NBA Finals Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs. Miami Heat

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed in Western Conference)
Heat: 58-24 (No. 2 seed in Eastern Conference)

SEASON SERIES
Dallas swept the season series 2-0. After a slow start to the season Miami went on a 22-2 streak — but both of those losses were to Dallas. That said, both games were before Christmas, so don’t read much into them.

PLAYOFF SERIES
Mavericks: defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2, Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0, Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1
Heat: defeated Philadelphia 76ers 4-1, Boston Celtics 4-1, Chicago Bulls 4-1

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)

Game 1 – Tue. May 31 at Miami 9:00 PM
Game 2 – Thu. June 2 at Miami 9:00 PM
Game 3 – Sun. June 5 at Dallas 8:00 PM
Game 4 – Tue. June 7 at Dallas 9:00 PM
Game 5 * Thu. June 9 at Dallas 9:00 PM
Game 6 * Sun. June 12 at Miami 8:00 PM
Game 7 * Tue. June 14 at Miami 9:00 PM

All games broadcast on ABC

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Caron Butler likely will not play this series, he has been out with knee surgery since the middle of the season. Rodrigue Beaubois is back from injury, but it hasn’t mattered he isn’t playing. The Mavs have made the finals in spite of all that.
Heat: Mike Miller has injured two thumbs you couldn’t play NBA 2K11 with, but he will be out on the court.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE PLAYOFF RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Mavericks: Offense 114.1 (1st in NBA playoffs); Defense 106.1 (8th)
Heat: Offense 107.2 (4th in NBA playoffs); Defense 101.7 (3rd)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS:

Dirk Nowitzki. He has been a marvel, the single best player in the playoffs. He is averaging 28.4 points per game on 51.7 percent shooting grabbing 7.5 boards, and yet the numbers simply do not do his performance justice. He is efficient. His rainbow, one-legged, turnaround fadeaway is both the most devastating shot in the game today and completely ungaurdable. His passing has been phenomenal. In this series it will be interesting to see how the Mavericks use him on defense — hide him on Joel Anthony or let him cover Chris Bosh? Whatever he does, expect a monster series from him — like everyone else the Heat will have no good defensive answer for him.

Tyson Chandler. Through the regular season, the Miami Heat shot 66 percent when they got within three feet of the basket. But in two meetings with the Mavericks, they shot 52 percent. The key to beating the Heat is to turn them into jump shooters and not let them get easy baskets in transition and at the line. A lot of that falls to Chandler — he has to defend the rim without fouling. If he can do what he did in the regular season the Mavericks have a huge advantage. But it will not be as simple as it was back in December (the Heat’s ball movement and movement of players off the ball is far better now than the last time these teams played). Remember, at the end of Game 5 the Bulls did what they wanted and turned LeBron and Wade into jump shooters from three, and they knocked the shots down.

Jason Terry. He represents the entire Mavs bench here — J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic, Brendan Haywood. They have been key to the Mavericks success by providing scoring in a variety of ways, but now they face a very different challenge — the Heat have gone with a very small three-man rotation, keeping their big three on the floor for heavy minutes. The Mavs bench is going to have to match up to that — if they can it will mean rested Mavericks starters and a boost or them, but if the bench lets them down and Miami makes runs, it will be a big hole to dig out of.

THREE KEY HEAT

LeBron James. The Heat’s evolution through these playoffs into a team that trusts each other parallels James evolution. He has always had a well-rounded game in him, he’s always been willing to make the pass, but on his previous teams him shooting over a double team may have been a better scoring option than passing to some of his teammates. In the last few games against the Bulls James really seemed to settle into a facilitator role with the Heat. Of course, he’s still scoring 25.9 points per game and pulling down 8.7 rebounds per game during the playoffs so it isn’t all just making passes.

Dwyane Wade: He just did not look right last series, in the end shooting 40.5 percent and by Game 5 passing up open looks to feed more covered teammates. Well, that was until the game was on the line in the final four minutes when he hit three key sots. This series the Heat will need his offense — in the past Dallas has struggled to contain good two guards. Wade should be able to score easily on DeShawn Stevenson and he’ll need to. This is a matchup the Heat need to exploit.

