#3 Dallas Mavericks vs. #2 Miami Heat
The majority of basketball fans didn't want this to happen. The only people who did want to see this happen were the three fans in Miami, as well as the countless bandwagoners that just found out about Heat basketball in the last few weeks. The Miami Heat, a team thrown together over the summer of 2010, are just four wins away from an NBA championship. The only obstacle standing in their way is the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have long been known as chokers, including blowing a 2-0 series lead in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Heat. They are also known for their insufferable owner, Mark Cuban. However, over the last two months, Dirk Nowitzki has transformed himself from a good player known for loving David Hasselhoff music, to comparisons with Larry Bird. He is the torch bearer now for all of the fans that despise the...excuse me I just threw up in my mouth, Heatles.
The Heat seem to be the overwhelming favorites in this series and with good reason. They are the better team offensively and defensively. When you have two superstars on your team in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and someone who finally showed his worth in the Eastern Conference Finals in Chris Bosh, you become almost impossible to beat. Opponents of the Heat never catch a break, there is always a superstar out on the floor against them, no matter when one of the Big 2 1/2 takes a breather. The Heat disposed of the Bulls in 5 games because of the tremendous play of James and Bosh, but also because their rag tag bench stepped up as well. Udonis Haslem came back from the dead to carry the Heat late in Game 2, Mike Miller overcame personal adversity to ignite the Heat in Game 4. I railed on the Heat's bench but there is no denying that they came up huge in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Nowitzki has been incredible in the playoffs and the Mavericks bench has also been worth their weight. JJ Barea has been a spark plug off the bench for Dallas, while Jason Terry has hit big threes when needed. Shawn Marion has been steady on the defensive end, and also had a fantastic offensive game in the Game 5 clincher against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jason Kidd is still getting it done at a pretty ridiculous level for a 38-year-old point guard.
Matchups will be intriguing in this series. Will the Heat stick Lebron on Dirk, like they did with LeBron on the Bulls biggest weapon, Derrick Rose? LeBron won't have the huge size advantage he had against Rose, so the question is, would it even be worth sticking Lebron on Dirk? Can DeShawn Stevenson frustrate Wade at all? Wade was spotty during the Eastern Conference Finals, and won't be the guy that averaged 34 points a game in the Finals, like he did against the Mavericks in 2006. Can Nowitzki effectively guard Chris Bosh? One advantage Dallas has is that Dirk is comfortable out on the perimeter, and theoretically Bosh shouldn't have such an easy time shooting jumpers like he did against the Bulls. Can the Heat count on anything from Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers at the point guard position? Will Kidd perhaps get trigger happy with a fossil like Bibby guarding him? Will Bennett Salvatore ref any of the games and send Wade and Lebron to the line 150 times?
An interesting, but ultimately meaningless stat is that the Mavericks have beaten the Heat fourteen straight times in the regular season, including twice this year. The Mavericks will have to play stellar basketball this entire series to have a chance. They will have to play at the level they played in dismantling the Lakers. They won't be able to have any slip ups like they had against the Thunder, where they were able to come back late in games. As much as I want to deny it, and as much as it pains me to say, it is obvious the Heat are the best collection of talent in basketball. The Celtics set the blueprint by bringing together three superstars and the Heat winning the championship this season will make it the model of every team that has realistic hopes of a title. Bring a bunch of superstars together and you get to raise the Larry O'Brien trophy. Dirk can't do it all, and I expect him to actually be somewhat quieted in this series. The Heat will win in six, LeBron James will take home Finals MVP, and basketball fans everywhere will be saddened.
Prediction: Heat over Mavericks, 4-2