The 2011 NBA Finals will pit one team most expected to be here, versus another who is making one more run at taking home the title after seemingly a decade of good basketball, with not much to show for it.
The Miami Heat were expected to be in this spot, playing basketball into June following their acquisitions of Lebron James and Chris Bosh this past off-season. It took a little time for the team to get healthy, adjust, and gel, but they closed the regular season very strong winning 15 of their last 18 – and blowing through Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago to win the Eastern Conference.
Dallas on the other hand did not get much pub at all heading into the playoffs as the #3 seed in the West – many writers were even picking the Blazers to pull off the upset in the first round and take Dallas out – but the Mavs shocked the world by catching fire and dispatching those Blazers, along with the defending champion Lakers and finally the upstart Thunder. Both teams are making their first NBA Finals appearance since 2006, when these two teams met – Dallas went up 2-0 and had a commanding double digit lead late in Game 3, but Miami pulled off the comeback and never looked back winning the series 4-2.
PG: Kidd vs. Bibby – this is the battle of two aging, one time super star floor generals each looking for their first ring. Kidd is still playing at a relatively high level – he clearly isn’t the triple double machine he was in his heyday, but he is still more than capable of being the quarterback of a NBA Champion. Bibby on the other hand has seen his game fall-off much more significantly, but he isn’t asked to do too much with the talent the Heat have assembled behind him. Edge Kidd.
SG: Stevenson vs. Wade – Wade remains one of the top 5 players in the league, but has struggled some in the postseason thus far. He has seen a variety of pretty tough defenders in the first three rounds, and that will continue vs. Stevenson. DeShawn’s value to the Mavs is just that – checking the other teams best perimeter player, and he has done a solid job in the postseason holding Kobe Bryant down for the most part in the 2nd round. Wade was the Maverick killer in the ’06 Finals, and while I do not expect him to put up those kinds of numbers again, he still has an edge on Stevenson, just like he would vs. 99% of the competition.
SF: Marion vs. James – James is in the midst of taking the torch from Kobe Bryant as the next best player in the league, but really needs to win this series to cement that status. He appears to be on a mission just as you would expect as his game has been at a very high level this postseason putting up gaudy numbers and getting to the line seemingly at will. Marion was a great defender back in his Suns days, and while he has lost a half step or so he still has the speed, athleticism and height to give James some headaches – nobody will shut James down, but Marion will make him work really hard, especially trying to play off him some and do his damage from the outside. Edge James, similar to Wade in that he will have the edge against 100% of the people who he matches up with.
PF: Nowitzki vs. Bosh – has there been anyone better this postseason, or perhaps even the last few years in the playoffs than Dirk? Guy is a one man wrecking crew, and playing his position at a very high level – getting others involved early in the game, then being a nasty, unstoppable closer in the 4th. Similar to James, Dirk also is on a mission and will not be happy with anything other than a Championship. Bosh was the third piece of the trio that has led Miami for most of the season, and he has played perhaps better than many expected during the playoffs, especially in the Boston series. The clear third option and best big man on Miami, he will be asked to do a lot in this series, and will have to hold his own on the glass especially because of Miami’s weak frontline. Edge Nowitzki.
C: Chandler vs. Anthony – Tyson Chandler has been an enormous part of the success the Mavericks have had this season, staying healthy for the most part. While he isn’t much of an offensive threat in a one on one situation (and Dallas doesn’t ask much of him in that spot), he is consistent on the glass, and is an athletic presence on the inside. Anthony has come out of nowhere, yes, absolutely came out of the black hole to be a key cog in the Heat’s frontline, a clear weakness for this team heading into the season and playoffs. He is asked to do even less than Chandler, as they just want his presence and athleticism on the inside – and his “glue guy” and hustle plays he consistently makes. Still give the edge to Chandler as he is clearly the more talented guy, but both guys will be key, but not much talk will surround them.
Bench: Dallas will typically play four men off the bench depending on situation and matchups. Terry is the instant offense off the bench, and as any NBA fan knows, he is a very key piece to the Mavericks puzzle and will likely average 30+mpg, more than Chandler and Stevenson. Barea will get time backing up Kidd as he is a nice sparkplug PG off the bench that can cause havoc by breaking his man down and creating for others. Along the frontline Dallas will play Heywood some in the middle – but his value and PT will be heavily dependent on needs and matchups, while Stojakovic is still a capable sniper off the bench who can extend the defense with his range – his minutes will be dependent on how hot he is on that particular night. Caron Butler could be an enormous addition for Dallas if he is able to go following his knee injury earlier in the year. If for nothing else, he would help out a ton on defense, matching up with Wade and possibly James at times. His status remains unknown, but we should know more early next week. Miami is probably the deeper team with as many as five and possibly six guys looking for action depending on situation and need. Udonis Haslem has returned from his foot injury he suffered early in the year and became an impact player in the Bulls series. Decently talented, with a solid motor and often eager to mix it up, he is a nice front court piece to bring off the bench that Dallas will have problems matching up with – I look for Haslem to do damage on the glass for sure. Mario Chalmers gets minutes backing up Bibby, but make no mistake the PG position is currently a weakness on this Heat team and an area Dallas is likely to exploit. Mike Miller and/or James Jones will see action in a similar role as Peja mentioned above – used to extend defenses, minutes will be dependent on who is hot and what is needed. Lastly, even though we didn’t see Ilgauskas in the Bulls series he did average about 10mpg in the first two series, and can be used if Dallas decides to go big with Heyward, Chandler and Dirk in the game simultaneously. I give the edge to Dallas by a smidge, and a little bigger if Butler comes back and is able to go about 15mpg.
