Monday, May 30, 2011

Finals: Mavericks vs. Heat Preview

After all these years we've been waiting for, the time has arrived - yet again.

Will history repeat itself? Who among LeBron or Dirk will have their first ring? Is this Jason Kidd's final crack at a championship? Is this just the beginning of a Heat dynasty?

These are just some questions you and I would like to know, and the answers to all of our questions will be revealed two weeks from now.

Dallas has another shot for revenge. We all know what happened 5 years ago. This is the perfect time for Dirk to avenge his heartbreaking defeat, and it just happens to be Miami coming out as the East's strongest team yet again, just like 2006.

Meanwhile, Miami will get another chance to rub it in the Mavs' faces. Many people view the Heat's lone '06 title with an asterisk, stating various conspiracy theories surrounding it. Certainly, this is a golden chance to shut their haters up once again.

Dallas held off Portland 4-2 back in the opening round, which is surprisingly their most competitive series up to date. They shocked the world and swept the two-time defending champs in the semis, also exposing Oklahoma City's inexperience by ousting them in 5 games on their way to the NBA Finals.

Miami's quest to the NBA Finals wasn't easy either. They took the 76ers out in 5. Philadelphia did give Miami a scare for quite a bit. The Heat surprisingly only needed 5 games to beat the defending east champs in the semis, outperforming Boston down the stretch with solid display of execution. Finally, just like the first two rounds, they eliminated the NBA's best Bulls in 5 games in the ECF.

We're talking about two of the NBA's best road teams right here. Both teams currently hold 12-3 playoff records. This is an exciting match-up just as you could imagine.

Miami needs to have a collective effort of boxing out and securing rebounds. Back in the season, Tyson Chandler once had 17 rebounds against the Heat. That should never happen again.

Obviously, Spoelstra and co. will have their hands full against Dirk. With the way he's been beasting lately, you gotta wonder if there's really a way to contain him. Udonis Haslem once earned the moniker "Dirk stopper" 5 years ago. Things have changed drastically since then, so we'll see how exactly that goes. Spoelstra could also use Bosh, Anthony, and at times - LeBron, and throw them at Dirk. You know he'll be motivated to bounce back from his 2006 loss as his legacy is once again on the line here. You also know about 90% of America has the German's back for this series. Kinda ironic huh? There's really no way to stop Dirk. You just have to limit him and accept the fact that he will get his.

Speaking of legacies, can LeBron finally win his first ring? It's a no brainer that his legacy will take another hit if he fails to win it this season. On the other hand, this could just well be the start of a historic run for King James. He has been surprisingly a great closer as of late for Miami, and he needs to keep doing damage. He's only four wins away from the Larry O'Brien trophy, and I'm sure he realizes that this is huge. I have faith that he'll put the icing on the cake for his haters in this series and will shut them up.

The Heat's role players need to show up bigtime. It's no secret that the Mavs boast more depth and has a better rounded team. Dallas used some zone defense back in the season that caused Miami to struggle in stretches. This is where the likes of Mike Bibby, Mike Miller, James Jones, and Mario Chalmers need to step up and provide a lift to the big three. You really don't necessarily need to beat the zone with exclusive 3's, you can bust it. Having Chris Bosh really helps as he's also great in the high post area.

One aspect I'm very afraid is Dallas' 3-point shooting. They can catch fire anytime and kill you completely. (See the Lakers series.) They're very streaky and will obviously be tough to guard once they get into their rhythm. Miami needs to have the proper defensive discipline in defending the three-point line at all costs.

It's gonna be a one heck of battle between great offense vs. great defense and star power vs. depth. We all know that famous "Defense wins championships." saying. Can Miami live up to those words and prove it?

You see, one thing with the Heat is not only do they have great defense, but anytime you have LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in your team, you know you have some heck of an offense too. As for the Mavs, I feel that defensively, they're average and ain't that bad. So to summarize it right here, we're seeing good offense with great defense vs. great offense with average defense.

