Czar’s Finals Preview: Heat vs. Thunder

The 2012 NBA Finals will showcase two of the most athletic, exciting and talented teams in the league: the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.

Both squads possess superstars and scoring champions who are capable of outstanding ball movement and lethal transition games.

Though this would normally be a recipe for a high-scoring, up-and-down affair, it may not be the case in this series because both rosters boast tenacious defenders who have the ability to shut down their opponents at the defensive end of the floor. Every possession will be crucial, and turnovers will be costly.

There are a lot of similarities between the Heat and the Thunder. Both sides have at least two players who are capable of exploding and going off for 40 points in a game if they get hot.

Both teams also feature Big Threes: Miami has 2012 NBA MVP James, 8X All-Star Dwyane Wade and 7X All-Star Chris Bosh, while OKC has 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, 2X All-Star Russell Westbrook and 2012 Sixth MOTY James Harden. Amazingly, the members of the Thunder’s triumvirate are all 23 years old or younger.

There is tremendous depth on each bench. Coach Scott Brooks, who is making his first trip to the finals in just his third full season as head coach, will probably go deeper into his reserves than Miami, considering coach Spoelstra went predominantly with six players against Boston in Game 7 of the ECF when the season was on the line.

Oklahoma City is capable of playing very big or playing small and fast. However, Miami has not really played big all season, though they have the option to go with Chris Bosh at the 4 along with one of their seldom-used centers such as the shot-blocking Joel Anthony at the 5 and LeBron at the 3.

We may see more small ball in this series than we have seen in previous championships as the key players on both teams are perimeter-oriented with amazing quickness, which often makes lumbering, big men ineffectual.

The number one concern when going up against the Heat is transition defense. The Thunder have to get back and be compact so that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don’t score easy baskets in transition.

As for defending the Thunder, Miami will also have to limit their transition game because they run so hard and so fast. And they must shut down the league’s most prolific scorer Kevin Durant. Spoelstra has to decide how to match up against him, whether with consistent double teams or staggered weak-side help.

The format changes to 2-3-2 in the finals, so capturing the first two home games will be critical for the Thunder because they don’t want to give the Heat a split with a chance to win three straight at home. The Heat and Thunder played twice in the abbreviated regular season, each winning on its home court.

OKC has one of the best crowds in the NBA, if not the best. And Miami’s fans were perhaps the most vocal they’ve been all year in Game 7 versus the Boston Celtics. It will be paramount for both squads to try to take away the opposing crowd’s energy and impact by limiting scoring runs and establishing road leads.

The global hoops audience will be watching the 2012 NBA Finals to see whether LeBron will clinch the title in his third finals appearance, or If the young Thunder are on the verge of a dynasty.

Czar’s NBA Finals Wrap-up: 2011 Champion Dallas Mavericks

Congratulations all around to the Dallas Mavericks organization, coaching staff, players and fans on winning their first NBA Title. This tremendous accomplishment has been over a decade in the making for Mark Cuban and longtime face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki. It was a hard-fought series, but the Mavs closed it out and capped off an amazing postseason run thanks to a total team effort.

The 2011 NBA Championship was one of the most thrilling six-game series in recent memory. Dallas probably surprised a lot of people when they went down to South Florida and beat the Heat on their home court in elimination Game 6. The talented Miami team played extremely well at home during the playoffs, and most expected them to force a Game 7.

But Dallas came out with energy, confidence and focus. DeShawn Stevenson got the Mavericks going with a few big threes early in the game. Jason Terry stepped up again and dealt out another great performance. Jason Kidd, Brian Cardinal, J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler all contributed at key moments. And though Nowitzki struggled during the first half, he delivered down the stretch to help clinch the series. Dirk’s incredible display throughout the tournament earned him the Finals MVP award, a cherry on top of the Title that had thus far eluded him.

For Miami, falling short in the last round was a disappointing end to a pressure-packed season. Even though the Game 6 loss will leave a bitter taste in their mouths all summer, the fact that the Heat still have a young nucleus of gifted stars should be somewhat of a consolation. As many former champions have stated, you must first taste defeat to understand what it takes to win and to savor the victory. The Heat’s experience in the NBA Finals will serve as a building block towards becoming future champions. Just as the Mavericks grew from their defeat in the 2006 Finals, the Heat will learn from the pain of losing and return next season better and stronger as a result.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Mavericks vs. Heat Game 6

Like nearly every game in this riveting series, Game 5 went down to the wire. And as we’ve seen Dallas do so often in the postseason, they rallied from behind in the fourth quarter and went on a 17-4 run to route Miami 112-103 and take a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. Now the Mavericks are just one win away from the ultimate prize.

