By John Schmeelk
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The Mavericks and Heat have taken two very different paths to the NBA finals.

Miami has toppled their opponents using the superior athleticism of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James — on both ends of the floor. Defensively, they’ve been able to lock down the likes of Derrick Rose, Paul Pierce and Andre Igoudala, especially during clutch time. Offensively, they’ve created their own shots one-on-one, getting to the line to close out games.

The Mavericks, on the other hand, have made their way past more athletic teams. Clubs that include players like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ve won by sharing the basketball, making good decisions and playing good team-oriented defense. Dirk Nowitzki’s unconscious shooting has certainly helped, too.

The Mavericks roll out the likes of Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and Nowitzki, all thirty-something-year-olds that have lost a step. The Heat’s top three players, James, Wade and Chris Bosh, are more athletic, physically gifted, stronger and coordinated than anyone on the Mavericks’ roster. Watching whether the Mavericks’ smarts and teamwork can overcome the Heat’s physical gifts will be fascinating.

The Celtics couldn’t do it, but the Mavs are younger and deeper than Boston — and Nowitzki is better than anyone the Celtics had to throw at Miami. Playing Caron Butler, by the way, can only disrupt Dallas’ chemistry. It’s a terrible idea.

Dallas is facing a much tougher challenge than they’ve dealt with so far this postseason: containing LeBron. With a decent supporting cast, everyone is realizing what has been the truth for a couple years now: James is the best player in the NBA. He’s a great passer, can be the best perimeter defender in the league when he wants to be, and is making more plays than ever at the end of games.

James’ problem in crunch-time was always his willingness to take the shot the defense wanted him to take (often contested long jumpers). That hasn’t changed much, only that James is making those shots now. Many times throughout the playoffs, I’ve grinned as he took what most would consider a low percentage shot at the end of a game, only to see it go in.

If that continues, the Mavericks won’t have much of a chance in this series. If LeBron hits threes and long range two pointers at the end of games, he’s impossible to stop. If history is any indicator, he won’t keep hitting them at such a high percentage. Of course, Wade can pick up that slack, which is what makes the Heat so dangerous.

For the Mavericks, Nowitzki needs to continue his hot shooting. Even more so than LeBron, Dirk has been the best closer so far in the postseason. If his performance degrades even just a little bit, the Mavericks aren’t going to have much of a chance to win this series. Like James, Dirk has played over his head for much of the playoffs. Can he keep it going? The duel between these two stars, and which one continues his out of this world play at the end of games, will determine who wins this series.

After seeing how both teams match up with each other after Game 1, I’ll break those down in detail. Plus for notes on the NBA, the world of sports, and other random musings follow me on twitter at:!/Schmeelk

As for my prediction, before the regular season started, I predicted the Mavericks would win the NBA Finals. I can’t in good conscience change my mind now even though I think the Heat have the advantage. Mavs in 6. 

What’s your prediction for Heat-Mavericks? Let Schmeelk know in the comments below…

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