A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

NBA Finals preview: How Dallas can beat Miami

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Dirk Nowitzki playing with the Dallas Mavericks

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So here we are in the Finals with the second Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks matchup in 5 years. I have to admit, as good as these playoffs have been, there’s something weirdly underwhelming about these two teams making the Finals compared to usual. Neither of them have wowed me despite a 12-3 record for both teams getting here. Both teams teams grind it out defensively and have their stars make the right plays to win the game. Both are here in large part to other team’s flaws – Essentially every team in this playoffs have had flaws.

Miami will be the clear favorite. With the way they dispatched Boston and Chicago, it certainly looks like there’ll be no stopping the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh express for a number of years. Here’s why I think Dallas has a reasonable shot:

Miami has been far from spectacular offensively

Miami’s success is overwhelmingly based on defense. The Heat have scored over 100 points in regulation just 2 times in these playoffs and have yet to break the 105 mark. Unbelievably, they scored 85 points or fewer in regulation 4 of the 5 Chicago games and still closed out the Bulls in 5. True, they’d played 3 great defensive teams in Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago – teams designed to stop a perimeter offense. But the ball doesn’t move that well for them, partly because they’re playing a 2 or 3 on 5 style most of the game.  Teams know Lebron and Wade will be pounding it most of the game. Furthermore virtually every Miami supporting player is a disaster offensively. Before the playoffs I said a major Bulls weakness is that they could only win 95 to 90 or 90 to 85 type games, they didn’t have a “you have 100, we’ll just score 105” gear. Could the same apply to the Heat? The Mavericks have scored 100 points  7 times in regulation in these playoffs, including 4 of the 5 games against the Thunder. If Dallas keeps filling it up, the Heat may need a 105 to 100 type game in their most crucial moment –  a gear they haven’t shown yet these playoffs. Don’t be confused by Miami’s star power, they are far from an offensive powerhouse. They are not the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. They are more like the 1998 Chicago Bulls who were running on fumes offensively and had to rely on defense, grit, and Jordan and Pippen doing whatever it takes against the Pacers and Jazz.

The Mavericks’ offense is not what Miami specializes in defending

What Miami’s defense is dominant against is perimeter ballhandling and stars. Lebron, Wade and Bosh’s speed and length on the perimeter locks up anyone who drives into the paint. This made them an ideal matchup against the Bulls, who’s overwhelmingly “Rose drives and creates” based offense was made to be swallowed up by perimeter athleticism. Unsurprisingly the Bulls averaged a shade under 81 points a game in regulation in their 4 losses. If you don’t move the ball against Miami they’ll destroy you.

Dallas on the other hand is a dominant ball moving team. Every player on the floor is exceptional at making the right pass and particularly finding the open 3. Double teaming Dirk Nowitzki is usually a bad idea, they’ll make the extra pass or two and before you know it Jason Kidd, Jason Terry or Peja Stojakovic is taking a wide open 3. Dallas doesn’t have a drive and dish star for Lebron and Wade’s help defense to swallow up on the perimeter. Instead those guys will be forced to cover stand still 3pt shooters and out of the play. For Lebron and Wade it’ll be pick your poison. They can attack the paint in help defense as they do so well, but in doing so open the 3pt line for Dallas. Or they can stay on the shooters, which neutralizes their tenacious rotating defense. This is also why Dallas was so succesful against Oklahoma City offensively – The Thunder like Miami specialized in using their perimeter defensive speed to swallow up teams with perimeter ballhandlers. The Mavericks spread them out and made them chase around spot up 3pt shooters, which made their defense look a lot more ordinary and tame even with Nick Collision doing an excellent job guarding Dirk for large portions of the series. The Mavericks ball moving, spread offense takes away the athleticism X factor of the Thunder and Heat defense.

If I’m Miami my defensive gameplan is to cover the Mavericks’ 3 pt shooters and live with what Dirk does offensively. This should work to an extent but it depends on whether Chris Bosh can play Dirk as well as Nick Collision did. And still even if they do follow through with the play Dirk straight up, let the 3pt shooters be covered strategy – It may be hard to stop the ball from moving towards the open shooter and the Mavericks from scoring 100. This series in my opinion will come down to how well the Heat defend the Mavericks. I believe we can expect the Mavericks to hold the Heat to a mid 90s score consistently as virtually everyone in these playoffs have. If the Heat can’t hold down the Mavericks offense, they will lose.

My prediction

I’m leaning towards either Dallas in 5 or Miami in 7. For one reason, that’d mean a homecourt closeout with the 2-3-2 home game schedule in the Finals. Secondly, I feel like if Dallas is better and the matchups favor them as I suspect it might, their superiority will be outright. If Miami wins I could see a breakdown similar to the last finals, with the teams going 1-1 in Miami, Dallas taking 2 of 3 at home to go up 3-2, then Miami squeaking in Game 6 and 7 victories.

So I’m going to split the difference and go with neither of those predictions. I’ll take Dallas in 6. Dallas has proven they can get the big road win as shown by their 2 big wins in Oklahoma City last series and 2 opening wins in Los Angeles the series before, as well as closing out Portland in the 1st round in Round 1. I’m seeing Dallas split in Miami, take 2 of 3 at home to go up 3-2, then get the shocking close out win in Game 6.

