You gotta love sports. Things happen one way.....then flip around the next day. Take these NBA Finals.
Last year, the last two NBA Champions, Spurs and Pistons, met in the Finals. This year, two franchises are making their first Finals appearances. That's the first time since 1971 that the NBA Finals pits two teams making their first Finals showings. Heck, it's only happened FIVE TIMES in NBA history.
And I will breakdown the matchups....but in this series, the matchups are a bit different. We all know who's better....Shaq v Diop, Dirk v Udonis....but breaking down other categories will be key.
THE OLD: But, that's the franchises. Pat Riley is coaching his third franchise to the Finals [Lakers, Knicks, Heat]. Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton are on the third Finals teams [Shaq-Magic, Lakers, Heat; Payton-Sonics, Lakers, Heat].
THE NEW: But stars Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki are making the first trips. As are the cities of Dallas and Miami, both NBA born in the 1980s.
AMERICAN AIRLINES RULES!: American Airlines should get a ton of publicity in this series. The Heat play in the AAA....American Airlines Arena. The Mavericks play in the AAC...American Airlines Center.
I USED TO BE OVER THERE: Antoine Walker was a Maverick in 2003-2004 and started all 82 games. He was dealt to Atlanta for Jason Terry. Del Harris, a Mavs assistant, was Shaq's coach in LA before Phil Jackson arrived.
BOTH FRANCHISES BIGGEST GAMES: Each game will be the most important in franchise history, since they haven't been this far before. Before these playoffs, the biggest Miami game was, well, Game 7 against the Pistons in last year's Eastern Conference Finals. The biggest game Dallas ever had was back in1988. A Game 7 loss to the LA Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers coach was Pat Riley.
THE TAR HEEL EFFECT: In 14 of the last 19 seasons, the NBA Champion has had a UNC Tar Heel on the roster. In 21 of the last 26 seasons....a Carolina player has been in the NBA Finals. In 7 of those 21 seasons, one of the head coaches in the NBA Finals was a Tar Heel [Billy Cunningham, George Karl, Larry Brown].
1980-Bobby Jones [Phil], Billy Cunningham [Phil-coach]
1982-Bobby Jones [Phil], Bob McAdoo [LAL], Mitch Kupchak [LAL], Billy Cunningham [Phil-coach]
1983-James Worthy [LAL], Bob McAdoo [LAL], Bobby Jones [Phil], Billy Cunningham [Phil-coach]
1984-James Worthy [LAL], Bob McAdoo [LAL], Mitch Kupchak [LAL]
1985-James Worthy [LAL], Bob McAdoo [LAL], Mitch Kupchak [LAL]
1987-James Worthy [LAL]
1988-James Worthy [LAL]
1989-James Worthy [LAL]
1991-Sam Perkins [LAL], Michael Jordan [Chi], Scott Williams [Chi]
1992-Michael Jordan [Chi], Scott Williams [Chi]
1993-Michael Jordan [Chi], Scott Williams [Chi]
1994-Kenny Smith [Hou], Pete Chilcutt [Hou]
1995-Kenny Smith [Hou]
1996-Michael Jordan [Chi], Sam Perkins [Sea], George Karl [Sea-coach]
1997-Michael Jordan [Chi]
1998-Michael Jordan [Chi]
2000-Rick Fox [LAL], Sam Perkins [Ind]
2001-Rick Fox [LAL], George Lynch [Phi], Larry Brown [Phil-coach]
2002-Rick Fox [LAL]
2004-Rick Fox [LAL], Rasheed Wallace [Det], Larry Brown [Det-coach]
2005-Rasheed Wallace [Det], Larry Brown [Det-coach]
2006-Jerry Stackhouse [Dall]
THE STARS OF DIRK NOWITZKI & DWAYNE WADE: You were already a star. Now you can become a legend. I mean, that's why Magic, Jordan, Bird, Shaq, Duncan, Russell and Kareem are so revered.....and guys like Ewing, Barkley, Malone and Stockton aren't as much. Not to say those guys in the latter category suck or didn't bring it when they had a shot....but taking your team to the next level is what it is about. That's where Dirk and Wade can go. And both could have very favorable matchups. Yes, Devin Harris is quick...but he can't guard Wade. Yes, Udonis Haslem is a warrior....but he can't guard Dirk. Both should be able to get theirs. Which means, when the game and series is on the line....who will make that play? This should be great to watch.
THE ULTIMATE KEY: SHAQUILLE O'NEAL: This is Shaq's series. And Shaq is in the first list above. Look at Shaq's Finals history. Look at the awards. Five appearances [now six] and three rings. He isn't the Shaq of those years...but he still is the best big man in the game. And he's shown that he can have a big game here and there. Well, in this series, Shaq goes against Diop who is a shot blocker only and not much else. Or against Erik Dampier, who Shaq lambasted a few years ago when it was suggested that The Damp Man was the 2nd best center in the league. Anyways, Dallas has no comeback for Shaq inside....so the ability of the Heat to use Shaq and Shaq's ability to make a difference will be the biggest key in this series. If Shaq plays well, Miami can win. If he doesn't, well, Miami may not have a shot.
THOSE ROLE GUYS: Role guys can become legends too. Guys like Kurt Rambis, Steve Kerr, Jim Paxson, Avery Johnson, Robert Horry, Vinnie Johnson and Derek Fisher. Well, the role guys for these teams have been outstanding. For Miami, Jason Williams and Antoine Walker have become the 3rd scorer to compliment Shaq and Wade. Guys like Haslem and Alonzo Mourning add some physical punch inside to help Shaq. And James Posey and Gary Payton are there for stretching defenses and playing defense. Over in Dallas, Devin Harris was a big sparkplug against the Spurs and Suns. Whenever Jerry Stackhouse brings it, Dallas usually wins. Diop has added a stopper in the lane for those driving guards the Mavs' have been seeing. Josh Howard has come up with some big scoring nights of late. Adrian Griffin and Marquis Daniels adds those just hustle stats that extend possessions and get turnovers. KVH [Van Horn] can make an appearance or two in this series with some key points.
THE COACHING OF PAT RILEY & AVERY JOHNSON. Johnson did win the Coach of the Year award....but he will have to admit the dropoff here. This will be Riley's 9th NBA Finals as head coach [1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1994, 2006]. Johnson has coached justover one full season in the NBA. But Johnson has shown a great mind for making adjustments. He isn't shy to the idea of changing his starting lineups or rotations mid-series. And, well, you saw how the Mavs played in the second half against the Suns in Game 6. Oh, and Johnson has a bit of Finals experience....leading the Spurs to the 1999 championship with the series clinching shot in Game 5. Still. Advantage Riley.
PREDICTION: This should be a fun series to watch. Bothteams are gelling nicely. Both teams have superstar players, fine offenses, a bit of defenses, smart coaches, and the whole deal. Dallas did pound the Heat in two meeting this season....but this Heat team looks so much different from those meetings. Heck, they look like a different team from the team they were in the Bulls series. But, I gotta go with the Mavericks. This team swept a darn, darn, darn good Memphis Grizzlies team. They knocked off the defending champion Spurs. And they really held down that hot Suns offense. They have the homecourt advantage, but it is their ability to win on the road that has really taken me to favor them. They've clinched the Grizz series in Memphis, the Spurs series in San Antonio and the Suns series in Phoenix. They are 6-3 on the road in these playoffs. Not bad. To me, that shows their toughness...something that this franchise has been knocked for in recent years. I'm picking the Mavericks in 6 games.
MORE TO COME....