NBA Finals Preview

NBA FINALS PREVIEW
PLUS  MLB NOTES

The answers in chronological order are: The 2007 San Antonio Spurs, the 2008 Boston Celtics and the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Jeopardy question – if you will – is the following: Who are the four champions since the last time the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat clashed in an NBA Finals series back in the spring/early summer of 2006?

Okay, so this ain't exactly a repeat of the late 1990s when the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz bumped heads in back-to-back NBA Finals series (yes, the Bulls won both of those best-of-seven sets) but it's become a convenient storyline for this championship round that tips off in Miami on Tuesday night (9 p.m. ET) and might not end till June 14th.

No doubt an even bigger storyline is the quest for a first-ever NBA title for either Dallas megastar Dirk Nowitzki or Miami uber-star LeBron James and that's what will drive this series from a ratings standpoint and a historical standpoint:

Some in-the-know folks believe this is Nowitzki's 'last great opportunity'to seize a championship ring. After all, he's got a lot of mileage on his legs and Mavs point guard Jason Kidd isn't getting any younger.

On the flip side, the Heat's James was brought to South Beach to win 'multiple championships'and – should Miami (a – 175-to-100 betting favorite in this series at press time) not seal the deal here than there will be a slew of questions cascading down on the likes of King James along with pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Maybe you have the same mindset as some NBA people who believe the following: If James and Company nabs this crown than a whole slew of titles will follow but – if Miami is beaten here – than the quest to win it all will become that much more difficult for all Heat parties involved … hmmm. We shall get to our exclusive Jim Sez NBA Finals Preview in just a moment but first this important reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers get you all the NBA Finals action – that's the Sides & Totals, folks – beginning when the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat collide Tuesday night in South Florida. Just remember to call the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here and make sure you're all aboard for the ground-breaking hoops winners. Plus, make sure you stay with us right through the summer with all our Major-League Baseball winners!

     Okay, let’s whet your NBA Finals appetite first with a team-by-team look at this year’s NBA Playoffs Pointspread Breakdown Chart:

DALLAS 13-2 .867
MIAMI   10-5 .667
Memphis 8-4-1 .667
Indiana 3-2 .600
Philadelphia 3-2 .600
Atlanta 7-5 .583
Oklahoma City 8-8-1 .500
New Orleans 3-3 .500
New York 2-2 .500
Denver 2-2-1 .500
Chicago 7-9 .437
Boston 3-6 .333
LA Lakers 3-7 .300
Orlando 1-5 .167
San Antonio 0-5-1 .000
Portland 0-6 .000

As you can see, it comes as no great surprise that the Mavericks and Heat run #1-#2 in the playoff standings with a combined won/lost spread mark of 23-7 (that’s a glittering .767 winning rate) while you may wish to note that the aforementioned last four champions (the Spurs, Celtics and Lakers twice) combined to go a putrid 6-18-1 ATS (against the spread) for a .250 winning rate. So much for those recent “past performances” … right?

THE NBA FINALS
DALLAS at MIAMI – Game #1 (Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET)

When hoop fans think about 'special runs'made in NBA Playoffs, they tend to think back to 1983 when the Philadelphia 76ers almost followed the mantra of 'Four, Four, Four'espoused by Hall of Famer Moses Malone (the Sixers wound up losing just one playoff game in three series to go 12-1 straight-up overall--the best two teams in each conference received a first-round bye back then) but why not think about the here-and-now?

After all, the NBA Eastern Conference champion Heat have extinguished all three of its playoff foes this spring – that's Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago – in five games apiece while the NBA Western Conference champion Mavericks also have lost just three games in all (losing twice to Portland while sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers and besting Oklahoma City in a rugged five-game set).

Hey, those identical 12-3 SU (straight-up) marks equals an .800 winning percentage and so maybe it's high time for folks to recognize that despite some chatter to the contrary these teams indeed are the best two clubs in professional hoops.

Now, the $64,000 question is how should the Mavs and Heat attack one another during these next couple of weeks?

Well, let's start with the favorite Heat who have been every bit the 'three-headed monster'that it was supposed to be when James, Wade and Bosh combined forces last summer in the biggest/best free-agent party ever held. Note that the so-called 'Big Three'is averaging 68.3 points per game during this post-season run – note that Miami as a team is averaging 93 points a game meaning James/Wade/Bosh is responsible for slightly better than 73 percent of the team's points.

