In the final regular season meeting of last year’s NBA Finals teams, the Dallas Mavericks will revisit the site where they won the franchise’s only championship.
The team enters the contest against the Miami Heat as winners in six of their past eight—with losses coming at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
The Mavericks close the season with nine games against playoff teams, so a win against last year’s Eastern Conference champions could go a long way in regard to their title defense.
After starting the week off with consecutive losses, the Heat find themselves four games behind the Chicago Bulls for the top seed out east.
The Heat managed to lose both contests by a combined 31 points—marking the first time in the Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh era where they have suffered back-to-back defeats of double-digits.
To make matters worse, James—the team’s leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals—suffered from a dislocated left ring finger in the first quarter of their most recent loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Although he won’t miss any time, you can certainly count on the injury to affect his play.
With all the preliminaries spelled out, it almost seems as if this match-up is tailor-made for a Dallas victory.
Not only do the Mavericks have one of the worst road records of all playoff-caliber teams at 10-14, but Miami also boasts the best home record in the entire league.
It’s true that Dirk Nowitzki was able to use South Beach as a platform in last year’s NBA Finals to cement his status as one of the greatest power forwards of all time. However, this year has been drastically different.
Aside from an in-season benching to improve his conditioning, Nowitzki and his teammates have looked completely out of synch on the road and just plain bad on offense.
The Mavericks are heavily reliant upon perimeter-based scoring and struggle to find interior points that don’t come off dribble-penetration.
Don’t expect this trend to change against a Miami defense that ranks ninth in points allowed and features the NBA’s best trio of outside defenders.
Mario Chalmers has looked bad against athletic point guards like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, but should have no problem staying in front of the aging Jason Kidd.
Regardless of Chalmers’ performance, I fully expect head coach Erik Spoelstra to tamper with his defensive assignments if this contest remains competitive until the fourth quarter. By switching LeBron onto the opponent’s primary ball-handler, Miami should be able to disrupt an offense that averages 92.7 points away from home.
If Dallas hopes to stand any chance, it will require newly acquired Lamar Odom to break out of his season-long funk that has him putting up the worst numbers of his 12-year career.
It will be up to Odom to exploit Miami’s glaring weakness on defense. If he can advance the ball from the perimeter into the paint whether it be by catching the ball in the post or driving off the dribble is irrelevant. All that matters is that he creates opportunities against a Miami defense that is susceptible to "scramble mode".
If this ballgame becomes a track meet early, look for the “Heatles” to run away in a blowout.
As the athletically superior team, Miami should look to push the tempo whenever they can and score easy baskets in transition.
Without a shot-blocking presence, Dallas will be exposed inside.
Once the Mavs become overwhelmed in their defensive one-on-one match-ups, expect Rick Carlisle to change the pace of the game by switching to the zone—which will test Miami’s patience and discipline on offense.
Due to an ankle injury, the Heat will be without Mike Miller, the league’s top three-point shooter and designated “zone-buster”. This will thrust Chalmers into Miller’s glorified role.
How he responds just might determine the entire outcome of the game.
While this NBA Finals match-up is full of unpredictable factors such as player performances, the only thing it can guarantee is that the outcome of the game won’t determine this year’s champion.