Udonis Haslem. He brings a real toughness and energy to the Heat — this is one of the guys on this team with a ring (from the 2006 Heat). He also is here to represent the guys on Miami — Chris Bosh, even LeBron James — who have to cover Nowitzki. They need to be able to often single-cover Nowitzki because the Mavericks spread the floor with shooters and you can’t leave them. Haslem hounded Nowitzki and kept him in check during the 2006 finals and will be asked to reprise that role. The time off until next Tuesday and the amount of time between games in the finals should help keep him healthy (he had foot surgery early in the year).

OUTLOOK

This is going to be one entertaining finals. These teams are here because they were the teams executing at the end of games — both sides have tremendous come-from-behind wins and both have just simply out executed their opponents in the clutch. Both have seen their best players — Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James — win games with jump shots.

No lead will feel safe in this series, especially late. That said, both teams benefited from playing teams that helped out with tight play and poor execution under pressure last series. That will not be the case now, one team will need to step up.

One key so far is that Dallas has not played fantastic defense, they’ve been just pretty average through the playoffs. Dallas has won with their offense. Miami’s defense, on the other hand, has been impressive. Their athleticism challenges everything, takes away passing lanes and they have been physical with everyone. This will be a different kind of test because Dallas is a jump shooting team — pack it in to take away the paint like the Heat did against the Bulls and the Mavs will shoot and make right over the top, something Chicago failed to do. Either Miami’s defense or the Mavs offense has to give way, and that will be key.

Dallas needs to exploit the point guard play of Mike Bibby or the lack of size inside by the Heat — who go with a small lineup having 6’9” Joel Anthony at center — to win. The Mavericks need to hit the offensive glass hard, harder than the Bulls did, to get the series win. Rebounding will be another key.

Bench play also will matter — Dallas has gotten scoring from everyone it seems, but how will that bench fare against heavy minutes from the big three of the Heat.

PREDICTION

Dallas has been playing fantastic ball, but Miami has been playing better defense so far. Plus, the versatility of their three stars gives them more ways to attack and adjust as the series wears on. Dallas will put up a fight, and they have surprised us before these playoffs, but while this will feel different it will end just like it did in 2006.

Heat in 6.

Two men charged with taking over NBA player’s social media accounts, selling info

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — A Louisiana man and a Florida man allegedly gained access to professional athletes’ social media accounts and either sold the information or used it to extort payments, according to federal criminal complaints released Wednesday.

Trevontae Washington and Ronnie Magrehbi each face wire fraud conspiracy and computer fraud conspiracy counts filed by the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey.

The 21-year-old Washington, of Thibodaux, Louisiana, allegedly obtained usernames and passwords for multiple NFL and NBA players and sold access to the information.

Magrehbi, 20, of Orlando, Florida, allegedly obtained an NFL player’s email and Instagram account information and extorted money by publishing explicit photos of the player and threatening to publish more.

Washington and Magrehbi were scheduled to make initial court appearances Wednesday in their respective states. They were not alleged to have worked together on the scams.

Their alleged victims included two NFL players and one NBA player, all of whom lived in New Jersey at the time of the alleged crimes.

According to the complaint, Washington used a “phishing” scam — requesting login information purportedly for a legitimate purpose — to gain access to the accounts of one NFL player in 2018 and locked the player out of the accounts.

Washington also took over the accounts of at least two other players, and acknowledged to investigators after his arrest last year that he had sold access to players’ accounts for between $500 and $1,000 each, the complaint alleged.

Magrehbi also used phishing to take over the social media accounts of an NFL player living in New Jersey in 2018 who eventually paid him $500, according to the complaint.

A few days later, explicit images of the player were posted to his Twitter and Instagram accounts and he was asked for an additional $2,500 to prevent the publishing of additional photos, the complaint alleged. The request came from a prepaid cellphone linked to Magrehbi, according to the complaint.

Court personnel for the Eastern District of Louisiana didn’t provide information on an attorney representing Washington. A message was left Wednesday at the Middle District of Florida seeking attorney information for Magrehbi.

Wire fraud conspiracy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Computer fraud conspiracy has a five-year maximum sentence.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis have two of top three selling jerseys during bubble

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The Los Angeles Lakers have the biggest, most popular brand of any NBA franchise. LeBron James is the biggest brand of any active NBA player, nationally and globally.

Combine them and it sells a lot of jerseys.

LeBron sold more jerseys during the NBA restart in Orlando than any other player, the NBA announced Wednesday, hours before LeBron and his Lakers tipped off in the NBA Finals. LeBron’s teammate, Anthony Davis, was third on the list. Here is the list released by the NBA.