The stage has been set for another epic battle in Game 6. What could be more exciting and dramatic than this story line? The team America (outside of Miami) loves to hate has their backs against the wall, while Dallas has their best opportunity in franchise history to win a championship. Their only other legitimate chance to win an NBA Title was back in 2006, when they were beaten by Miami on their home court.

Everyone is anxious to see if LeBron James will rise to the occasion and if Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can continue to deliver. Dirk Nowitzki will have to overcome Miami’s outstanding defense and come through as he’s done throughout the playoffs. Last game J.J. Barea (17 pts.) and ‘the Jet’ Jason Terry (21 pts.) gave their team the extra firepower they needed to take Game 5. The Mavs are going to need them to hit big shots again tonight if they hope to close out this series in six games.

Basketball fans around the world will tune in at 8:00 PM ET to see whether Miami will make a comeback and force a Game 7, or if the Mavericks will finish the job and win a championship before the aging Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd’s careers come to a close. The Heat danced and celebrated on the Maverick’s court when they took their first NBA Title in Game 6 five years ago. Tonight Dallas has the same opportunity to celebrate their first NBA Championship in Miami.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Heat vs. Mavericks Game 5

The 2011 NBA Finals are shaping up to be another seven-game series. As in the two previous contests, Game 4 came down to the last possession. As if going up against Miami’s swarming defense weren’t a big enough challenge for lead man Dirk Nowitzki, he had to conquer some of his own demons to help his team get back on track after dropping Game 3 at home.

Still recovering from a torn a tendon in his left, middle finger, Dirk took to the court with a 101-degree fever on Tuesday night. True to form, Dirk dug deep and spirited another spectacular comeback against Miami with ten points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter in route to an 86-83 victory.

Dirk got the help he needed from his fellow starters, as well as Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson off the bench. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle changed up the starting lineup, inserting J.J. Barea into the first string, which made Dallas a little bit faster in the backcourt. Bringing in DeShawn Stevenson off the bench gave Shawn Marion a bigger break and enabled him to be fresher when he came back into the game to guard LeBron James, who was limited to only 8 points total.

LBJ was uncharacteristically absent in Game 4 and has been put through the ringer for his so-called disappearing act. In his own words, Game 5 will be the biggest game of LeBron’s career. I expect him to bounce back with a more aggressive performance. Dwyane Wade was spectacular once again for Miami, putting up 32 points. He’s averaging just under 30 points per game in the Finals. And Chris Bosh also came out strong with 24 points.

It remains to be seen how Dallas will handle D-Wade in Game 5 and whether they will go to zone D tonight. Many people credit the Mavs’ matchup zone defense for playing such an important part in their team’s success in guarding the athletic Miami Heat, forcing them to be a jump shooting team rather than a driving, slashing team. Coach Erik Spoelstra was probably not too upset with Miami’s defensive effort in Game 4. Spoelstra’s bigger concern in Game 5 will be point productivity on the offensive end of the floor.

Tied at two games apiece, both the Mavericks and Heat must come out with passion and energy and treat this high-pressure Game 5 like it’s a one-and-done. The Mavs will try to keep momentum on their side and take a 3-2 lead when they host the Heat for the last time in this Finals series at 9:00 PM ET. Obviously, if Miami comes away with the win they’ll gain a decided advantage in this series before heading home for the last two games in their own building.

Czar’s Finals Preview: Heat vs. Mavericks Game 3

As most anticipated, we are in the midst of a great NBA Finals series. Dallas never gave up in Game 2 after falling down by 15 points in the fourth quarter. They just chipped away at Miami’s lead and made shots when they counted most. Then Dirk did it again, sinking three shots in a row to close out the game and tie up the championship series.

I have a hunch Game 3 will be one of the most watched games in playoff history. You have a country that is divided between those who are pro-Miami and want to see the Big Three stars come together to take the Title, and the other faction of basketball fans who are rooting against the Heat for that very same reason.

Counting the four losses from the 2006 NBA Championship series when the Heat clinched the Title, the Mavs’ Game 1 loss made for five straight losses to Miami in the playoffs. By Dallas splitting the series in Miami, not only does it give the Mavericks team belief that they can beat the Heat this time around, it also gives fans on both sides of the fence the belief that this could be anybody’s year.

Now we will see the bounce-back ability of this Miami team, which has played well on the road in the playoffs up to this point. For all those who argue about  the 2-3-2  format, this is the advantage of getting one of the first two games for the team without home court advantage. If you grab one of the first two games it becomes a tremendous advantage knowing you’re going home for the next three games in a row.