Sunday, June 04, 2006


Southern nights

The minute I predicted the Suns would defeat the Mavs, I knew I'd made a mistake. It was just wishful thinking - I wanted to see Steve Nash in the NBA finals. But without Amare Stoudamire, Phoenix couldn't keep pace with Dallas. So last night's Game 6 finale - Mavs 106, Suns 93 - came as no surprise. The Suns simply couldn't stop Dirk Nowitski.

Now the Mavs will face Miami in the finals, starting Thursday in Dallas. It will be the first time since 1978 (when Washington beat Seattle) that both teams are making their debuts in the finals. Now the only teams left in the NBA to never go the distance are the Cavaliers, Clippers and Nuggets.

Despite being the away team, I'll go out on a limb and predict Miami will win the NBA finals. Shaquille O'Neal will neutralize Nowitski inside (though they'll have to figure out how to stop him from beyond the 3-point line) and Dwyane Wade is better than the Dallas backcourt combined. Plus, Miami coach Pat Riley has been there 8 times more than Dallas rookie Avery Johnson. The Heat in 6.

The Heat in six (or seven) sounds about right to me, although Pat Riley isn't part of my calculus in saying so. (Would this team have won with Stan? I definitely think so.) For starters, Shaq took a page out of the Yankees playbook this year, playing as well as he needed to during the regular season then turing it all up a notch for the post-season. Another big factor will be the Miami role-players (Payton, Walker, Williams) who have come to understand that they are, in fact, role-players on this team, not stars.

But it is Dwayne Wade who will be the difference maker for the Heat. I'll refrain from any comparisons with you-know-who, but will simply say that Wade is a guy who figures out what he needs to do in order to win in a given situation, then does it. In any event, this ought to be a wildly entertaining series. (By the way, is anyone interested in a side bet on whether or not Mark Cuban gets ejected from at least one game?)
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