The NBA finals inch closer as quarterfinals action finished Sunday. The Western Conference showcases its two best teams, the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks. On the other side of the coast the Eastern Conference has the Detroit Pistons against the loaded Miami Heat.
The West is going to feature some fantastic showdowns, like two-time MVP Steve Nash against his former team and pal Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavericks dumped Nash in 2004 and have regretted it ever since, watching him garner not one but two MVP awards and leading the Suns deep into the playoffs for the second straight year. Nash has helped at least seven players have career years and the Suns have been without the help of offensive powerhouse Amare Stoudemire. The Suns looked great in the first quick draw of the series, downing the Mavs 118-117 in Dallas.
Nowitzki’s Mavs won’t go quietly into the sunset. After years of being steamrolled by Texas’s beloved San Antonio Spurs, the Mavericks demolished the former NBA champs in last week’s quarterfinal match-up. The Mavs and Spurs have striking resemblances. Tim Duncan’s and Nowitzki’s style of play are beginning to look the same as the years progress.
Instead of dropping three-pointers as per usual, Nowitzki is playing inside and posting up more. No one thought that there would be another player as fast as Tony Parker, but Jason Terry makes Parker look old. Josh Howard plays tough defense similar to Bruce Bowen, but Howard scores twice as often. Old vets Michael Finley and Jerry Stackhouse make their living behind the three-point line. If both teams swapped jerseys no one would know the difference.
The Mavs’ play shows how much Dallas coach Avery Johnson learned under head coach Gregg Popovich during his time in San Antonio. Johnson played for the Spurs from 1994-2001 and Popovich took over the Spurs in 1995. A changing of the guard is happening in Texas. Johnson has supplanted his mentor and now controls the West.
In the East two powerhouses are clashing. The Detroit Pistons barely escaped LeBron James’ prodigious postseason prominence and now are facing the brutal heat of Miami. The Heat have eight starters ready and waiting for the beaten-up Pistons. Led by the electrifying Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal, the Heat look like they have all the pieces to take the East. Miami added Gary Payton, Jason Williams and Antoine Winfield to add depth to an already talented team. The team has adopted the motto “no excuses” and the Heat have none if they are not successful this post-season.
The Pistons last series against King James left some bumps, bruises and questions about the starting line-up. Rasheed Wallace has yet to step up and play to his caliber. Game one was awful for the Piston, who is shooting a measly 37 percent. This horrendous percentage cannot be attributed to contested shots. The Pistons couldn’t knock down anything. Shaq and D-Wade didn’t even play most of the game because of foul trouble. The Heat took a bite out of the Detroit heart but the Pistons aren’t done yet.
The Heat will overpower the Pistons and take the series in seven games. There should be no surprise if the Pistons turn on that motor and take the heat out of Miami. This is a juggernaut match-up and will be a great series.
The Mavericks will take out the Suns after they rediscover their defense and game plan. This series will also go to seven games. After beating San Antonio, Dallas has all the tools to beat any team – it is a question of coaching and Johnson has learned from the best.
Although most favor the Mavericks as the finals winner, I disagree. Like most NBA series, the finals are on one side of the map and not the other. As I see it, whoever wins the East will win the finals. The Heat will have a big obstacle in the Mavericks but should be able to edge them out in six. If the Mavs can dictate the pace of the game and get Nowitzki lots of open looks it could go the other way. Dwyane Wade and a healthy Shaq are too much for any team. This team has no more excuses. It must get to the finals and win.