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.

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.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Mavericks Game 2

The Heat got one back in Chicago last night, and the Thunder are hoping to do the same tonight in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Many thought the Mavs would come out rusty in Game 1 after such a long layover following their 4-game Lakers sweep. The Mavs took a quarter to play their way back into a rhythm and then proceeded to dispel those fears and demonstrate why they’re the No. 1 shooting team in the playoffs so far. Down 7 at the end of the first 12 minutes, the Mavs put up 35, 35 and 31 on the way to their seventh straight playoff win (121-112).

Although the NBA’s leading scorer Kevin Durant did his thing and put up 40, his impressive performance was overshadowed by future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki, who had a simply awesome game. Dirk erupted for 48 points and perfection at the line, draining 24 of 24 to set the NBA record for most consecutive free throws without a miss. Whatever you want to call him (The German Shepherd? The White Mamba? Ghost Face Drilla?), it’s clear that Dirk is on a mission to erase the Finals of 2006. Fortunately he doesn’t have to do it alone. Dallas also got two stellar performances off the bench from Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, who combined for 45 points. Terry (the only other player remaining from the 2006 roster) has had three tremendous games back-to-back. And the crafty, quick Barea put on another pick and roll clinic to come up with a career playoff high 21 points.

Though the Mavs played lights out, the Thunder kept coming back and Durant kept making tough shots to keep his team within striking distance in the fourth. KD needs to get more support from Westbrook and the other starters as well as the bench (who played very well in their seven-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies) if the Thunder are going to outscore this loaded Mavericks team. More importantly, the Thunder need to tighten up on defense and find an answer for Dirk because whatever they did in Game 1 wasn’t good enough. OKC gave up 121 points and allowed the Mavericks to shoot over 53% from the floor. It will be interesting to see what adjustments Coach Scott Brooks makes to their defensive schemes. We’ll probably see them double team Nowitzki more to try and get the ball out of his hands and force other guys like Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson to take shots.

OKC will try to tie up the series and steal home court advantage when the Thunder and Mavericks get it on again at 9:00 PM ET on ESPN.

Czar’s Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Mavs Western Conference Finals

The well-rested, third-seed Dallas Mavericks will host the battle-tested fourth-seed Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Coach Rick Carlisle’s veteran-laden Mavs squad has been off for nine days since shocking the 2X defending NBA Champ Los Angeles Lakers and most of the hoops universe by sweeping Phil, Kobe and company 4-0 in the semis. On the other hand, Coach Scott Brooks’ young Thunder had to battle through seven exhausting, high-intensity games including a historic 3-OT Game 4 victory in order to fend off an athletic, physical and relentless Memphis team in round 2.

This series represents a recent rarity in that neither the 4-banner San Antonio Spurs nor the 17-banner Lakers will be playing to represent the West in the NBA Finals. But each of this year’s title-hungry Western Conference finalists has its share of stars: 2nd Team All-League PG Russell Westbrook and 2X NBA Scoring champ, 1st Team All-League Kevin Durant light up the scoreboard nightly for OKC, while Dallas is led by 2nd Team All-League, 13th-year F Dirk Nowitzki, 10-time All-Star, 17th-year PG Jason Kidd, 11th-year combo-guard Jason Terry and 11th-year, 4-time All-Star combo-forward Sean Marion.

One major factor in this series is whether Dallas will be able to get themselves back into the in-game rhythm that enabled them to beat the Lakers in four straight with outstanding ball movement and 3-point marksmanship. And the Mavericks, who solidly defended against LA, must keep the young, up-and-down-the-94-feet-of-hardwood Thunder from scoring in transition. That will start with their offensive execution and whether or not they are able to make shots and create a tempo to their liking and tactical advantage.

Oklahoma City’s defense can be very impressive and smothering at times with their shot-blocking and active hands. They finished the 2011 regular season ranked second in the NBA in blocks and fifth overall in steals. The Thunder faced a very tough defensive team in Memphis with perimeter athletes galore and proved that they could execute their offense in the most hostile of environments. Their offense should be fine; it’s the Thunder’s team defense that will have to be sharp and tenacious to negate the Mavs’ varied offense led by the almost un-guardable shot-maker Nowitzki. Oklahoma City also must recover their mental focus and physical presence after such an intense battle to succeed in their first 2011 postseason series without home-court advantage.

These two teams played three times during the year with Dallas winning twice in Oklahoma and the Thunder beating the Mavs in Texas. So strangely, the road team prevailed each time. It’s been 131 calendar days since these talented foes last directly competed on January 6th. In the interim, Dallas’ starting SF Caron Butler’s season ended with a ruptured right patellar tendon, and the Thunder acquired C Kendrik Perkins from the Boston Celtics for F Jeff Green and C Nenad Krstic. So both sides will be sporting new, practiced and refined sets since they last played.

This series has a multitude of the NBA’s best players and will highlight the contrasting styles of a young, athletic, energy-fueled Thunder team against a savvy, veteran been-there-almost-done-that (see 2006 NBA Finals) Mavericks group. Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tips off in Big D at 9PM ET on ESPN.