NBA Finals: What could go wrong?

Originally Published: May 31, 2011

With Game 1 of the Dallas Mavericks-Miami Heat NBA Finals set for Tuesday night (9 ET, ABC; ESPN Radio coverage begins at 8 ET) in Miami, it's time for some last pregame thoughts on keys to the series.

Here's our final pre-Final edition of 5-on-5.

1. What's the potential fatal flaw in the NBA Finals for Dallas?

Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: The Mavericks can slow down LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, but not both. The Bulls featured two elite wing defenders in Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer, and even they had trouble keeping Miami's dynamic duo in check -- especially in crunch time. If Tyson Chandler finds himself in foul trouble, this could get ugly fast.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Speed/Athleticism. The Mavericks are big, they can shoot the lights out and they play smart, but all five of Miami's starters are faster than their Dallas counterparts. (Although I don't know if there would be a "winner" in a Mike Bibby/Jason Kidd footrace.) That could be very tough for Dallas to beat if Miami stays disciplined defensively.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: I'll go out on a limb and suggest that perhaps Dwyane Wade and LeBron James could present problems for Dallas. That's especially concerning when Jason Terry and/or Peja Stojakovic are on the court. The Mavs could certainly use Caron Butler in this series, but it's considered an extreme long shot that he'll be cleared to play.

Beckley Mason, Hoopspeak: A lack of team speed. On offense, this won't be too big of an issue because the Mavs move the ball so well and not even Wade is faster than a passed basketball. But defensively, they aren't agile enough to keep bodies in front of both James and Wade.

Sebastian Pruiti, Defense. With Butler out, it is hard to find matchups that make sense for Dallas on the defensive end. If Shawn Marion defends LeBron, who matches up with Wade? If Tyson Chandler defends Joel Anthony, Nowitzki is left on Chris Bosh. The Mavericks may be forced to play zone a majority of this series.

2. What's the potential fatal flaw in the Finals for Miami?

Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Three-point shooting. Sure, the onslaught of 3s from LeBron and Wade in Game 5 of the East finals was etched in our memories because of the timing, but more so because it was unexpected. The Heat's best lineups feature only one 3-point marksman, which is not a recipe for success against a zone.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Slow starts. The Heat lost a total of three games in three series, but they've taken their time to get themselves going. The Heat are only 6-9 in first quarters these playoffs, but they've been able to count on their defense to keep themselves in the game and take over late. That won't fly with a team that plays offense like Dallas and has Dirk Nowitzki to close out games.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: The Mavs have a couple of starting-quality centers, which is two more than the Heat have. The lack of a legitimate big man could finally cost the Heat against Chandler and Brendan Haywood. Chandler averaged a double-double in Dallas' two wins over Miami this season. Miami can't afford to let him get easy alley-oops and generate extra possessions.

Beckley Mason, Lack of discipline. We know Dallas doesn't give anything away on either end through shoddy game-planning or execution. Miami must fight bad habits like over-rotating on defense and relying on isolations offensively. Otherwise Dallas will feast on open 3-pointers and forced Miami jump shots.

Sebastian Pruiti, Pick-and-pop defense. The Heat's hard double off ball screens wasn't just an adjustment for Derrick Rose, it has been something they have been doing all season, including the two games against Dallas during the regular season. If they continue to use this pick-and-pop defense, Nowitzki might have yet another big series.

3. What's the biggest X-factor in the Finals for Dallas?


Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: J.J. Barea. The Puerto Rican from Miami zips around the court, knows no bounds and can distribute the rock to the second-unit shooters. If you thought Mario Chalmers caused headaches, just wait until you see him try to guard Barea.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Zone defense. Dallas played more of it than any team in the league this season, and it was effective when they deployed it against Miami. That said, you know that Erik Spolestra, LeBron and Wade are watching tape until their eyes bleed right now and figuring out how to force Dallas to play them straight-up. How much zone Dallas plays and how effective it is will both be interesting to watch in this series.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: The Mavs' biggest X-factor has a backwards P tattooed on his face. Never mind DeShawn Stevenson's old beef with LeBron. The Mavs need him to slow down Wade. He shut down Wade during the regular season, holding him to two points in 30 minutes. (Wade scored 42 points in 50 minutes against the Mavs when Stevenson wasn't on the floor.).

