By John Schmeelk
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The NBA Finals are down to a three-game series, with the final two in Miami. One trend is abundantly clear: these two teams are so close in talent level that these games are going to be very, very close. That makes every slight adjustment by each team, or the slightest mistake by a player all the more important. Despite playing an all-world game, Dwyane Wade helped cost the Heat the Game 4 with his missed free throw and fumbled pass in the final minute.
There has been a shift throughout the series, which seems to be swinging in Dallas’ favor. Here are some of the important trends:
– Dwyane Wade continues to play out of his mind, and the Mavericks have no matchup for him. He can get to the rim at will and is playing near perfect basketball. Dallas has tried Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson on him. None have been successful. Chris Bosh seems to be slowly gaining confidence, though he is settling for the long jumper more and more rather than taking it to the rim. He can hit the shot, but Dallas will live with him as a jump shooter. Miami will be fine with the production from these two guys.
– LeBron James is another story. As Wade played better and better, James kept sliding further and further into the background. It’s not a necessarily a bad thing to defer to the man with the hot hand, and James should be commended for being unselfish. All the media question about “shrinking” in the finals moments don’t make a whole lot of sense considering how he closed out nearly every game in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the pressure and scrutiny mounting, however, it will be interesting to see how LeBron James reacts. Will he try to force the issue against a good Mavericks defense and take the offense and his teammates out of rhythm? Will his aggression and ball domineering ways take Wade out of his flow? Of course, if he gets hot, he could lift the Heat to a series win. How LeBron plays the rest of the way will go a long way to dictating how this series will play out. Expect more on LeBron tomorrow.
– In Game 4, the Mavericks managed to survive a bad shooting game from Dirk, something no one thought they could do. Considering how bad Dallas shooting was late in the fourth quarter, it was a minor miracle they held on to win the game. Dirk is getting easier shots than I’ve seen him get in a long time, and they will start falling again. Udonis Haslem does a decent job on him, but he isn’t forcing Nowitzki into any shots he doesn’t hit consistently.
– Dallas is starting to figure out Miami’s defense. As the series has gone along the Mavericks are getting better and better shots on their offensive possessions. It became crystal clear in Game Four when their role players were able to do enough to make up for a 6-19 shooting performance from Dirk Nowitzki. I would expect the supporting cast’s play to stay steady for the rest of the series, or even improve. JJ Barea is due for a breakout game, which could swing a game in the Mavericks favor. Jason Kidd is also due for a good scoring game.
– Part of the Mavs improved offense has to do with Rick Carlisle’s Game Four adjustments. Entering JJ Barea into the starting lineup gave the starting lineup more of a punch and a better tempo. Even though Barea didn’t shoot any better, Dallas pushed the ball a lot more and got better looks than they had been getting in past games. Moving away from Peja Stojakovic and his terrible defense should also benefit Dallas moving forward.
– Despite the increased pace, the Mavericks have gotten their turnover problem under control that nearly cost them Game 2. Besides Dwyane Wade, who Dallas can’t figure out how to cover, they have done an excellent job with their initial defense on Miami. With their turnovers down, Miami can’t run as much and get a lot of easy baskets. Instead, they’re forced to navigate an excellent Dallas halfcourt defense. That’s a huge win for the Mavericks.
– Dallas, however, has not been able to finish off their defense and secure rebounds. If there’s one thing besides Dwyane Wade that’s keeping the Heat afloat in this series, it’s offensive rebounding. Joel Anthony and company have been hitting the boards with reckless abandon. Tyson Chandler is doing everything he can but he needs help. Dirk needs to rebound better, and Dallas guards like Kidd and Terry need to help out too. Wade has found his way to the offensive glass far too often.
As you can see, things are starting to shift in the Maverick’s favor. The X factor will be LeBron James. He could turn this series either way if he decides to change the way he is playing. Watch him tonight, and enjoy the game.
I should note one thing few people ever do. The referees in this series have been fantastic. They are letting both teams play and keeping the stars off the free throw line. Throughout the playoffs, Wade, LeBron and Dirk have all gotten tons of touch fouls that needlessly slow the down game. The officials have made those three guys earn their points the hard way, refusing to bail them out with whistles. The games have been physical, tough, but also clean. Tip your caps. Well done!
You can follow me on twitter throughout the NBA Finals and then the NBA Draft at: http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.
What team gets it done tonight? Leave your pick below.