Top 15 Most Popular NBA Jerseys

1. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
2. Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks
3. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
7. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
9. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers
10. Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
11. Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
12. Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
13. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
14. Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets
15. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

A few notes of interest:

• The sixth and seventh best selling jerseys were players who did not suit up in the bubble, Curry and Durant.
• Rookie Ja Morant sold the 15th most jerseys, making his first appearance on this list, while Zion Williamson did not make the top 15.
• Second is the highest Luka Doncic has ever finished on this list, his spectacular play in the bubble helped spike his popularity.
• These results are based on NBAStore.com sales from July 30 through Sept. 28.

Top 10 Most Popular Team Merchandise

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Boston Celtics
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Miami Heat
5. Golden State Warriors
6. Toronto Raptors
7. Dallas Mavericks
8. Milwaukee Bucks
9. Portland Trail Blazers
10. Denver Nuggets

Lakers have historically easy path to championship*

Lakers star LeBron James
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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By the 2018 NBA Finals, LeBron James was feeling the stress of facing the mighty Warriors again. LeBron and the Cavaliers toppled a 73-win Golden State in 2016… only for the Warriors to add Kevin Durant. Golden State beat Cleveland in the 2017 Finals and was on the way to repeating. The too-often overlooked aspect of LeBron’s 3-6 NBA Finals record: His competition on that level has been EXCELLENT.

Not so much this year.

At least on paper.

The fifth-seeded Heat are among the lowest lowest seeds ever to reach the NBA Finals. Miami (44-29) outscored opponents by just 2.9 points per game in regular-season/seeding games. That’s the lowest margin for a Finals team in the last 20 years outside the 2018 Cavs (+0.9).

And it’s not as if that’s just an East-West issue. The Lakers’ road through the Western Conference looked remarkably similar to LeBron’s challenge while he dominated the East for eight years – i.e., not that imposing.

Los Angeles’ postseason opponents’ margins per game during the regular season/seeding games:

  • Trail Blazers: -1.1
  • Rockets: +3.0
  • Nuggets: +2.1
  • Heat: +2.9

Not including themselves, the Lakers avoided the top five teams! The Bucks (+10.1), Celtics (+6.4), Clippers (+6.4), Raptors (+6.3) and Mavericks (+4.9) all had better margins per game than Houston.

Still, at the very minimum, the Lakers must win four series to win a title. In the NBA’s early days, that was just two.

The 1957 Celtics won the championship by beating the Syracuse Nationals (-1.4) and St. Louis Hawks (-0.1). That’s all it took!

Even for dominant teams, each additional series is an opportunity for something to go wrong. So, the Lakers have it tougher than many prior champions. It’s difficult to compare across eras, anyway.

But since the NBA adopted a 16-team postseason in 1984, this is an incredibly soft-looking run.

The Lakers’ playoff opponents have an average margin of +1.7, which would be second-lowest for a championship team in this format. The 1987 Lakers’ opponents had an average margin of just +1.0.

Simply averaging opponents’ margins probably isn’t the best method, though. What does it matter whether a championship team faces a team barely over .500 or a team with a losing record in the first round? An eventual champion usually easily dispatches either. The more significant differences in opponent quality come in later rounds.

So, I created Postseason Strength of Schedule Score (PSSS) for title teams since 1984.

For each championship team, I multiplied the margin of their top opponent by four, the margin of their second-best opponent by three, the margin of their third-best opponent by two and the margin of their worst opponent by one then added the totals. (There is room to quibble with the ratios. I chose this for simplicity.)

The higher the PSSS, the more difficult the schedule.

The 2020 Lakers would have the lowest PSSS (23.7), narrowly behind the 1987 Lakers (23.9) but way below everyone else:

For what it’s worth, the Heat would have the highest PSSS (72.8), topping the 1995 Rockets (68.9):

The big asterisk over this entire discussion: It’s impossible to assess a team’s overall level at the exact time of a playoff series. True in a normal year, it’s especially difficult this year with a long layoff and bubble weirdness.

Yes, the Heat outscored opponents by just 2.9 points per game in the regular season/seeding games. How much does that have to do with Miami’s current ability, though? The Heat have looked awesome in the playoffs.

Maybe they’re particularly resilient in a way that helps in the bubble. Maybe young players like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro have developed far beyond where they were in the regular season, which ended more than half a year ago. Maybe in-season acquisitions Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala lifted Miami after the Heat built most of their regular-season record.

