The hysteria is palpable and justified.
A day after advancing to the NBA Finals to face the Dallas Mavericks, people are talking about the unstoppable force on the Beach, how LeBron James is the better than MJ and how Pat Riley is the Dalai Lama of the NBA.
A sobering look at what's happened this year reveals that the Miami Heat are a great team that's only going to get better. But they are not invincible or unstoppable.
They have had a tremendous amount of luck and that's not an insult to them. You need luck: luck like Jordan had in the '90s against the Phoenix Suns in the Finals (a series that was closer than it looks); luck like Kobe had against the Sacramento Kings when Robert Horry comes off the bench and makes a game-winning three-point shot in the Western Conference finals.
But luck can run for or against a team. Here are six ways the Dallas Mavericks can get their own luck going in these Finals.
Against Derrick Rose, the Heat knew that no one defender would be able to handle the MVP for four quarters. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra opted for using multiple defenders, double-teams and traps.
If Dallas wants to win, they have to throw waves of bodies at LeBron James. Double-team him at the top of the key and force the ball out of his hands. Fortunately, Dallas has a deeper bench and can use all of them. Odds are LeBron is still going to torch the defense, but this strategy makes it more difficult for him to get his teammates going.
Do not let him dribble for 15 seconds at the top of the key and scan the floor. And don't let him go left. Easier said than done, but LeBron has shown—amidst clutch shots—that he still turns the ball over late in games if pressure is applied.
At this level, it's the talent that matters most. The coach is mostly managing, adjusting and tweaking.
But in the Chicago-Miami series, there were constant themes in the fourth quarter's waning minutes.
Miami had a foul to give, Chicago did not. Miami always had a 20-second timeout and a full, Chicago mostly had one 20-second and sometimes had no timeouts. Miami players were rested and kicking it to another gear, Chicago players looked gassed, tired and ragged.
Turnovers happen when players are gassed—bad shots, stagnant thinking. Chicago was plagued with all of this repeatedly and some errors in game management cost Chicago at least one game, if not two.
This will not happen in the Mavs series. Down the stretch, the Mavs will have a full timeout and a foul to give. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle will manage the minutes of veterans and lean heavily on the bench. In fact, he'll have to overcompensate for their age by doing a better managing job than Erik Spoelstra.
Spoelstra might have to, in turn, open up his rotation to one or two other players in the first half and early third quarter. Maybe Erick Dampier will get 7-10 minutes now? Maybe they let James Jones back on the floor?
But I don't think the Heat can do as well with an eight-man rotation in this series. They're going to need three-point shots from Eddie House or Jones. They're going to need another big body to spell Joel Anthony.
It's these little things which give you four or five extra points in the fourth quarter and can mean all the difference in a close battle.
The Heat are at their defensive worst when a point guard is penetrating and kicking out to the three-point shooter. This is a high-risk, high-reward scenario (just ask Orlando).
Dallas is going to have to lean heavily on their guards penetrating and shooters hitting. Fortunately, Dallas has the best shooters out of the final four. Unfortunately, shooters tend to falter in high-pressure situations.
Dallas has to keep the ball moving, fluid and not allow the Heat's big wings (LeBron, Wade and Mike Miller—yes, Miller!!!) to start locking down on their older players. If so, they stand a chance.
Heat center Joel Anthony is one of the most effective defensive players in the league. He was actually rated as the most efficient center at some points in the playoffs. He likes to bump opponents off their rolls and he's lethally quick at double-teaming and getting back to his initial assignment. On a team with three stars, Anthony is the quiet key in the middle.
But both Anthony and Chris Bosh are less effective when the opponent's bigs are making constant cutting moves to the basket. Dirk Nowitzki likes to stand and shoot off balance. But if he can get a few more plays run toward the basket, he can upset the inside of the Heat defense.
Chris Bosh is a lot more than scoring: He is a mid-range killer. Once he gets his jumper going, he then pump fakes, drives to basket, opens up lanes for Wade and then requires a double-team.
But Bosh can be nudged out of his comfort spaces on the floor.
And whatever you do, don't insult his manhood, call him soft or imply that he's only half a star. That only makes LeBron key on him and rack up assists. Bosh is an All-Star—a very good All-Star who has outplayed Kevin Garnett and Carlos Boozer in the playoffs.
Look, over the course of a seven-game series, the Miami Heat have a significant advantage. Dallas' staff knows this. Miami's staff knows this. Las Vegas knows this as the Heat are two-to-one favorites.
If Dallas tries to bang in the paint, they will lose. If they try to pit Dirk against LeBron, they are going to lose. If they try to get out and run, they will lose.
The one playoff game the Bulls won against the Heat, they shot and hit several three-point shots late. The one game the Celtics won against the Heat, they blew them out with long-distance shooting. The one game the Philadelphia 76ers won was with outside shooting.
See the pattern? Miami has lost three games so far in the playoffs against three teams, but all in the same way.
Dallas shooters need to spend those extra hours in the gym. Some nights their shots aren't going to fall, but they can't lose confidence. They have more talent than the Bulls, Celtics and 76ers. The Mavs are more skilled, hungry and confident than any team the Heat have faced so far.
Winning against the Heat in the playoffs is rare, but not impossible.