A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

6 Finals thoughts and a prediction

with 2 comments

Alright, I’m running way behind schedule, so this will be right quick.

Loved reading Julien’s piece analyzing the Mavericks and the Heat. He made some points I’d have made had he not beat me to it, and some other great points I wouldn’t have made.

Here are some other finals previews I enjoyed reading.

On my mind:

1. Miami certainly appears to have played the tougher playoff schedule by a good amount, and they’ve looked more in control as they’ve done it. Not to take anything away from the Mavs who are 12-3 in the post-season just like the Heat, but they were a few bounces away from being down 2-1 in the Laker series instead of up 3-0, and maybe a single bounce away from losing 2 of 3 at home against Oklahoma City. Add in that the Heat clearly have more talent and have home court advantage:

If Dallas wins this series, it will be a pretty staggering achievement and a substantial upset.

2. Of course while saying that, as a guy who championed Dirk Nowitzki‘s MVP candidacy, I realize that until they stumbled down the stretch, the Mavericks had a far superior record when Dirk played compared to the Heat. Why shouldn’t a team that regains that form be able to win?

3. Dallas’ offense has been far better than any other offense in the post-season. It’s easily the most noteworthy team statistical trend of the playoffs, significantly more noteworthy that the Heat continuing to play elite but not men-among-boys level defense. You cannot chalk this offensive success of the Mavs up to playing weak defenses. The Mavericks have only played above average defenses, and yet still their offensive efficiency is up almost 5 points in the post-season.

The big question of the series then seems to be whether the Heat’s stellar defense can really do a number on Dallas’ offense.

4. And specifically there it becomes a matter of answering two questions: 1) How will the Heat defend Dirk? and 2) How effective will the Heat’s defensive speed be in closing up defensive holes rapidly enough to prevent open looks?

At this point, I’m inclined to say that no one distorts a defense more than Nowitzki, and he does this remarkably not with speed, but simply with his mere presence and the fact that he’s so adept at shot creation, shot making, and passing. It’s entirely possible that the Heat will be able to be too fast for the Mavs offense, but when you watch the seemingly slow-motion moves of Dirk, you’d think any NBA defense would be able to do the same, and nothing could be further from the truth.

It will be fun to watch who gets the Dirk assignment. LeBron James? Chris Bosh? Udonis Haslem…again? Whoever does has a chance to earn some immortality if he succeeds brilliantly. Were it to be James, after his performance against Derrick Rose, it would probably be the single biggest story of the playoffs, and would catapult his reputation to the point that he’d become a serious DPOY contender from here on out.

5. Of course with all that I haven’t talked about the Heat’s offense. The reality is that the Heat have never lived up to my hopes as on offensive team. I say that while knowing that they finished 3rd in offensive efficiency in the regular season. Their separation over an average NBA offense remains only about half what the Phoenix Suns of last year achieved. And while they have been facing tremendous defenses in the playoffs, using that as an excuse for why their offense isn’t in Dallas’ league currently is silly given that they have no track record as a truly legendary offense.

If the Heat continue to play like they have been, it’s unreasonable to expect the Mavs’ defense to be so weak that the Heat will dominate them. The Heat’s road to success certainly appears to be through the mantra of “Defense Wins Championships”.

6. However I’ll throw the last caveat in: With the Heat, we continue to have reason to believe they have another gear on offense. They have the talent to be all-time great as an offensive unit, and when we see performances like their closeout of the Chicago Bulls in game 5, seeing that come to fruition seems tantalizingly close. I won’t claim certainty that the Heat can’t achieve this in the Finals, but I will say that if that ends up winning them the series, I can’t take seriously anyone saying “Told you so”. As of right now, the Heat’s actual play tells us that it is defense where they are truly dominant. A claim that the Heat’s offense cannot be stopped is based not on detailed analysis but hope and mythology.

Prediction: Heat in 7. As mentioned, the Mavs really have to be considered an underdog given all the circumstances. While I don’t expect the Heat’s defense to shut down the Mavs offense like they did the other opponents they face, if the Thunder can keep it close with the Mavs, hard to imagine the Heat can’t do the same thing. I’ll give the Mavs the compliment of saying I respect them enough to draw the series out, but in the Heat, I see the superior talent and superior HCA’d Heat coming out on top.

Written by Matt Johnson

May 31, 2011 at 6:26 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Heat in 6/7 is looking pretty good right now. Though what I saw in G1 was Terry, Peja and Barea missing a ton of open shots despite a very well run offense – that’s the rub of relying on 3pt shots. I’m not sure whether to treat that as a “The Mavericks blew their best oppurtunity to steal a Miami home game” or “If they keep playing like that Dallas will beat them” sign. G2 will show more I’m sure

    Julien Rodger

    June 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm

  2. Well… either the Mavs scoring roleplayers stop blowing relatively open shots (I’m not absolutely sure they haven’t been affected by the dreaded big-stage pressure) or Dirk goes Epic. He wasn’t in game one, although he played reasonably well whilst being defended fairly effectively.

    If the Dallas shooters actually start dropping a few shots and causing the Heat to check them more closely, Dirk might be able to insert that sneaking uncertainty into the minds of the defenders and distort the defense to his own advantage. As you say, the Heat in a slightly extended series is still the most likely outcome.


    June 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm

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