Print and Go Back Page 2 [Print without images]

Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Showdown over the NBA Finals

By Scoop Jackson and Eric Neel
Page 2

Editor's note: There's a whole lot Scoop Jackson and Eric Neel agree on. They are united, for example, in their belief that "Tenspeed and Brownshoe" is a neglected television classic ripe for a special edition DVD release and a big-screen remake. But this year's NBA Finals have driven a wedge between them.

Mavs vs. Heat
Shaq and company vs. the Mavs should be a fascinating series.
Scoop thinks Pat Riley and Shaquille O'Neal will hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy when it's all said and done.

Eric thinks Scoop must have suffered some nasty blow to the head.

Eric can't imagine how Dallas can lose.

Scoop can't imagine what Eric must be smoking.

Both men are incredulous.

Both men are full of questions.

So we figured a little interrogation was in order; five questions and five answers each. Here's how they put it to each other, and how they'd put it to you. Here's why the Mavs, we mean the Heat, we mean Dallas, we mean Miami, will most definitely win the NBA title.

Eric asks Scoop ...
1. I know the Big Fella carried the load when Wade was laid low by the flu. But that was one night, and that was the stuck-in-the-mud Pistons. What's Fu gonna do when the Mavs go small and start running the ball? What's that gonna do to his offensive game? And what's the over/under on his wearing an oxygen mask? I've got Minute 32 of Game 1, by the way. You?

What's Fu gon' do? Hurt or scare someone. Seeing Shaq every day is different than seeing Shaq on a one-day basis, as most teams do during the regular season. Just the sight of Diesel day after day will wear the Mavs down.

As far as his offense goes, that'll be dictated by the amount of rebounds per game he decides to grab. Because you can't establish a running game without controlling the glass. And in this series (with the help of Udonis Haslem), Big is going to control the glass like Pella.

The over/under on an oxygen mask is funny. I think there'll be no need. Not for him. Maybe for one of the Mavs when they try to run through one of those picks he's going to set.

2. Jason Williams at the point? Really? In the NBA Finals?

Yeah, in the genesis I was suspect too. Not of J-Will, but of him with this team. But now I'm a believer. Throughout these playoffs he's given the Heat exactly what they've needed, when they've needed it. And I've only seen two suspect, old-school, back-in-Sacramento shots from him the entire playoffs.Will he outplay Jason Terry? I doubt it. But he'll give Jet the business from game-to-game and he won't be outplayed.

It's the year of the Gator. Someone with a University of Florida pedigree is going to get a ring -- it would make the NCAA Tournament make more sense -- and Miami has two UF alums in Williams and Haslem. I'm not saying J-Will is Steve Nash or anything. But right now I'm calling him Big Daddy Kane because he's getting the job done.

3. What are you going to do with Dirk? He's not just a jump-shooter anymore; he's all-court and all-world. Driving, taking hits and still making his shots. And he's coming in about as confident as we've ever seen him. So what's the Heat's defensive plan? Single coverage is craziness; no one on the roster can stick him heads-up. Double-teaming means all kinds of space for Dallas' long list of shooters. You can't just beat up on him; he hits free throws (unlike somebody we know) early and often. So whatcha gonna do?

Listen, ain't a damn thing Miami can do with Dirty. He's their Shaq. There's no body and nobody on the Heat's roster -- no two or three people -- that will be able to stop him from doing what he does. I can see Germany averaging 33/13, if not more. But at the same time, again, Diesel's numbers will match Dirk's overall, which sort of negates his impact during the series.

So as far as a defensive plan for Dirk? I'm not sure Riley has one, with the exception of trying to keep him off the foul line as much as possible. Then again, maybe they'll try to test his heart, see if one hard, flagrant-2 foul doesn't punk him? You know, intro him to some East Coast ball flavor. If, say, Zo or Posey gets suspended for a game (a la Raja Bell) but they get into Dirty's head for the entire series, it'll be worth it.