The Heat can not afford to have slow starts. I know they've had it and eventually survived despite all of them during the first three rounds, but I feel Dallas is one different monster even though they have the label of being chokers. I would prefer if Miami can keep up the intensity for all 48 minutes. The Mavs are way too gifted offensively for that to happen.

Dwyane Wade needs to find his groove ASAP and show Dallas once again who's boss. Generally, he really wasn't that much into it in the Bulls series but to his credit - he showed up down the stretch in close games. This time, he needs to torch whoever Rick Carlisle sends to guard him and give the Mavs another nightmare to add to 2006. The Pre-Finals rest should definitely help his cause. Bottomline: Miami can't win this series if Wade struggles mightily bad.

As good as JJ Barea, Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry can be offensively for the Mavericks, the Heat should find plenty of ways to expose them and torch them. We all know those three guys aren't exactly that much into defense. Miami needs to make them pay and go at them any chance they can get. It's been always a grind-it-out mentality for Miami. Games like these favors their preference more, so that could also come in handy as well.

I wouldn't look in too much to the season series. Sure, the Mavs did win it 2-0, but we all know that same thing happened in 2006. Boston also went 3-1 against Miami. Chicago went 3-0. Look how all of that turned out. It's really interesting how the "Dallas hasn't faced an elite defense like Miami just like Miami not facing an elite offense like Dallas" debate works. It's been a long time since these two teams faced off, so expect some unfamiliarity at times.

Can Miami's homecourt advantage pay off? And speaking of homecourt, want to know the two main guys behind Miami's homecourt over Dallas right now? Eddie House and Jamaal Magloire. In the NBA's final regular season gameday, the Heat were playing without their main guys. Eddie House went on a scoring spree and Jamaal Magloire dominated in the rebounding department as Miami beat Toronto, eventually securing homecourt over Dallas. Heat fans own a bad reputation around the league, but to my surprise, they've actually impressed me so far throughout the post-season.

Like we said earlier, we're talking about the NBA's best road teams right here, so the Heat needs to protect their house. Even if Miami fails to snatch one on the road in Dallas, they could clinch the championship by winning all 4 home games in this series. Easier said than done. But since they're undefeated in South Beach so far, you never know. My ideal way would be the Heat winning the first two games at home, snatching one of three in Dallas, finishing it off in Miami. Remember, it's a 2-3-2 format for the Finals. It's really arguable whether this actually helps the road or home team. In my view, this would benefit the Heat more.

Also, you could bet that AmericanAirlines is happy as hell right now. Dallas plays in American Airlines Center, while Miami plays in American Airlines Arena.

To sum all things up, I picked Boston in 6, and Chicago in 6 back in previous rounds. Add that to the fact that Dallas is one helluva team, so I'm picking Dallas in 6. Again, my true Heat fam know what me picking Mavs in 6 really means. Ha. It would really be a treat if the Heat can prove me wrong and make me eat these
words though.

All games will be exclusively aired by ABC.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Round 3: Bulls vs. Heat Preview

Hey, look. It's another Bulls-Heat face-off again. This should be fun and physical.

Remember when MJ used to own Miami in the 90's? Remember when the battle for Derrick Rose came down to Chicago and Miami in the 2008 draft lottery? Remember those hard fought physical 1st round playoff match-ups in 05-06 and 06-07? Remember Dwyane Wade's classic steal and game winner against the Bulls 2 years ago? Remember when the Bulls and the Heat battled in the 2010 free agency, only to find out Miami would eventually snatch all of the Bulls' top 3 targets in LeBron, Dwyane, and Chris? Remember when Chicago sneaked out 3 impressive wins against Miami and beat them out for the top spot in the East and the whole league during this past season?

Well, this ECF match-up will pretty much make it to that list soon.