DALLAS: has covered 60.2% on season including 66% of road games. The Mavs are on a serious ATS run of late cashing tickets in 16 of their last 18 games including last 4 of regular season. And one of those losses was in Gm5 vs. OKC where if Terry’s jam right as clock went to 0.0 would have counted, that would have been a push and the streak would be at 16 of 17 games. In the playoffs they sport a perfect 6-0 mark on road with one push Gm3 @ Portland. That strong mark on the road in the playoffs backs up their regular season strength away from home mentioned above – and in addition they covered 13 of 20 road games this regular season vs. playoff teams. Flat out Dallas has been on FIRE SU & ATS heading into this series, and seems to be a very solid play in road games especially.
MIAMI: not as strong as Dallas during regular season or postseason which you may have expected since their lines have certainly been “juiced” and the intensity needed to cover big lines night in night out during the grind of an NBA season rarely leads to ATS success. One aspect that stands out during their season was a 5gm under .500 home ATS record, vs. a +8gms/58% win clip on road - supporting the point of it being difficult to cover big lines in the NBA consistently. The Heat were 15-21 vs. playoff teams this regular season, and in the playoffs 6-2 ATS at home, but 3-3 ATS on road. The 2 home losses, you guessed it, were to the Sixers as double digit favorites. To summarize they clearly have not been the beast against the number that Dallas has, but they have been successful during the postseason for the most part.
PROJECTED VEGAS LINES / MY ESTIMATED LINES: in an attempt to project what Vegas will start these games at I broke down all their RS games against each team, controlled for location of game, and did my best to eliminate any outliers such as playing the Nuggets before/after Carmelo trade, if any big stars missed any games for the Mavs/Heat or their opponents. The results showed during the regular season the Heat were approx. 3-3.5pts the better team in the eyes of Vegas – which should not be a surprise at all. Maybe the fact those numbers are high for those that understand the true value of points can be surprising, but Miami was very much a public team all season, while Dallas was flying under the radar, especially taking into consideration their extremely poor home ATS record of the ’09-’10 season – and home games are a key driver because that is where the bigger numbers and extra bumps are.
Based on the RS numbers, factoring in my estimated home court edge as 3pts for Miami and 3.5pts for Dallas, the lines would project as Heat -6 to -6.5 in Miami, and the Mavericks as a Pick in their home games.
But we know, based on lines we have seen all season, and the playoffs that Dallas will be favored in their home games – they were likely undervalued in their opening series vs. Portland only laying on average 4.7ppg at home; laid 2pts in each game vs. Lakers; and laid 5.8ppg at home vs. Thunder. Miami is closest to the Lakers in the eyes of Vegas, however, because of the sick ATS run Dallas is on, I believe we will see the lines adjusted an almost unheard of 4pts plus vs. the RS! Typically measuring the difference in games between the same teams at different locations you see anywhere from a 7-9pt swing, depending on lots of factors – during RS rest, injuries, who a team just played and who they are playing next; during playoffs the well known zigzag theory – so using that premise, I see these two teams basically even in Vegas’ eyes, with both teams being favored by about 4 to 4.5 on their home courts – prior to any needed adjustments for the zigzag theory which is typically worth 1 to 1.5pts to the team that lost the first game.
FORECAST: ATS wise I think we will see some value on Dallas’ side in this series. The Mavs have been the better team against the number all season, and seem to be peaking at the right time crushing the number time and time again in April and May. Specifically, I will be targeting the games in Miami as potential bigger bets on Dallas as I see any number above MIA -4 as value on the Mavs – and see Vegas setting the initial line right above that in the -5 range, similar to what we saw Miami laying vs. Chicago in the ECF. SU wise this really pits two teams that are very similar – more perimeter based, outside shooting, slashing types with underrated half court defenses – and the weaknesses of each team in their frontcourts offset each other for most part. If Caron Butler can come back and give anything to the Mavs I like them to avenge the Finals loss of 5yrs ago and for Dirk to finally get his long awaited Larry O’Brien Trophy.