Beckley Mason, Chandler is going to have his hands full protecting the rim from Miami's constant dribble-drive onslaught. He's probably the most important Dallas defender, but he can also contribute some important easy buckets on offense by exploiting Miami's rotations, diving to the hoop and catching at or above the rim. Chandler needs to make the Heat pay for focusing on defending the 3.

Sebastian Pruiti, Barea and Terry. These two Mavs off the bench are the primary ball handlers in pick-and-pop situations. If Miami decides to trap the basketball with off-ball screens, they have to make the right decision at a high rate if they want to put themselves and their teammates (mainly Nowitzki) in a position to score.


4. What's the biggest X-factor in the Finals for Miami?

Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Anthony. If the defensive savant can contain Nowitzki, we could be in for most impactful scoreless performance in Finals history. If he can't, there's no reason to have him out there. That's quite a swing.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: Wade. It feels strange to call one of the league's five best players an "X-factor," but it looked like he might have hit a wall against Chicago. Miami fans have to hope that was just an effect of Chicago's defense, but it was still troublesome. If Wade plays like he did against Boston while James and Bosh play the way they did against Chicago, this could be a short series for Miami. If he stays off his game, Dallas has a great shot to win.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: Udonis Haslem did an outstanding job defending Nowitzki in these teams' previous Finals appearance. Haslem will probably be the chairman of the committee the Heat uses on Nowitzki in this series. The problem, according to Haslem, is that Nowitzki no longer has the weaknesses that he exposed in the 2006 Finals.

Beckley Mason, Expect Dallas to make liberal use of the NBA's best zone in an effort to stymie Miami's wing attack. James Jones, Mike Miller, Chalmers and Bibby -- basically anyone who shoots 3s for the Heat -- will have to be ready and reliable.

Sebastian Pruiti, The Mikes. As I mentioned earlier, Dallas may play a lot of zone. What the zone allows Dallas to do is load up against the Big Three and try to get the basketball out of their hands. If Mike Miller and Mike Bibby can knock down these open shots out of the zone, Dallas is going to be in a world of hurt.

5. Who wins the NBA Finals?

Tom Haberstroh, Heat Index: Heat in seven. And the dynasty begins.

John Krolik, Cavs: The Blog: I'm going with the Heat in six. I think these teams are very evenly matched, but the 2-3-2 format is brutal when the underdog is playing a great home team. Miami has has yet to lose at home this postseason, and Dallas will either have to win three games in a row or two games in Miami this series to take home the championship, and I don't think they'll pull it off.

Tim MacMahon, ESPN Dallas: I've believed in the Mavericks all the way -- well, since Game 2 in L.A., at least. The Mavs will win a thrilling Game 7 officiated by Bennett Salvatore and Danny Crawford. The Mavs have exorcised one playoff demon after another during this run. It feels like destiny for Dallas to finish the job -- finally -- by defeating the Heat.

Beckley Mason, Heat in six. As if the Mavs didn't already have an unbearably grueling task ahead of them, the 2-3-2 game format means the Heat's home-court advantage is even more pronounced. I expect a brilliant coaching duel between Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle, and if Carlisle doesn't win handily, I can't see Miami's talent (three of the top four players in the series) falling short.

Sebastian Pruiti, The Dallas Mavericks in six. For the Heat to have success against Dallas' zone, they need to have Miller and Bibby knock down shots and I just don't think that will happen on four separate occasions. Also, Miami's pick-and-pop defense worries me a bit, and I think it will allow Nowitzki to have a high-scoring series.

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