4. I love Wade. I do. Best player in the playoffs. Insane. Heroic. Beautiful to watch. But here's the problem: He's not the most important player in this series. Every series has an X-Man, a guy who makes the difference, a guy for whom the opposition has no answer. In this series, as in the last two Dallas series, that man is Josh Howard. Have you been watching him develop this season? Have you seen the trouble he's caused San Antonio and Phoenix, on both ends of the floor? I'm not going to ask you how Miami stops him -- they don't. I'm just going to ask you this: Who on the Heat roster is capable of matching what he brings to Dallas? Who's your Miami X-Man nominee? And whomever it is, do you really think he can X out young Josh?

See Speed, this is where I disagree with you. I think D-Wade is the X-Man of this series. I think for the most part everyone kind of balances everyone out. Shaq/Dirk, Walker/Stackhouse, WC/JET, GP/Devin Harris, etc. And I know Josh Howard is nice -- I personally think he's the reincarnation of Scottie Pippen, to a degree. But to say he's the matchup equal to Flash (ahhhh!) is E-40: dumb.

Remember, it took Scottie Pippen four years in the L to get to the point where, when he got in the Finals, he could guard Magic Johnson and turn the direction of a series. Josh is on Year 3. He's not there … yet. Not enough to handle Wade in the way he needs to be handled to make a difference or impact in this series. No disrespect to Howard, he's my dude and all, but he's about to get out-X'd like "The Da Vinci Code."

5. What's in the bowl? Or maybe more to the point, what's behind the bowl? Everyone says Riley's a genius motivator, but seriously, give me one good reason I shouldn't think this whole bowl thing just plain goofy.

I think there's something in the bowl. What it is, I have no idea. But I think it changes with every victory. I think the motivation behind the bowl is that they get to put something new in the bowl every time they win a game. So when it's all said and done, there'll be 16 items in that bowl. That's their goal, that's what Riley has them pushing for.

Goofy? Maybe. But if it works, who's goofy? Honestly, I like the mystery behind it. I like the drama. Maybe it's Jimmy Hoffa's ashes, or the script to the final episode of "The Sopranos" or one of the extra snakes that was on the plane in Samuel L. Jackson's new movie. Maybe it's candles. Get it? Sixteen candles.

Back in the day, people thought it was stupid for the Pittsburgh Pirates to use a Sister Sledge song to motivate them as their rallying cry, their "bowl." How goofy did they look once the 1979 World Series was over?

But I still think we need to talk to Rachel Nichols. She knows what's in the bowl, she's just not talking. But she knows.

Scoop asks Eric ...
1. It's one thing to have a team that's never been in the Finals, it's another to have an ENTIRE team that's never been in the Finals. Between Shaq (five previous Finals appearances) and GP (two previous Finals) -- not to mention Pat Riley's five rings as a coach and player -- the Heat have the huge advantage on the "been in the Finals" tip. How is Dallas going to match up against that?

Sounds a lot like 2004, doesn't it? How'd that go for the club loaded with experience? Seriously, what's to match up? Will it help Miami that Shaq, GP and Riles have been to the big show before? Maybe a little. Maybe we give them some cool-in-the-clutch credit. Maybe they get a slight advantage in knowing what to expect from the media circus these next couple of weeks. But remember, Avery's done this before, too. And this year's Mavs have been through the fire, baby. Look at their road to the Finals: A seven-game win over the defending champs, winning Game 7 on the road? That's hot. A six-game defeat of the high-octane No. 2 seed Suns, also clinched on the road? Pipin'. I honestly don't see this team rattling. They're tight with each other, and to a man they believe in Avery and will follow wherever he leads them. Plus, they come into the Finals supremely confident -- not just because they've won the three playoff series to get here, but because of how they've won those series: morphing like Transformers into every opposing team's worst nightmare, sometimes small and quick, sometimes long, slow and ferocious on D. Experience is nice, but it's no substitute for versatility. And what the Mavs lack in Finals exposure, they more than make up for with depth and a variety of looks Sydney Bristow would be proud of.

2. In what game is Jason Terry going to do something that might cost the Mavs a game? (Keep in mind he almost lost it in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals with that little swing at Raja Bell.)

