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Gameday Dish: Heat vs. Blazers

Portlandians will get a dose of South Beach sunshine when the Heat pay a visit to Stumptown this evening.

Though the 23-10 reigning champs boast the best record in the Eastern Conference, they are not shining brightly of late.

The Heatles dropped 4 of their last 7 games. Two of Miami’s three victories over this stretch were overtime grinders, and the other was against the hapless Wizards.

Coach Erik Spoelstra’s guys continue to get manhandled on the glass. They rank 29th in the association in rebounding and are last in the East in second chance points allowed at 15.4 per game.

Also, Miami is just 7-7 away from SoBe this season. It’s easier for a team to straighten out its problems at home with a lot of practice time, but the Heat will have to figure things out on the road during a 5-game West Coast swing.

On the other bench, the 19-15 Blazers have won eight games in a row at home and are 11-3 in their past 14 contests. They have a solid home record of 12-4.

Portland is led by 7th-year, 6’11” PF LaMarcus Aldridge. The team captain is the highest scoring 4-man in the league at 20.6 ppg, and he’s just one of four players in the NBA who average at least 20 points and 8 boards per game.

Also leading this surprising Portland squad is ROY frontrunner PG Damian Lillard. The 6’3” Oakland native was taken 6th overall in last spring’s draft and is putting up 18.2 ppg, 6.5 apg and 3.4 rpg. Importantly, each of the Trail Blazers starters is averaging double figures in points.

Portland last played on Monday at home beating the Orlando Magic 125-119 in OT. Aldridge had 27 points, 10 boards and 5 dimes while center J. J. Hickson went for 20 points and 15 boards. Amazingly, coach Terry Stotts’ team has gone 5-0 this season in games that boiled down to the five-minute bonus period.

On Tuesday, the struggling Heat lost at Indiana 87-77. The 77 points represent a season-low for Miami. The Big 3 scored 66, and the rest of the roster could only muster 11 points. As a team they shot a lousy 41.2 % and were outrebounded 55-36.

Tune in to TNT tonight at 10:30 PM ET to see if Miami can reverse their recent course and earn a road W.

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: 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.