Miami, judging by its current play, is a much better team than the one who showed up back in the regular season. It seems that they're peaking at the right time. The Heat might've lost to the Bulls in three straight occasions back in the season, but that doesn't really mean much. All three contests came down to the wire. The results weren't set in stone until the final possessions, and yes -- it happened in all of those three games. That's how close the season series went. Remember, back in the Heat's semis date against the Celtics, Boston won the season match-up 3-1. The Heat eventually won the playoff match-up, 4-1.

LeBron didn't play in Miami's first visit to Chicago. Chris Bosh also got injured in the 4th quarter of that game and didn't play down the stretch in the closing moments. Despite all that, Dwyane Wade almost single-handedly willed the Heat to a win with a barrage of spectacular 3-pointers, only to fall short in the end due to a dagger from Kyle Korver. The Bulls were too much for D-Wade to handle. To be fair, Joakim Noah also didn't play. So both teams weren't geared up that well.

The Heat's 2nd date with the Bulls also happened in Chicago. LeBron, by that time, was good to play. The Heat had the lead majority of the game before a late Chicago rally. Just when we thought the Bulls will steal the game, Miami made one final surge, only to come up short eventually -- as Luol Deng made the game winning 3. Chris Bosh shot 1-18 (yes, that's not a typo) -- ONE OUT OF FREAKING EIGHTEEN. Odds of that happening again? Uh, not that high.

The last meeting between the two ball-clubs was another epic down-to-the-wire type of game. Miami, during that stretch, were struggling mightily and were scrutinized badly by the media and basketball fans for struggling to close games out. Their swag was shattered. Unfortunately, that trend continued in this game for LeBron and company, and the Bulls escaped South Beach with a crucial win that solidified their positioning atop the conference.

To sum up the season series, it's arguable that Chicago got luckier than the Heat. Generally, as a basketball fan, I hate making excuses. Excuses are only suited for Laker fans. So I tip my hat to the Bulls for going 3-0 on us. They went undefeated for a reason. Now, it's the perfect time for the boys down in South Beach to get the last laugh. It's payback time for the Heat. Hopefully, Miami can seek revenge and outlast Chicago just like what they did against Boston.

To repeat, the Heat have been playing arguably the best basketball than the other remaining teams left in the chase for the hardware. They're peaking at the right time. There's no doubt that they are playing way better than the Bulls so far in the playoffs. The Heat had a difficult time with Philly even though they won it 4-1. Same could be said for the Boston series. It was closer than what the final numbers indicated. Despite all that, it's impressive that the Heat have shown flashes of their true championship potential. Now's a good time to even show more of that potential and beat the Bulls.

The Heat are more experienced than the Bulls. Dwyane's been there. LeBron's been there. Even Erik Spoelstra, as an assistant, has been there. That's definitely an edge in Miami's favor.


Will coaching be a problem for the Heat? After all, coach Spo will be facing the reigning coach of the year for this round. Coach Thibs has been known as the Celtics' ex-blueprint defense master. I definitely think coaching is an edge for the Bulls. Spoelstra needs to make the necessary adjustments and stop being hard headed with his robotic sub patterns and rotations.

Does Miami prefer to lock down Derrick Rose completely and just let his other teammates score? Or will they try to do otherwise and limit his teammates but let him do all the work? That would be one thing that we should all definitely look forward to. Your move, coach Spo!

Miami can put D-Wade on D-Rose and let Bibby guard Bogans. That may tire Wade a bit, but that's one of Miami's best options if they want to win. Another option would be putting Chalmers on Rose and just putting Wade on the "MVP" during crunchtime.

The Bulls' bench beats the Heat's by a ton, no question. It can be really dangerous when guys such as Kyle Korver, Taj Gibson, CJ Watson can explode anytime. They also have a nice backup big man in Omer Asik. Miami has Joel Anthony to counter. Not too shabby.

