and finally the team with the league’s best regular season record, the Chicago Bulls and MVP PG Derrick Rose. Team President Pat Riley’s Big 3 ballers finished off each of these talented opponents impressively, four games to one. Perhaps no win highlighted the combined super powers of James, Wade and Bosh better than their last, when the 2x MVP ‘L-Train’ spirited an unbelievable 18-3 run by the Heat in the fourth quarter of Game 4 to end the series and clinch the Eastern Conference Championship. The Heat are undefeated at home so far in these playoffs. And by virtue of the fact that they finished the regular season at 58-24, one game better than the Mavs, Miami owns home court in this winner takes all series.

Coach Rick Carlisle and his high scoring Dallas squad arrive at the title throwdown after besting the Portland Trailblazers in six, taking apart the 2010 Champion Los Angeles Lakers in a shocking four-game sweep, and handling NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in five in the WCF. 13th-year 10x All-Star 7’0” F scoring machine Dirk Nowitzki is the Mavericks’ lone 2011 All-Star and their best player – maybe the best European player ever. Dirk’s coming off of a historic performance in OKC and is sure to be the focal point of Miami’s swarming and switching team defense, which finished second in the league in opponents FG% at .434. After the pride of Wurzburg, Germany, Dallas doesn’t have a definitive player who can put the ball in the hole consistently enough to take the scoring pressure off of Dirk ‘The Marksman.’ What the Mavs do have in bunches are veteran role-players extraordinaire such as 17th-year PG Jason Kidd, 12th-year combo guard Jason Terry, 12th-year combo forward Shawn Marion and 13th-year outside assassin Peja Stojakovic. Not one of this group of cagey vets has ever won a title, and they know that this series may represent their last, best hope for a chance at ‘IT.’

When King James, after his seventh season, announced on international television last July 8th that he had decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and play alongside good friends and fellow 2003 NBA draftees 7× All-Star Wade and 6x All-Star Chris Bosh in Miami, he stated that he felt it was where he had the best chance to win a championship and even to win multiple times. The forum and style in which he chose to inform the world of his new hardwood address received vast amounts of criticism and spurred conversation and debate not usually associated with sports. And the attention and spotlight that had followed the best basketball player in the world since he was a high school phenom in Akron grew stronger and took on a villainous tinge. But now that the one-banner Miami Heat are back in the ‘Ring Series’ for the second time against their 2006 Finals opponent Dallas, James and the ‘Heatles’ will have a chance to get the figurative last word with regard to the ‘heat’, hate and scrutiny that the unorthodox formation of the 2010-2011 Biscayne Bay Ballers caused. For Dallas, Nowitzki and his Mavericks have earned the long-awaited opportunity to avenge their 2006 loss to the Finals MVP of that series D-Wade and his new Heat.

This is the time for true stars to shine, and we certainly have a number of them competing in this series. Who will be riding in a parade and sporting shiny, championship finger jewelry when the dust and sand settle? Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals tips off at 9:00 PM ET on ABC.

Ukraine and The Czar

In preparation for EuroBasket 2012 I made a quick trip to Kiev in order to watch some of the players who will try out for the Ukraine National Team and to begin organizing our summer training schedule.

Happy Birthday Sergey!

I was honored to have the opportunity to celebrate Sergey Kushchenko’s 50th birthday with him in Moscow on Friday. I first met Sergey, the Executive Director of the Russian Biathlon Union and former President of CSKA Moscow, back in 2009 at the School Basketball Festival held in Yoshkar-Ola, the capital city of the Mari El Republic. 48 teams of young boys and girls from 24 regions of Russia took part in the first-time event. At the conclusion of the three-day festival, Sergey and I flew back to Moscow together in a tiny plane. We landed around midnight and wound up grabbing a late dinner at a great Italian restaurant, where we ate and drank for hours and really hit it off.

Coincidentally, I was scheduled for a trip to the Ukraine this weekend to begin preparations for EuroBasket 2011 and was able to make last minute arrangements to fly through Moscow for Sergey’s birthday on the way to Kiev. Numerous political officials (including Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ivanov), business executives, legendary athletes, friends and family members were in attendance to pay tribute to Sergey, a pioneer who helped transform CSKA into a modern, world-class club that put Russia back on the map of great basketball countries. NBA Commissioner David Stern sent a birthday gift to Sergey on behalf of the NBA. I had the chance to meet Nets owner and RBU President Mikhail Prokhorov for the first time, who appointed Sergey, his chief sports advisor, to the Nets board of directors that evening.

The party was incredible. An eclectic ensemble of bands from around the world performed along with some local favorites. Sergey’s son also gave an impressive piano recital. There was a continual flow of food and libations the entire night. It was a warm experience and a wonderful show of affection by so many people who care for Sergey.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Heat vs. Bulls Game 5

The Bulls turned up the heat in Game 4, but Miami made out with the 101-93 overtime win at home on Tuesday. The spoils of war add up to a commanding 3-1 lead for the Heatles in the Eastern Conference Finals. Once again, limiting King James to a mere mortal’s game proved a tough assignment. LeBron kicked it into gear and closed out Game 4 with a 35-point finish, his biggest of this series.

Chris Bosh contributed another solid 22-point performance. And the Heat got an extra dozen-point, nine-board boost from Mike Miller off the bench, as well as nine points from Mario Chalmers. Dwyane Wade still hasn’t broken out yet. The Bulls have done a great job containing him so far, but he’s like a sleeping giant who could bust out at any moment.

Whether or not Wade plays at the top of his game tonight, MVP Derrick Rose has to figure out how he’s going to attack Miami’s defense in Game 5 if he wants to keep his team in title contention. And Coach Tom Thibadeau must devise a plan to get him away from LeBron, who put a blanket on Rose for Chicago’s two most critical shots down the stretch in Game 4. Carlos Boozer needs another big game. And the bench has to contribute more to give Chicago the edge in tonight’s elimination match.

Miami knows that Dallas is ready and waiting to meet the winner of this grueling series. Every day that they allow it to go on gives Dallas that much more of an advantage in terms of preparation time and rest. Erik Spoelstra and his team are just one win away from manifesting their three-star master plan to compete for an NBA Title. But unlike last night’s contest in which the Mavericks’ execution and experience enabled them to seal the deal, I think Chicago has a good chance to capture the W and send this series back to Miami for Game 6. The Central Division Champion Chicago Bulls will host the Southeast Division Champion Miami Heat tonight in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at 8:30 PM ET on TNT.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Mavericks Game 5

Led by the unstoppable Nowitzki, the Mavericks bounced back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in overtime 112-105. It will be interesting to see how the very young Thunder team responds in Game 5 after that crushing defeat. Oklahoma City have to claw their way out of a daunting 3-1 hole against a veteran team that is playing outstanding ball. Will the deflated Thunder collapse, or do they still have the belief that they can take down Dallas on the road and get back into this series one win at a time?

Dallas only needs to grab one game at home to advance to the NBA Championships, and they will be very eager to get it in front of their faithful fans tonight. The Mavericks can use all the rest they can get before facing whichever formidable Eastern Conference opponent awaits the winner of this series. And more importantly, they know OKC is too dangerous to let them hang around. Dallas wants to put them away as soon as possible. After beating OKC twice in their own building, the Mavs will come out in Game 5 with tremendous confidence in their ability to best them again. It’s been a thrilling, hard-fought series so far and I expect another spectacular effort in this evening’s elimination match.