There are infinite reasons Miami might not be the team suggested by its regular-season/seeding-game record.

Ditto Portland (which got back Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins and developed momentum while winning the play-in), Houston (which looked gassed when the regular season was halted) and Denver (which, honestly, might have gotten worse with Will Barton hurt and so many players recovering from coronavirus).

That said, regular-season success tends to be a strong predictor of postseason success. There’s still something to the Lakers’ playoff competition.

The Lakers would’ve been lauded for beating the Clippers and Bucks. So, shouldn’t the Lakers get more credit for beating the teams that beat the Clippers (Nuggets) and Bucks (Heat)?

There’s certainly an argument to be had. But it’s also plausible that, even though Denver and Miami won each series, the Clippers and Bucks were still better teams overall. Milwaukee had matchup issues with the Heat that wouldn’t have necessarily manifested against the Lakers. Though the Nuggets deserve credit for winning, if the teams played again fresh – even knowing the results of the series that happened – the Clippers would be favored. The Clippers definitely had a higher ceiling, and maybe they would’ve come together during a longer playoff run.

Or maybe they would’ve gotten even sicker of each other.

It’s impossible to know. All we can say: The Lakers beat the teams in front of them. That’s a great accomplishment. They have prevailed where other favorites have faltered. Every NBA title is hard to win.

Some are harder than others, though.

For low seed, Heat dominated their way into NBA Finals

Heat star Bam Adebayo dunks
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Would the Heat have still made the NBA Finals if the season finished normally?

The answer is unknowable.

But evaluating the question is essential for determining how much recognition Miami deserves for this run and assessing the Heat’s chances against the Lakers.

No. 5 seed Miami is one of just four teams seeded so low to advance this far. The Knicks made the 1999 NBA Finals as a No. 8 seed. The Rockets made the Finals in 1981 and 1995, even winning in 1995, as No. 6 seeds.

The Heat didn’t just sneak through the Eastern Conference, though. They swept the Pacers, smoked the Bucks in five games and topped the Celtics in six games.

Miami’s 12-3 record en route to the NBA Finals was the best record by any of the four lowest-seeded teams to get this far.

Heck, Miami’s 12-3 record is better than any No. 4 seeds had en route to the Finals.

Really, only one No. 3 seed has ever topped the Heat. The 1980 76ers went 10-2 in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But Philadelphia (59-23) was the third-best regular-season team in the whole NBA, barely behind the Celtics (61-21) and Lakers (60-22). The 76ers just finished second to Boston in the Atlantic Division and therefore took the No. 3 seed behind the Central Division-champion Hawks, who finished nine games behind Philadelphia.

Miami, 44-29 in the regular season/seeding games, didn’t appear to be this type of force entering the playoffs.

So, what changed?

Reasons to believe the Heat would’ve done this in a normal year:

  • The Heat are good. Even before the season went on hiatus, I considered them a championship contender. In the very bottom tier of championship contention. But a championship contender, nonetheless.
  • Miami was always a versatile team with ability to play different styles offensively and defensively. That’s so useful in a deep postseason run against multiple opponents.
  • The Heat always appeared to match up well with the Bucks, the Eastern Conference’s top regular-season team by a mile. Miami had a defense that could give Giannis Antetokounmpo difficulty getting to the rim and 3-point shooters to take advantage of Milwaukee’s biggest defensive vulnerability.
  • Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala lifted the Heat’s level more than the team’s overall record after being acquired during the season.

Reasons to believe the Heat wouldn’t have done this in a normal year:

  • A lower seed in all its playoff series, Miami played each game on a neutral court rather than being without home-court advantage.
  • The bubble has had fluky-looking results.
  • The Heat are mentally strong and focused in ways that help them flourish in this difficult environment. Those are useful skills in normal times, but they seem especially important now.
  • The Bucks never hit their groove in the bubble. For whatever reason(s).
  • Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro took leaps. Extending the seasons gave the young players more time to develop.
  • Goran Dragic looks rejuvenated after the long layoff. The 34-year-old was already having a bounce-back season, but this is above and beyond.

Whatever would’ve happened with a normal finish to the season, it didn’t. The Heat absolutely deserve credit for conquering the challenge in front of them. The Lakers will be the biggest obstacle yet, but Miami can overcome that one, too.

Would the Heat have fared as well in normal times? We can only wonder.

But they’re built for this.