A final note: The breaks of the game

I want to mention two breaks that allowed Dallas and Miami to get here. Both involve the Toronto Raptors.

Before the season, Charlotte and Toronto agreed on a trade of Boris Diaw and Tyson Chandler for Jose Calderon and Reggie Evans. It was reported as done and waiting for the papers to go through in the media and ESPN. Virtually any of the time that happens, the trade goes through. Then Michael Jordan got on the phone and rescinded the trade before its finalization. A few days later Chandler was traded again to Dallas for the Erick Dampier unguaranteed contract. Chandler’s acquisition is in my opinion the key move that got Dallas here.

Now for the Heat’s side: Miami has home court advantage in this series – and it’s almost incredible how they got it. In the final game of the season – a road game against Raptors, the Heat needed a win to ensure homecourt advantage in the event of meeting Dallas in the Finals. Perhaps arrogantly not fearing a Mavericks matchup in the Finals, Miami rested Lebron, Wade, Bosh and Mike Miller, leaving a starting lineup of Mike Bibby, Eddie House, James Jones, Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, with the elite foursome of Juwan Howard, Jamaal Magloire, Mario Chalmers and Dexter Pittman manning the bench. The Raptors did not play full strength, but gave 35 minutes+ to DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless, and Ed Davis, 3 major contributers. They really should’ve cleaned out the Heat’s ridiculed bench at home. But the Heat managed to win a 97-79 game with House’s 35 leading the way. A month and a half later, that little meaningless season ending game has given the Heat home court advantage and may swing the 2011 title.

In both cases, both teams caught one of the breaks of the game. I suspect the title winner in this series may catch another to get it.

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Written by jr.

May 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm

8 Responses

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  1. I’m pickin the heat. I think their offensive struggles had more to do with Boston and Chicago than anything else (Miami’s had the 3rd best offensive efficiency this season). Dallas had a difficult time containing Harden – who do they have that can guard either Wade or LeBron?

    Mike

    May 29, 2011 at 8:46 pm

  2. Damn, nice catch with the Toronto game. I’m all for disrespecting the value of regular season results, but that game is pretty important. HCA makes me confident that Miami will win.

    Imo, Dallas got kind of lucky in that they faced teams that either weren’t fast enough on the perimeter for closeouts or were too lazy/committed numerous turnovers and were killed on secondary breaks by the Maverick shooters. You can’t give Dallas quick, easy shots, because they’re a halfcourt-oriented team. Miami has the personnel and the strategy (they get back) to shut that down. That’s why Miami wins imo.

    Ronnymac2

    May 29, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    • Elgee’s got a nice post along those lines on Back Pickss

      Ravenred

      May 29, 2011 at 11:59 pm

  3. This is exactly why I think the Mavs can beat the Heat. I wasn’t impressed by the Heat offense at all and I think the Mavs will feel pretty comfortable defending them.

    JCR

    May 30, 2011 at 12:49 am

  4. Interesting – I think it will be a close series, even if Dallas can exert some of those advantages you allude to. Why? Don’t underestimate Wade and James and it’s unlikely the Mavs shoot so well from the 3 with all those athletes chasing them everywhere.

    If I were picking, it would be Miami because of HCA — 2-3-2 is brutal on road team — so I thought that Breaks of the Game section was fantastic. I forgot about that…

    ElGee

    May 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    • This is what my initial analysis was like. I find it really weird that we thought about the same exact thing.. or maybe this is the only way Dallas could win that our predictions could not be anything else but similar. I did think that if Dallas were to win, it had to be in 5, because winning either game 6 or 7 in Miami is going to be very difficult. Given their track record in close out games though, I think that if they go up 3-1, game 5 is going to be their easiest game in the series. Also, after watching game 2 and seeing the staggered screen strategy, it makes me think that they can win again on the road in case they only take 2 out of 3 at home. Seeing how Stojakovic and Barea haven’t really joined the offensive for Dallas YET, I’m a little surprised that they were able to split the first two in Miami. That game 2 win really changed the dynamics of this series. X’s and O’s aside, I think the Mavs are in a much better place mentally and will be able to handle whatever Miami deals them. I say that based on the way they won game 2. With Dirk hitting the game winning shot even after struggling in the first 3 quarters, I expect him to be the MOST confident man on the court come Sunday. When Dirk is on an offensive groove, the rest of the Mavericks start rolling as well, and the open shots that Stojakovic and Barea missed in the first two games will not be an issue. I’ll stick with my prediction that the Mavs take this series in 5, this time, with a lot more conviction.

      Juannn

      June 3, 2011 at 9:21 pm

  5. […] reading Julien’s piece analyzing the Mavericks and the Heat. He made some points I’d have made had he not beat me to […]

  6. Based on Evan Zamir’s research Miami’s defensive strength was defending inside- from penetrating perimeter players and other wise. Dallas’ offense used a lot of 3 pt shots but actually got most of its strength from mid-range.
    http://apbr.org/metrics/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=316&sid=64f15247fea422bd90952c6ba082c3c4
    http://apbr.org/metrics/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=314&sid=64f15247fea422bd90952c6ba082c3c4

    Crow

    November 6, 2011 at 2:58 pm


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