NBA writers Jeff Zillgitt (Eastern Conference) and J. Michael Falgoust (Western Conference) preview the 2011 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks, which begins Tuesday in Miami (9 p.m. ET, ABC):
Miami: The Heat have used an unusual center—by-committee depending on matchups. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (FSY) started the most games (51) games, but he did not play in the Eastern Conference finals vs. the Chicago Bulls. New starter Joel Anthony (FSY) is undersized but versatile, plays solid pick-and-roll defense and blocks shots; he had 15 vs. the Bulls. If the Heat want more size and bulk vs. the Mavericks, they will use Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire or Erick Dampier (FSY)
Dallas: Tyson Chandler (FSY) commands the paint and can be the most dominant player on the court without the ball. He's excellent in the pick-and-roll and generates his offense off rebounds, trash baskets and alley-oops. Brendan Haywood (FSY) is his backup and has turned into an enforcer at the rim. He's not as athletic but protects the paint and will not give up easy baskets. Even if Chandler gets into foul trouble, the Mavs will be OK because they don't run their offense through their 7-0 centers anyway. They have combined to average 11.3 points and 13.7 rebounds in the playoffs.
Miami: Chris Bosh (FSY) had an outstanding series vs. the Bulls, averaging 23.2 points and 7.6 rebounds. He will have his hands full defending Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (FSY) , but the Heat will make sure he has help with double-teams and other players defending the 7-footer at times. Forward Udonis Haslem (FSY) 's comeback from a left foot injury has given the Heat a strong defensive presence in the paint; that was evident vs. the Bulls. He provided an emotional and tangible boost.
Dallas: Nowitzki had two 40-point efforts in the Western Conference finals vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. His versatility makes him a difficult cover. Put a smaller, quicker player on him and he'll post him on the low block and get to the rim. Put a big on him and he'll take him away from the rim, put the ball on the floor, blow by and finish. At 7-0, his one-foot, step-back jumper is impossible to defend. But after Nowitzki, the Mavs lack another true power forward who can give them quality minutes.
Miami: LeBron James (FSY) is having the best playoffs of his career, especially in the fourth quarter with the game undecided. His play down the stretch vs. Chicago tilted games, and ultimately the series, in Miami's favor. James averaged 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.8 blocks. In the fourth quarter of the Heat's victories, James, with great defense especially on Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (FSY) , averaged 9.5 points. He also had six points in overtime of the Game 4 victory. James Jones (FSY) , who played in just two games vs. the Bulls, could provide spot three-point shooting vs. the Mavs, and Mike Miller (FSY) began to hit threes and rebound vs. the Bulls as the Heat envisioned.
Dallas: Shawn Marion (FSY) can go for 25 points and 10 rebounds, or just lock down the opposing team's best player. He's good enough to guard away from the rim and can run the floor. Offensively, he's most dangerous when lurking around the paint but won't shoot much beyond 15 feet. The Mavericks can change it up by bringing in three-point threat Peja Stojakovic (FSY) , who can heat up at any time. If they want defense they could plug in Corey Brewer (FSY) , who played in only one game vs. the Thunder.
Miami: Dwyane Wade (FSY) did not shoot well vs. Chicago — 40.5% for an 18.3-point average, and just 20% on three-pointers — after coming off a fantastic conference semifinals vs. the Boston Celtics. But Wade fought through his shooting woes, played solid defense (helping out on Rose) and came alive late in the fourth quarter of the series-clinching Game 5 victory vs. Chicago. Wade said is not hurt and downplayed a trainer placing a heat pack on his left shoulder during that game: "It's not 100% never."
Dallas: DeShawn Stevenson (FSY) isn't here for offense. He has assumed this role in the absence of Roddy Beaubois (FSY) , who has been hampered by a foot injury all season. Stevenson is able to knock down the occasional three-pointer but is a noted defender who is physical and gives the Mavericks more toughness. Sixth man Jason Terry (FSY) backs him up and provides instant offense at 17.3 points a game.
Miami: Mike Bibby (FSY) starts and provides stability in the first and third quarters; Mario Chalmers (FSY) subs for him. Together, they average 9.7 points and 2.7 assists in the playoffs. Bibby has struggled at times with his shot but also had the tough task of defending Rose at times. He won't be pressured as much vs. Jason Kidd (FSY) . Expect Chalmers to get minutes when the Mavs go with J.J. Barea. Chalmers gets more minutes than Bibby down the stretch, but the Heat often go without a point guard then, too.