Can Ronnie Brewer contain Dwyane Wade? Can Luol Deng limit LeBron James? Can Joakim Noah bother Chris Bosh? After all, Chicago has a reputation of being one of the best defensive teams in the league today. They have many weapons that can be used to stop the opposing squad. To Miami's credit, they're just right behind Chicago. This is a battle of two great defensive teams. Whenever the Heat is clicking on both sides, especially defensively turning it up to a high notch, you need to go home. That's what's scary about this team. They can lock you down entirely anytime on defense, and im sure Chicago's hoping they could avoid seeing that happen as much as possible. On the other hand, if the Bulls play lockdown D in or out and play physical, that might just be enough to outlast Miami's big three headed monster.

This would definitely be Miami's most difficult challenge so far in their championship quest. One can say that the Philly team was too young and the Boston squad was too old and banged up. Chicago, though, hasn't exactly been that scary so far in the post-season until Game 6 came against the Hawks. If that version of the Bulls team shows up, we have a series and there's a good chance Chicago will dominate. Otherwise, Miami's talent might just be too much for the Bulls as they can be exposed lacking enough legit support to help Derrick Rose down the line in a much higher level of competition. I actually think this Bulls team has some similarities to LeBron's previous Cavs teams back then. Great in the regular season, but not enough firepower in the post-season. Let's see if they can show me otherwise.

To me, I feel that the Bulls still have another higher gear in them. While the Heat have shown us spectacular playoff basketball, I also feel that we haven't seen their best yet, themselves. Miami needs to maintain this type of play and build on from there and shift it to an even higher level if they want a trip to the NBA Finals. We havent' seen the best of Chris Bosh, yet. Now's the perfect time for him to explode and prove all the doubters wrong against the not-so-good-defensively Carlos Boozer. Bosh needs to grab the opportunity and take advantage of it now that Kevin Garnett's out of his sight. No more 1-18, please. The Bulls were very disappointing in the Pacers and Hawks series. Many people expected better. Was that only a fluke? Or are they really being exposed in the playoffs, showing their true colors?

Miami also has more starpower than Chicago even if the Heat has a crappier bench, so that's another edge for the Heat. Sometimes, the talent and presence of star players are too much to overcome. Most media members are going with the safe pick by siding with the Heat for this round. I can't fault them as Derrick Rose, at times, even in this year's playoffs, has been a one-man show for Chicago, failing to get playoff-type production from his teammates. That's not enough if you're serious of going deeper into the brackets if you ask me. Like I said earlier, expect the Bulls bench to murder the Heat's. They should take advantage of it. I find it really hard to understand why Chicago lacks support for Rose when they got a really nice bench. Maybe they're really not good enough for the big stage just yet.

As a Heat fan, i'm very concerned with Taj Gibson, Kyle Korver, and Luol Deng. Maybe even Keith Bogans too. Bogans and Deng will get their fair share of open looks and they can make you pay. Gibson and Korver can get on fire anytime and they can kill you with an array of jumpshots. That's why Miami's role players need to step up themselves and provide a lift. No let downs!

The Bulls' bigs are way better. Their defense and rebounding are magnificent. Expect Miami to get crushed on the boards. The Heat need to avoid that and put up a respectable fight, at least. Miami also needs to limit Chicago in second chance points. This will be a very physical series. Miami needs to secure the paint against Rose just as Chicago against LeBron and D-Wade.

Miami, bottomline, can't just rely on LeBron and Wade alone. They need a great outing from Chris Bosh and the others for this series. Personally, one major deciding factor would be the Bosh vs. Boozer debate. Whoever plays better between the two of them will decide which team wins - in my opinion.

The Heat need an offensive spark from James Jones, Mario Chalmers, Eddie House and heck, even Mike Miller. They would be glad if they can get anything from them. Joel Anthony is also a huge factor for the Heat. His shotblocking presence would be welcomed in stopping Derrick Rose driving to the rim. I'm also expecting Erick Dampier back in this series, but you never know as long as Spoelstra is your coach. And Dampier hasnt' been exactly that good in the previous Bulls games. His conditioning is a question mark too.

