Winderman: Is a Back to the Future 2006 Heat vs. Mavs finals ahead?

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With the Mavericks playing from a position of strength against the Lakers and the Heat in early control against the Celtics, in many ways it’s as if it’s 2006 all over again.

While a Heat-Mavericks NBA Finals this time would have the Heat as the home team (because of what previously seemed like an innocuous 35-point performance by Eddie House on the final night of the regular season in Toronto, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looked on from the bench), the question on South Beach is whether this would represent something closer to a genuine champion.

For those who forget, the Heat won the 2006 title coming off a relatively benign 52-30 regular season.

It was a championship achieved with the likes of Antoine Walker starting at small forward, Jason Williams at point guard, Michael Doleac as the backup center most of the season and Gary Payton on his last cussin’ legs.

Yet when viewed beyond the Big Three, as has been well chronicled these past six months, this Heat team is full of the type of warts that leave James Jones as the most reliable wing, Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby as the middling point guard rotation, and Joel Anthony as the valued sixth man, despite the reality that he can neither catch the ball or put it through the large orange circle.

The Mavericks we know are better because, thanks to the presence of Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion, they actually play defense this time around, no longer left to the whims of enigmatic Josh Howard.

But 2011 Heat vs. 2006 Heat?

Yes, the presence of LeBron ends most debates. Chris Bosh can do more than Dirk-stopping Udonis Haslem did in 2006, at least as a two-way presence. And in many ways, Wade is a more mature presence these days, less likely to gamble for the homerun play on defense.

But the 2006 Heat did eventually close with Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning in the middle, which certainly trumps (several times over) the current trifecta of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Erick Dampier and Jamaal Magloire.

And there was a legitimate perimeter stopper off the bench in James Posey. With James and Wade finding no relief in that aspect this season, left to deal with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on their own.

The reality is that if the Heat win another championship, it again will be with a flawed roster.

A champion, nonetheless. But hardly a complete champion.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.