I have no certainty whatsoever about this pick, which is why this has the makings of a terrific series. Dallas is just as competitive and driven as Miami, but the bigger question of whether Dirk Nowitzki is a better closer than LeBron James remains to be seen. The Mavs need strong ball movement early in the series to pry open their shooters around Nowitzki, because if they're blitzing from the three-point line it will be difficult for the Heat's defense to dominate. I'm looking for these teams to take turns excelling at what each does best. In the end I'm deferring to Miami's defense, home-court advantage and the pairing of LeBron and Dwyane Wade to prevail in a tight Game 7.
No matter how impressive Dallas' run has been, there are just too many "ifs" in this equation for me to see the Mavs winning. They can avenge their 2006 Finals loss to Miami if Nowitzki maintains his epic play, if their ball movement is so elusive and so flawless that they can avoid the ball-hawking LeBron and Wade on the perimeter and keep the sight lines open for their shooters, if they can count on Shawn Marion to not only slow James on one end but to score consistently on the other, and if they can force the league's most explosive transition team to walk it up the floor. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is putting the ball in James' hands more than ever before, and with the way he's been handling it, we should be witnesses to his first championship ceremony very soon.
Dallas has the better point guard, frontcourt and bench, with superior ball movement, three-point shooting and late-game experience. But Miami's transcendent wings present a near impossible matchup. The Mavericks were able to thwart Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, but the James/Wade duo is too much for a perimeter defense already limited by the loss of Caron Butler. The Mavs will find more ways to score against the Heat than the Bulls did, but they won't be as effective in slowing them down. Though Dallas has made significant upgrades since 2006, the Heat have made even more, and they are set to claim the first of what will probably be several championships with this group.
Many thought the Mavs wouldn't be able to defend Durant and Russell Westbrook in the last round, but Dallas did a pretty credible job on them. I think Jason Kidd -- who has had a phenomenal postseason defensively -- will give Wade some trouble, and the creative coaching of Rick Carlisle will find ways to load up on LeBron and force him into difficult shots. Offensively, Dirk will have a field day on Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, et al, and the Mavs' dynamic bench will win at least one game for them.
This will be the toughest series yet for each team, but Miami has all the necessary answers to beat Dallas. The Heat -- like the Thunder -- have talent on the wing, and in the backcourt that will give Dallas trouble. But the Heat's talent is on a different level than Oklahoma City's, and unlike the Thunder, they have the kind of big men who can punish teams for loading up on James and Wade. They have defenders to bother Nowitzki, the quickest rotations in the league to close out on the Mavs' shooters and the tools to solve their zone. A Mavs win wouldn't shock me, but Miami is better suited to beat them than any team they've faced so far.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.