The way I see it, the Bulls are hungrier between the two teams. I just think they have give and show more effort than Miami. They're the best NBA team in the league for a season. And this is no knock on the Heatles

Miami has a bad habit of coasting and chilling. Against the Sixers, it might've work since they can just out-talent them. Against the Celtics, it also might've work since they're younger. Against the Bulls, that's a no-no. Chicago can come back from any deficit any time as they have way too many weapons and a deadly weapon in D-Rose. Having shooters such as Kyle Korver and Luol Deng combined with the MVP play of Rose helps the case, That's why they're a scary team. Chicago grinds for full 48 minutes. Not sure I could say the same about the Heat, even though I love them.

Miami also starts slow. It's typical for Heat opponents to own early 11-2 leads or so. They need to avoid that and look to dominate from tip-off til the final buzzer. I love how Miami responded to opposing runs so far. They haven't lost their composure everytime they faced a deficit be it against the Sixers or Celtics. They need to do the same against the Bulls.

Between D-Rose, D-Wade, and LeBron -- expect free throws. A LOT OF THEM. During Miami's closing game vs. Boston, free throws almost cost them. The Heat needs to convert on a high clip of their free throws.

Heat could also strategically put LeBron @ the 4 and let him play power forward. He should have no problem matching up. The Wade and LeBron pick and roll is deadly, especially when LeBron plays the 4 spot.

Homecourt is huge. The Bulls need to take advantage of it, while the Heat needs to steal at least ONE of the first two. A lot of pressure will be on Miami if they ever go down 0-2. They haven't trailed any series so far in the playoffs.

Despite having homecourt and a 3-0 season series lead, the Bulls are still the underdogs, huh?


To wrap things up: I'm picking the Bulls to win in 6. I don't think Miami has what it takes to defeat the forces of the unstoppable MVP Derrick Rose, the team's ultimate passion and will to win, the executive of the year Gar Forman, and the master plots of coach of the year Tom Thibodeau. My heart still says Heat in 6, though. Again Heat fans, don't be disappointed with me. If you know me well and have followed my predictions and pieces earlier, you would understand why and know why I picked Chicago in 6. I did pick Boston in 6 the previous time around. Look how that ended up I would gladly be happy if Miami can prove me wrong and defeat the Bulls, though!

Should be a heck of a series!

Game 1 begins Sunday at Chicago with an 8 PM ET start, exclusively on TNT.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Celtics vs. Heat -- Breakdown of Game 1

Boston Celtics 90, Miami Heat 99: FINAL

Quick tweetform (as always) on my thoughts about the Heat's game 1 win drawing first blood against the Celtics............

- To start off, I was VERY impressed by the crowd last night. I guess they finally learned how to fan up.

- The starting tandem of Big Z and Bibby was still horrible, though they did have some small positive contributions.

- By his standard, LeBron wasn't really on it offensively. His defense, though. That was spectacular. Great night overall for the King.

- Dwyane Wade. Beast. 'Nuff said.

- Chris Bosh. Ahhhhhhh. Wrote several times that he will be a huge key for this series if Miami wants to win. Fortunately for the Heat, Garnett didnt take advantage too and they ended up canceling each other out with mediocre outings.

- James Jones. Damn. Keep it up, son!

- After a great Game 5 vs. Philly, Chalmers disappeared in this one. Still need to step up as the Heat would like to see more from the bench, particularly from the point guard position.

- Joel Anthony is all about heart. Cant respect him enough. He came up big and hopefully he would mantain this high energy level to help Miami win the series.

- Mike Miller (yes that dude) actually stepped in the court and played. By our expectations, he's still horrible obviously, but the effort was there and I actually thought he had a decent game.

- Rebounding was another point I talked about. 39 apiece in Game 1.

- Boston still had tons of chances, but the Heat eventually punked em with physical play.

- The D on Ray Allen was nice. Good defense, but better offense by Jesus Shuttlesworth.

- Still, overall, I think this Heat team could play way better than this game. Same could be said for the Celtics. Game 2 should be some great stuff.