In a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, the Heat and Mavericks square off in Game 1 tonight in Miami.
Miami battled through a historic level of criticism and scrutiny but ultimately lived up to the hype by beating the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Many people wrote off Dallas as a pretender at the start of the postseason. Thanks to Dirk Nowitzki’s unstoppable play, the Mavs have had the best offense of the playoffs and a new-found level of confidence.
This was an unlikely NBA Finals match-up at the start of the playoffs, but not to worry. This is a series loaded with intriguing storylines. Here are the five biggest questions heading into this championship series.
Heat-haters and Mavericks fans are most concerned with the answer to this question.
Dirk Nowitzki is on an absolutely torrid pace this NBA postseason, worthy of comparisons to the greatest performances of all-time. He’s averaging 28.4 PPG in the playoffs. That’s right, averaging.
Against the Thunder, Dirk had games of 40 and 48 points, shooting an astounding 97 percent from the free throw line in the series. He has been the best player in the NBA playoffs hands down.
That being said, is his play going to put the Mavericks over the hump against the most talented team in the NBA? History dictates that one-man shows usually don’t.
Derrick Rose, the league MVP, was unstoppable during the regular season. However, Miami neutralized him in every key moment of the Eastern Conference Finals and defended him with the best player in the NBA, LeBron James.
Dirk is much more experienced than Rose, having played in the Finals before. His team is also much more experienced than Rose’s Bulls. But both teams only have one player who can create his own shots and score in a multitude of ways.
Will Dirk’s talents and late-game heroics overcome Miami’s stifling defense?
Miami is going to have some headaches trying to defend Dallas’ superstar.
In the Chicago series, Rose was evidently slowed down but not completely stopped. He still scored at least 20 points in every game, but he’s wasn't playing as well as Dirk Nowitzki.
Miami has three options at their dispense. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem will spend most of the game trading off guarding Dirk. Haslem has had a rebirth of sorts this postseason. His ability to defend big men has added a new element to Miami’s team allowing Bosh to guard lesser players.
The third option is LeBron James. If Miami follows their trends, James will be guarding Dirk in the fourth quarter and any other key situation. There is no player like James in the NBA and he will be Dirk’s toughest match-up on defense.
James cannot guard Dirk all game. It will be primarily up to Bosh and Haslem to stop Dirk for the majority of the game. Dirk has never played better basketball and this may prove to be a very tall order for the Heat.
Believe it or not this series will not be a 3-on-1 game between the team’s star players.
In all seriousness, the benches on both teams have played well in the playoffs. The Heat’s all-veteran specialist bench has finally lived up to their billing behind the likes of Mike Miller and Joel Anthony.
The Mavericks have used Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and DeShawn Stevenson very effectively to compliment Dirk’s stellar play. Marion had his best play in Game 4 against Oklahoma City when he swatted Kevin Durant’s three to send it to overtime.
We know Wade, James and Dirk are going to play well. But it take’s a team to win a championship. The role players will need to elevate their performances.
This has a lot to do with how Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle decide to coach this series. If their star players get in foul trouble, who will they trust to get the job done in their absence?
Remember that in Game 4 of the Lakers-Mavericks series the Mavericks bench outscored the Lakers team. Their role in this series is important and may be the deciding factor on who becomes an NBA champion.
77 percent of teams that won the NBA Finals had home-court advantage in the series. Miami has not lost a game at home dating back to April 6. They have the home court advantage for the Finals.
Dallas has won their last two series pretty convincingly, including an impressive sweep over the former champion Lakers. They have already won in hostile environments.
If Dallas could steal a game on the road, the Heat would be in an unfamiliar position. The Heat are already under tremendous pressure. Everybody expects them to win, especially at home.
The Mavericks can fly under the radar and play their game. Dirk and other Mavericks players have done a great job of getting to the free throw line in every game, which is key when you are playing the Heat.
The Mavericks will have to win a game in Miami to win the series, a feat no team has done in this postseason.
The formation of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last summer was the most infamous free agent signing spree in NBA history. Heat-haters and NBA analysts alike across the nation scoffed the notion that they could play as a team.
Say what you will about their egos, but the Big Three’s playoff performance has silenced all the doubters. In each series thus far, one member of the trio has not performed well while the other two flourish and carry the team at different points in the game.
Boston and Chicago are amongst the top defensive teams in the NBA. They both had no solution for slowing down all three players simultaneously on offense.
Dallas had good defense in the regular season, but almost of all of their playoff games have been 100+ point shootouts. Miami is too good defensively for the Mavs to consistently score 100 points a night.
No matter what Dirk and the Mavericks do they will be slowed down on offense at some point in this series. The question becomes can they slow down Miami’s three-headed monster enough as a defense to beat them?