The NBA Finals begin on Tuesday. I'm sure that most NBA experts did not expect the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks to be participants in this year's event at the beginning of the season. People doubted the Heat because of their lack of experience playing together after their new additions. People doubted the Mavs because they've grown used to expecting disappointment from them.
Despite predictions, both teams have arrived.
Here are the top story lines of the match up.
Dirk has been in the zone for much of the postseason. He has looked almost impossible to guard in both April and May. The Heat will look to slow him down in June. But who will take on the assignment of covering Dirk on defense is the question.
Udonis Haslem did a nice job at this when the two teams met in the Finals in 2006. He will certainly spend some time guarding him this series, but Dirk is playing with a tougher mentality than he was five years ago. Haslem won't be able to bully him around as much this time around.
LeBron James is another candidate. He has been on a defensive hot streak as of late, limiting the likes of Paul Pierce and Derrick Rose in the Heat's previous two series. Dirk is another kind of physical specimen than those two, however. His size and array of moves will be a lot more complex to get a grip on defensively. Not to mention, he also has the height advantage.
Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony will probably also spend some time on him. But only for brief stretches because Bosh is too weak and Anthony is too uncoordinated.
One option they do not have, however, is double teaming. Dirk's passing has been very accurate recently, and the Mavs are loaded with shooters.
Containing the seemingly limitless 7-footer is obviously one of the primary keys for Miami. Every inch of success for the Mavs begins with him.
Much like Dirk, LeBron has had an impressive postseason. In moments during games, he looks unstoppable scoring the ball.
DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion will most likely guard LeBron for the majority of minutes he's in the game.
Stevenson has a history of guarding him dating back to their meetings in two Wizards/Cavaliers playoff series in 2007 and 2008. The 6'5" guard has a tough and ruthless manner, and that could be what is needed to take on such a powerful force.
Marion has spent his entire career guarding a variety of positions, so taking on LeBron will be nothing new to him. His length is what he uses to his advantage when handling bigger opponents. Despite being a step slower than he once was, his presence will be felt.
Jason Kidd may see a few plays guarding him as well. It sounds crazy considering the height and age difference, but Kidd saw some success checking Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant the previous two rounds. This will be a tougher matchup, however, due to LeBron being quicker and more athletic than Bryant, and stronger than Durant.
Like the Mavericks with Dirk, the all things Heat begin with LeBron. Containing him to any degree is a plus.
We never stop hearing about the fact that LeBron has not won a championship. Being arguably the best basketball player on Earth is what makes it such a big deal.
His highly controversial move to Miami was made to win titles, even if it meant pissing people off.
That transaction has put him once again in a prime position to bring home the jewelry, and the whole sports world will begin to turn its focus on whether he can do it or not.
Dirk Nowitzki has spent the last month and a half on a redemption tour, playing with a new-found attitude while fighting off the all negative energy from critics that has surrounded him the last five years.
The final leg of the tour will be against the same team he faced when the negative energy began. Throughout these playoffs, he has been on a dominant tear that seems out of his usual character. Defeating the Heat for his long-awaited first title would be a perfect way to end this heavily criticized stretch of his career.
This championship round is heavily anticipated for two reasons.
Both conference champions have generated a flurry of buzz this postseason. The teams have been a part of some of the most exciting games the second season has had to offer. The two most compelling figures of the playoffs, Dirk and LeBron, are on each side. One could only hope that bringing these squads together will result in a Finals series for the ages.
The entire season, stretching from late October through the playoffs so far, has been more thrilling than last few. Regular-season TV ratings jumped 26 percent higher on TNT, 15 higher on ESPN, and 32 higher on ABC from the 2010 season. The overall number for the playoffs shot up 28 percent from last year. People nationwide have noticed the increase in intensity of the NBA product. One could also only hope that the Finals will have the same blueprint of all the games that have lead up to it.
With such a storyline-heavy event, anything short of a classic one would be a shame.
But no one is even contemplating that thought.