Monday, May 30, 2011

Dirk Takes His Talents to South Beach

This has the potential to be a great NBA finals, both on the court and in terms of "story lines," which I normally dread in sports. The Mavs being here was considered by most to be highly unlikely, so we didn't have a lot of time to anticipate or get used to the idea of a rematch of the 2006 finals. But what a great rematch.

In '06, as everyone knows, the Mavs collapsed and lost four straight after being up 2 games to 0 and leading by double digits late in Game 3. The other story was — oh, wait, I think a ref from '06 just called someone else for fouling Dwyane Wade — the officiating. The Mavs totally blew their collective top and deserved to lose that series, but even neutral observers noticed the whistles. I can vividly remember, in Game 6 in Dallas, one play where, just before pulling up for a jumper, Wade nearly fully extended his arm into a defender, and the foul went the other way. Star treatment in the NBA is part of the game, but this was something different, something bizarre.

That series was gut-wrenching on so many levels. Game 4 was — almost inevitably, after the disaster in Game 3 — a blowout by the Heat. But in the other three Miami wins, the total differential was six points (including a 101-100 overtime Game 5). The next season, the Mavericks lost their first four games, and then played the next 78 as if each one could somehow erase the previous season's result, finishing 67-15, tied for the sixth most regular-season wins in league history. They then lost in the first round of the playoffs to the lowly — but quick and high-scoring — Golden State Warriors.

In terms of back-to-back bad exits, it's hard to imagine worse. And I don't mean hard to think of one that was worse, but hard to fictionally engineer one that could be worse. After the Warriors' series, Dirk Nowitzki went off to Australia for a few weeks, forgot about basketball, grew a giant beard, and became the NBA equivalent of Al Gore after the 2000 election.

There won't be any neutral observers in this series. There will be Heat fans, Mavs fans, and Everyone Else, who, in this case, will likely be rooting for Dallas. LeWadeBosh made sure of that.

Dirk went 2 for 13 from the field in Game 5 of that Golden State series mentioned above, and it's hard to believe anything like that could happen again, the way he's been playing for the past month. Dirk's the big key, since he's one superstar against two in this series. But I still think Dallas' depth, though it's being mentioned, is being underrated in a league with a lot of shallow teams at the moment. This is not to mention Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, who, if the game plan is sound, should give Miami more problems down low than the East could. The 2-3-2 home advantage for Miami is huge. I don't like that at all, and I think it means Dallas has to win one of the first two to have any chance whatsoever. I've been predicting them every round (and not feeling crazy about it), so I'll continue: Dallas in 6. Dirk and Kidd's desperation and their supporting cast over two of the best players ever.

Enjoy it.

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