Heh. Yeah. And there was that elbow to Steve Nash's temple in Game 3, too. And, of course, his scrum work on Michael Finley in the conference semis. I'm not going to go so far as to tell you this flip-of-the-switch aggression is a good thing. It's not. The guy has to control himself. Period. But I will say this. If he can control himself, Terry's swagger is a key component of the Mavs' attack right now. The Jet is their Sheed, their guy willing to talk some smack and back it up. Dirk will keep this club cool, and Avery will keep them disciplined, but they need Terry's fire, too. They know it, and they know his going over the line is the risk they must take in order to get it. If he goes too far -- and gets suspended for a game, as he did against San Antone -- it could be big, because Devin Harris didn't look ready to carry the load late in the conference finals. But again, Dallas is so deep I don't see it being a series-decider. They'd lean on Darrell Armstrong, give Marquis Daniels more time, and maybe even let Howard handle the point (Avery's a mad scientist, don't put it past him) until Terry returned. And they'd be fine.

3. Here's a math question: Diop + Dampier + Van Horn = Shaq. True or false?

False. Here's how the equation should read: Diop + Dampier + Van Horn > Shaq. They're not going to match his raw offensive numbers, of course, but they've got 18 fouls to use between them. And better than that, they've got three looks to show him: Diop making him run, and lifting up to trouble his shot; Damp laying some muscle on him; and Van Horn taking him outside, sometimes even beyond the arc (where Keith shot 36.8 percent this year), and opening up the lane for Dirk and Josh Howard to do their things. Shaq's going to be huge in the first game, I'd guess, but can he sustain it over seven? He gets one day off between Games 2 and 3, between Games 3 and 4, and between Games 5 and 6 and 6 and 7. He's going to be worn down by the three-headed Mav Big Man by the time we get to the second half of this series. And even if they don't tire him, the Mavericks' running pace -- putting Dirk at the 5-spot and surrounding him with speed, for example -- will. Shaq's a force, and a legend, but this series is when we start talking about the end of his era, the end of the big big-man era, once and for all.

4. Seeing that Shaq's dominance and Dirk's numbers might even out over the series, and J. Terry and J. Williams' numbers will "X" each other out, as will Walker's and Stackhouse's, who on Dallas is going to equal what Dwyane Wade is about to do? Is Josh Howard ready? Who's going to stop D-Wade from doing this "to hell with Kobe and LeBron, I'm the next Jordan" impersonation he's been doing the past month?

I concede the Wadeness of Wade, and the Wadeliciousness of this series in general. He will go off. The Mavs will run multiple guys at him (ask Shawn Marion about how many different defenders came his way in the West finals), and they will knock him down some. But he's shown, like Kobe, LeBron and MJ, that he can shake that off and come back strong. So yes, Wade will go for 28-35 every night, and maybe even a night in the 40s. But the rest of what you propose, my friend, is madness. Shaq plays 10 fewer minutes, scores eight fewer points, and pulls down zero more rebounds than Dirk. And that's the reborn Shaq of the 2006 playoffs we're talking about. That's not evening out. That's getting slapped about. Terry, meanwhile, scores twice as many points as J-Will, while also out-rebounding him and edging him in apg. Yeah, Stack alone is only about equal to Walker (though he is more versatile with the ball in his hands), but the other key comparisons you mention are big Dallas wins. They won't stop D-Wade, but they won't have to to win the series, either.

5. Shaq's wife is the Eva Longoria of this series. She's got everybody else's better half beat like Vanessa Marcil has all the other female cast members beat on "Vegas." Plus, she's mad cool. Who on Dallas' roster can counter Ms. O'Neal?

She makes for a pleasing cut-away, no doubt. TV loves her. But the TV Gods, and the Gods of Basketball, love drama more than eye-candy. And for drama, it doesn't get any better than what Dallas has to offer. That's right, I'm talking about a Mark Cuban-David Stern trophy ceremony after the Mavs win this thing. I'm talking about some of the best squirm-in-your-seat television since Pete Rozelle handed the Lombardi to Al Davis. Tell me you don't want to see this. Tell me you don't want to hear what each guy says. Tell me you don't relish the opportunity to read between the lines and read the scrunched, squinched, tortured lines on Stern's face. You can't tell me that. And you can't tell me Dallas isn't going to win this series. I'm just not hearing it.