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.

Gameday Dish: Lakers vs. Heat

The Los Angeles Lakers, 46-19, come to south Florida tonight riding an eight-game winning streak. The Miami Heat, 43-21, are on a season-worst five-game losing skid. Arguably, both squads lead their respective conferences in number of bright lights and legions of ‘opinionaires’ that follow them closely no matter where and when they play across the NBA league-scape. And tonight when they tip-off at the American Airlines Arena, the sum of these attention-circuses will be even greater than the parts themselves.

40-year-old Miami third-year head coach Erik Spoelstra took his Heat team into SoCal on Christmas Day and bested the Lakers at Staples 96-80. The Heat were led by two-time reigning league MVP LeBron James’ 27 points and 10 dimes. Eighth-year 6’11” PF Chris Bosh pulled down 13 boards in that holiday victory in front of Tinsel Town’s glitterati. Miami outscored LA in every quarter in that first of two meetings this 2010-2011 season.

These two combatants are eerily similar statistically at this point. Both sit in the 3-spot in their NBA conferences. The Lakers average 101.8 ppg and the Heat put up 101.5 ppg. LA has limited opponents to 95.2 ppg, while Miami has held their foes to 95.0 ppg. And both teams lead their divisions, going 9-3 against their Southeast and Pacific rivals respectively. Los Angeles also has its own ‘Big 3’ in Bryant-Gasol-Odom, whom coach Phil Jackson relies on for the crucial statistics of points, rebounds and assists only slightly less than Spoelstra depends on the production of the James-Wade-Bosh triumvirate.

However, the macro-view of this matchup reveals some major differences – most noticeably the Title differential. Future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant has five Championship rings, while LeBron James, in his eighth season, has no rings and only one Finals appearance in 2007, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept 4-love by San Antonio. The Lakers have been the last team standing in 16 NBA campaigns – the Miami Heat only once, in 2006. Phil Jackson has 13 Championship rings (2 as a player and a record-11 as a coach) and won his very first title as a player on the 1970 New York Knicks, six months before Erik Spoelstra was born.

Heat team President Pat Riley, a seven-time NBA Champ (1 as a player and 6 as a coach) and fellow 1967 NBA Draft class alum along with University of North Dakota’s Jackson, will surely be watching intently from his perch in the Triple-A tonight. Many paid and amateur observers of Dr. Naismith’s game have been speculating on the Heat’s recent tumble and whether the ‘bench-dynamic’ in Miami needs tweaking. No doubt LA will go after Miami like a lion pursuing a wounded prey. The big question is how will the Heat respond? The stage is set for a riveting drama to unfold live on TNT when the Miami Heat host the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at 7:00 PM ET.

Gameday Dish: Heat at Celtics Season Opener

The Heat and the Celtics have their eyes on the same prize: getting to and winning the NBA Finals in June. The Lakers will be showing off their newly acquired championship rings in a pregame ceremony at the Staples Center tonight and appear ready to threepeat for another title and more bling.

Rings, this game is all about championship rings: LeBron on the beach looking for that first ring; Shaq in Boston determined to get championship number five to keep up with his former teammate and now trophy rival Kobe Bryant.

The finals are a very long, arduous regular season away. But there’s the type of buzz surrounding the start of this season that we usually don’t encounter until playoff time. And tonight’s opener between the Celtics and Heat features two teams at the center of the drama as the Celtics’ Big Three Pierce, Garnett and Allen prepare to do battle with Miami’s newly formed triumvirate of James, Wade and Bosh for Eastern Conference supremacy

Tonight’s matchup will put into motion the many exciting subplots set to play out this season. Will D-Wade occupy seat 1 or seat 2? Will Rajon Rondo make the proverbial jump to superstar? How will Kendrick Perkins’ injured knee and his mid-season return to the starting lineup affect the Celts? Will Miami’s supporting cast surrounding the stars step up and deliver? Will Coach Doc Rivers be happy with his big decision to come back to the Boston bench after the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in last year’s Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. And how will second-year head coach Erik Spoelstra lead his new awesome threesome?

Did I mention LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and the Heat?

The biggest star in professional basketball (professional sports?) leaves his almost-hometown team (the Akron Cavs?) via a prime-time television special and relocates to flashy, splashy Miami to join forces with D-Wade, Chris Bosh and Pat Boss, aka team president Pat Riley.

Some prognosticators have been throwing around the Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Champion Chicago Bulls and their 72-10 all-time best regular season mark as a measuring stick for this Miami team. Jordan, Pippen and Rodman … James, Wade and Bosh – different eras, different players for sure, but similar expectations in many fans’ and even experts’ minds.

Anything less than a dominating start of the season in the wins column will be viewed as a letdown for this newer than new Miami Heat squad.  Expectations of success are higher than maybe any team has shouldered since those mid-to-late 90’s Bulls teams that won three titles back-to-back-to-back.

The Celtics on the other hand, having won the crown in 2008 with what was then considered a veteran team, are statistically the oldest team in the NBA and may be forgiven for some regular season stretches of sub-par play due to wear and tear.

However, Boston fans could taste franchise-record title 18 until the final, final moments of Finals’ Game 7 last year and are hungry for another championship banner to add to the Celtics’ collection in the rafters of the TD Garden.

The quest for the coveted 2011 NBA Championship ring starts tonight. Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and I have Miami Heat at Boston Celtics at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.