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2011 NBA Playoffs: The Real Winner of the Postseason? NBA History

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 20:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat passes over Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks  during a game at American Airlines Arena on December 20, 2010 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Joseph FafinskiCorrespondent IMay 26, 2011

At this point in time, I'm not sure anyone would doubt the inclusion of Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James as all-time greats in NBA history.

James has already made his way into the top 25, and Nowitzki is, in my humble opinion, around the number 40 or so, surrounded by the likes of George Gervin, Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson.

This postseason has presented us with a fresh crop of players looking for their first title.

Did you know this is the first Finals since 1990 that doesn't feature Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'Neal suiting up?

Rather than players furthering their already-legendary status, we have a fresh breed of bona fide stars attempting to take it to the next level.

How great is this for the NBA?

Two of its biggest stars (LBJ and Dirk), who have been for so long tormented for their apparent "un-clutchness," will most likely (this is, of course, assuming the Bulls don't come back, but if they do, 50 percent of this article would become irrelevant) face off on basketball's greatest stage.

Sure, it's always fun to see Kobe Bryant duel with the Celtics, but how much more of that can we take?

The Mavericks and the Heat, the same two who played in the '06 Finals (but with recognizably different rosters), are under pressure for their own reasons—the former for failing to come through in the past and the latter for being a "superteam." 

Judging by the way this postseason has gone thus far, I'd say we're in for a treat.

Both of these players are playing tremendously this postseason, and Nowitzki has quickly shed the soft label that he has carried on his back for years.

Scoring 48 points on 15 shots isn't anything to shy away from either.

It's not like James is lagging, though. The Akron native is averaging 25.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists, but it doesn't end there. He has made countless plays defensively, including relentlessly preventing Derrick Rose from draining the game-winner in Game 4 of the Eastern Finals.

We in turn will see a star boost his status from superstar to legendary, barring that the series itself will be a dud. 

What's that? Dallas has another star fighting for his first title, too?

He ain't as good as he once was, but Jason Kidd is another guy whose status among the greats will improve. His shot is better now than it ever was in New Jersey, and he can still play defense.

The more I think about it, maybe it was good for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be overthrown by the Mavs last night.

In turn, it gives Dallas a chance to win their first title with an aging roster (Tyson Chandler is the only starter under 30, and even he's 28) that is loaded with former All-Stars (there are five in total, and Jason Terry isn't among them for some reason).

It's not like the Thunder won't get another chance, in fact, I can almost assure you they will win a title within the next decade.

Nowitzki is a guy who is revered in Dallas, a man who has changed the Dallas Mavericks forever—by himself.

Conversely, we have a guy who almost single-handedly sent the city of Cleveland into a forensic depression. LeBron James is out to avenge those who say he isn't fit to win a championship, and with experienced players like Dwyane Wade (a title-winner in '06) it isn't out of question at all.

We've learned a lesson quickly this season: if surrounded by the right cast, LeBron James is capable. LeBron James is a stellar teammate. LeBron James, while not the most liked player in the NBA, is on his way to legendary status. That much we cannot deny.

Right as he uttered the now famous phrase "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," James objectified himself as the most hated player in the league, a guy who everyone loves to root against. Unless, of course, you're among the five million bandwagon fans of the Miami Heat—that means you, Peter.

I can't believe how exciting this is for the league. Two of the top 10 players in the league, the two guys who long so much for a title, and now they have a chance to meet.

The ultimate fate of the 2011 postseason, while not completely clear, is now imminent—Dirk Nowitzki or LeBron James will be christened into basketball heaven forever.

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