Anybody that watches the NBA knows the season is a grind. We sit through four quarters of who could care less basketball in the middle of February just to have to chance to watch something special come June. Most times, it’s worth the wait.

I know when the Finals start today, Portland won’t be involved, but I think there will be plenty for Blazer fans to watch, and plenty more for plain old basketball fans to sink their teeth in to.

Lets start with the Western Conference representatives. The Dallas Mavericks’ road to the NBA Championship came through Portland, and so far the Blazers’ two wins were better than the combined win total of Dallas’s next two opponents. Dallas swept the Lakers, dispatched Oklahoma City in five, and look primed to take home the first NBA title for the franchise.

There are two teams playing in these Finals, obviously, and no matter how good the Western Conference participant has looked over the first three rounds, it will be the Eastern Conference team that’s going to be the center of attention.

At the start of this season, the Miami Heat were far and away the number one team as far as news coverage was concerned. It seemed about right, considering the dog and pony show that was the offseason, then the pre-preseason, then the preseason. When you guarantee titles you invite the hoopla. But here we are, a century removed from the Decision, and the speculation on how great Miami may or may not be is now basically meaningless. Miami’s in the Finals, like they promised they’d be. The question that will be on everybody’s mind is, can they win it?

I think they can, but I’m not so sure if they will. The NBA Finals version 2011 will be the tried and true battle of offense versus defense. Dallas will play the part of offense. In 15 post-season games, the Mavericks scored less than 90 only twice, both times against Portland. The Mavs topped 100 seven times, more the 120 twice. Dallas has guys that can score, there’s no doubt about that, and one guy that can score a lot and basically at will. Dirk Nowitzki killed Portland, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City. He’s going to be the centerpiece of Miami’s defensive game plan, and the Heat or going to have consistently stop Dirk if they want to have a chance to win.

And that’s where the defense comes in. The Heat have given up 100 points only once in the post-season, have lost a single game in each of its first three series, and have established themselves as a group that is committed to hard nosed defense. It’s true, though, that Miami has stopped a one-dimensional offensive team, the Chicago Bulls; a defensive team, the Boston Celtics; and the Philadelphia 76ers. Dallas is going to be different.

Like most series, it will come down to matchups. Dallas’s most significant advantage is at the point guard position. Miami doesn’t really have a contributor at the one spot. Jason Kidd will run the Mavs’ offense, and will dictate the pace of the game. Mike Bibby, or Mario Chalmers, will play the point guard position in name only. When it comes down to the big important plays for Miami, the ball will be in the hands of either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Those guys aren’t bad options late in games, but neither run much more than isolations and pick and rolls. That kind of offense can get stagnant fast.

Miami won’t be running a real point guard, but, like I said, they make up for that by having LeBron and D-Wade. That has been the difference for this team all year, and that will be Miami’s primary advantage. Wade and LeBron will do the heavy lifting on offense, and will more than carry their weight on the defensive end. The best part of Wade and LeBron being on the same team is that the bulk of their teammates have almost no offensive requirement.

With Dallas, two or three guys have to get hot along with Dirk in order for them to have a chance. The Mavs have the guys to get it done, but a bad shooting night from three or four guys at the same time could spell doom for Dallas. On the other hand, Miami suits up a handful of dudes that most times out don’t even think about looking at the rim.

This can be good or bad for Dallas. The Mavs will no doubt key in on stopping Wade and Lebron, as well as Chris Bosh, which leaves guys like Mike Miller, Bibby, Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, et al. to play the part of game changers.

As for the Mavericks’ second unit guys, they have played no small part in their team’s run to the Finals, and should be expected to stay the course for this season’s last Playoff series. JJ Barea, Jason Terry, and Peja Stojakovic have been huge off the bench in each series, and there is a chance they could once again be the difference. If the Finals comes down to a battle of benches, Dallas has the edge.

But it won’t. Dallas versus Miami will by about whether or not the offense of Dallas can overcome the defense of Miami, or if Dallas’s defense can play better than Miami’s offense.

This series will come down to matchups, and offense versus defense, but more than anything it will be about storylines. Although a Finals featuring the Lakers and the Heat would have brought in the most casual basketball fans, Dallas and Miami might be a close second. It’s a rematch of the 2006 Finals, which featured basically two completely different rosters and one incredible collapse, it could be the beginning of a dynasty, and it might be a fitting swan song for a generation of also-rans.

A title for Dirk Nowitzki would silence what remains of his doubters, and would be a fitting career capper for Kidd, Stojakovic, and Shawn Marion, guys that have been close with great teams but never made it all the way to the top. For Miami, winning their first time out would justify the Decision, and would make those seven projected titles seem much more realistic. Both teams have a lot to play for, and even more to lose.

So here’s my prediction. The two-three-two format favors Miami, it’s far less likely that Dallas will be able to beat Miami at home three times in a row, but the Mavs have played stellar road ball since closing the Blazers out in Portland in round one. Dallas will have to steal one of the first two to avoid the possibility of a game seven in Miami. As a friend of mine said not two days ago when discussing this same topic, home teams just don’t lose game sevens.

I think most folks are going to be picking Miami. They’ve been the team to beat most of the season, and have rolled through much of the postseason. It’s going to be a fight to keep Dirk from going off, but if anybody can stop him I think it could be the Heat. However, I think that this very well might be the last chance any of the guys in a Dallas uniform have a legitimate shot at being NBA Champs. That just might be enough to put the Mavs over the top.

Prediction: Dallas in six

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

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