Heck, as Miami's opponents have painfully discovered there's always a good chance to slow down one of the above but that doesn't always translate into knocking the Heat off track – if James (26 ppg) winds up expending mucho energy playing defense against either PG Jason Kidd (7.7 assists per game) or reserve guard Jason Terry (17.3 ppg) than maybe the two-time league MVP will have his points/shots curtailed but that's no guarantee he'll be silenced at crunch time.

Both Wade (23.7 ppg) and Bosh (18.6 ppg) have gone through more prolonged offensive droughts at times in this post-season but get either one of 'em in a real rhythm and watch out – expect the Game #1 plan to be feed the lefty Bosh early/often and hope he starts drilling those top-of-the-key jumpers and than that will allow the rest of the Heat to 'space'the court better and get their share of open shots.

On the flip side, the Mavs often have been a one-man gang in these playoffs with the aforementioned Nowitzki (28.4 ppg) a real wrecking ball while making more twisting/turning/one-legged shots than you can count but Nowitzki – whose shooting better than 51 percent from the floor – can expect to meet lots of resistance here as Miami will front him (and often deny him the ball) and other times will swarm to him with double-teams so that someone else will have to beat the Heat with perimeter jumpers.

Let's just say that the likes of Terry (31 triples in this year's playoffs), Kidd (also 31 trifectas made this post-season) and reserve Peja Stojakovic (28 treys in these playoffs) will be super-important to the success or lack thereof for the Mavs who have really scorched some teams in this post-season with a bevy of 'downtown'shots.

Finally, if you listen to TNT game analyst Reggie Miller than he believes that the respective benches will either win – or lose – this best-of-seven series (and remember that Games #3, #4 and #5 will be played in Dallas) and don't automatically believe that the Mavs have the big edge here – didn't you eyeball the likes of Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller in that conference finals series triumph over the Bulls?

Common sense says this is not gonna be a short series – the Heat may be prohibitive favs as discussed earlier here in this column space but the Dallas defense can be terrific as Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle has seen his club hold opponents to below 90 points in seven of the team's 15 playoff games while Miami boss-man Erik Spoelstra and Company is not defending just a drive-and-dish guy here (see Chicago point guard Derrick Rose).

Back in 2006 the Heat fell behind Dallas two games-to-none and than rallied to win four in a row while copping the championship in six games. Now we'll see if the Mavs can get a long-delayed bit of revenge.

Now, here's a look back at the two regular-season matchups played between Dallas and Miami. Note the home teams below are in CAPS:

11/27 DALLAS (-2) Miami DALLAS 106-95
12/20 MIAMI (-6.5) Dallas Dallas 98-96

BASEBALL NEWS & NOTES

     Hats off to the Oakland A's and the Arizona Diamondbacks --  the only two MLB teams to sweep series this past holiday weekend (against Baltimore and Houston, respectively) but now let's take a few moments to examine some of the real under-the-radar starting pitchers scheduled to toe the rubber on this Memorial Day '11:

     DILLON GEE, RHP, New York Mets – The forgotten man in the Mets rotation actually has been a godsend to the Flushing squad as he's 4-0 with a 3.83 ERA this year despite starting off the year in Triple-A Buffalo and then unceremoniously getting yanked out of the rotation for a brief and unsuccessful stint in the bullpen. Gee – who faces off at Citi Field on Monday night versus the Pittsburgh Pirates – has allowed just 31 hits in 40 innings pitched and he's fresh off a rain-shortened 7-4 win against the Chicago Cubs last week who roughed him up for four runs in the bottom of the first inning and then never touched him in the next five innings.

     KYLE McCLELLAN, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals – So far Chris Carpenter's been a bust and Adam Wainwright is gone for the year but pitching coach Dave Duncan's latest project is this hard thrower who enters Monday's late matinee start against the visiting San Francisco Giants with a 6-1 mark and a 3.11 ERA. Note that McClellan has started 10 games this season and he has walked just 18 batters. Did somebody say potential All-Star starter for the NL? It's not soon to start having such thoughts, you know!

     NICK BLACKBURN, RHP, Minnesota Twins – Okay, so not a whole lot has gone right for the 2011 Twins but this less-than-overpowering righty deserves a shout-out following a 4-4 start that features a robust 3.20 ERA. Note that Blackburn owns an almost 2-to-1 K-to-BB ratio at 35 K-to-20 BB and he's surrendered just 8 home runs in 64.2 innings. Blackburn's won back-to-back starts the last two times out against Oakland and Seattle – now he trots out for a Memorial Day matinee game in Detroit against a tired Tigers team that just finished a split in Sunday's twin-bill against Boston.

     NOTE: Get more NBA Finals Updates in the next edition of Jim Sez.

21
Nov

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