Dallas: Kidd had 43 assists, just 10 turnovers and 17 steals in the five games vs. the Thunder. Just when he appears to be solely a facilitator, Kidd will knock down clutch threes and can go for a triple-double at any time. His defense, however, is where he's most valuable, because at 6-4, 210, he can get physical with faster guards and shift to cover small forwards. Barea comes off the bench and brings a change of pace. He's speedy, gets to the rim and can finish among the trees. He also has three-point range, which makes him more effective in the paint. Barea, who is generously listed at 6-0, can be vulnerable defensively, so the Mavericks will try to hide him in their zone.
Miami: The Heat do not get great scoring production, but they get what they need: Good minutes from Miller, Haslem and Chalmers and the occasional timely basket from them. Haslem isn't asked to score much, but the Heat need him to rebound and play defense. Miller offers three-point shooting, drive-and-pass capabilities and strong rebounding for a player his size. Chalmers is quick, gets his hands into passing lanes and shot 62.5% vs. the Bills, 57.1% on threes. Don't be surprised if Jones and guard Eddie House (FSY) make spot appearances and provide three-point threats.
Dallas: They're loaded with firepower, with shooters Terry, Barea and Stojakovic able to pour in 20 points any game. Sometimes they can find a groove simultaneously, which allows the starters to rest and Nowitzki to be fresh down the stretch. Haywood and Brewer give them a good balance with solid defense.
Miami: This is Erik Spoelstra's first trip to the Finals in three seasons as the boss; he was an assistant coach/director of scouting on the 2006 championship team. Not only is it different as head coach, it's much different with this team given the hype, attention and expectations. For a third-year coach, Spoelstra has navigated an unusual situation with success. It starts with defense, and that has been the Heat's calling card. Miami has been outstanding in the playoffs, allowing 88.3 points per game and holding opponents to 41.9% shooting. Offensively, Spoelstra relies on the Big 3 in a variety of sets, from pick-and-rolls to isolations to post-ups to motion, with screens featuring Bosh at the high post. Spoelstra sticks to the plan, doesn't panic and trusts the system and the players trying to execute it. He is also adept at calling timeouts to stop the opponent's momentum.
Dallas: This is Rick Carlisle's first trip to the Finals in three seasons with the Mavs. But he played in three in his three seasons with the Celtics, including the 1986 championship team. He has won at least 50 games in six of his nine seasons as a head coach (previously with the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers), and is the architect of the Mavericks' offense, which is the most unpredictable in basketball. They have the ability to run various sets and move Nowitzki all over the floor to make double-teaming him effectively difficult. They also will go stretches without calling plays at all — "The Flow" offense — and run basic pick-and-rolls to take what a defense gives up. Their defense can be equally diverse as they drop into a 2-3 matchup zone and confuse offenses with their double-teams. Carlisle has an answer for every wrinkle an opposing team throws at him.
Miami: Going through the roster position by position isn't always an accurate portrayal of how the Heat will play. For example, in the final minutes of the last two victories vs. the Bulls, Wade, James, Miller, Bosh and Haslem finished the game. The Heat did not have a true point guard or a true center, going with three wing players and two power forwards. But that's also the lineup they envisioned last summer when the team came together, and it provides matchup problems. Using power and quick lineups, the Heat get to the basket either in transition or in half-court sets. They have shot 133 more free throws than opponents in 15 playoff games.
Dallas: Marion/Chandler/Haywood vs. Heat penetration. If Marion can contain the swing position and make James work for his points while Chandler and Haywood defend the rim, the Heat's offense will be hard-pressed for high-percentage shots. Similar to the dethroned two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks have length that can be a difference-maker.
Nowitzki vs. Bosh: Bosh has his hands full vs. Nowitzki's impressive arsenal of offensive moves. But Bosh will have help with double-teams, and different players will guard Nowitzki, including Anthony, Haslem and James. Bosh, as he did vs. Chicago, must keep Dallas honest with his offense.
Marion vs. James: Because of size, strength and athletic ability, James is difficult to guard, especially when he has offensive help. James is such a gifted passer, it makes it even more difficult for teams to double-team or offer help. James will not have to worry about Marion's outside game, and Dallas rarely gets a break because James is rarely on the bench.
Zillgitt: Heat in six
Falgoust: Mavericks in six