WHY THE MAVS WILL WIN By Dr. Jack Ramsay, ESPN Radio Analyst
I've had a front-row seat for Miami Heat games for many years, including nine seasons as a Heat broadcaster during coach Pat Riley's initial tenure.
Their march through the Eastern Conference, including their decisive six-game demolition of the Detroit Pistons, was as impressive a display as I've ever seen from the Heat. They are playing at a very high level, with the excellent teamwork and defensive effort that fans and Riley always envisioned.
I've watched Shaquille O'Neal closely for many years, and especially the last two seasons in Miami. His performance against the Pistons was vintage Shaq, especially in Game 6 -- in fact, that was as good as he's ever been, in my opinion.
The problem for Miami and Shaq is this -- the Dallas Mavericks are just not a good matchup for them.
The Mavs' trademarks are depth and quickness, two traits the Heat lack. The Mavs' starting lineup is quicker than Miami's, and they can bring in a number of talented, athletic players off the bench.
For Dallas, it starts with Dirk Nowitzki, who will be a very tough cover for the Heat. Udonis Haslem will probably need help covering Nowitzki, which will open up the court for the rest of Mavericks. As Chicago showed, a quick, penetrating team can get to the rim and create foul trouble for Shaq. Well, the Mavs are even more talented than the Bulls.
Other than Dirk, the Mav who will cause the most headaches is Josh Howard. The Dallas swingman is a defensive stopper who can slow down Dwyane Wade on one end and then run amok on the offensive end, because the Heat just don't have an answer for him.
Likewise, the Heat have no natural matchup for Dallas' secondary offensive stars, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse. And that's before you get to Devin Harris and Keith Van Horn, who also will be a handful against the larger, slower Heat.
With this kind of team speed, the Mavs at times will threaten to run the Heat right off the floor.
Of course, a big question for the Mavs is how they'll match up with Shaq. But even this can turn into an advantage for them if they can make Shaq work at the defensive end. Dallas coach Avery Johnson has the option of going small and forcing Shaq out of the defensive paint. Or he can play Shaq one-on-one with DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, two defensive and rebounding specialists who combined for 5-of-7 shooting and 16 rebounds in just 37 minutes the last time these two teams played.
The Miami Heat have Shaq, Wade, a savvy team of veterans and a coach with four rings. But they don't have the depth, quickness or shooting ability to match up well with Dallas.
That's why I expect the Mavs to win in six.