LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki have accomplished virtually every individual feat a professional basketball player could achieve. All-Star appearances? The duo has 17 between them. MVP awards? The count stands at three.
But NBA championships? None.
Nowitzki was close in 2006, leading his first NBA Finals 2-0 before his Dallas Mavericks struggled in the clutch during the series’ final four games before losing 4-2. James reached the final round the following year, but his 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers lacked the talent to compete with eventual champion San Antonio.
This postseason, surrounded by a more mature Mavericks roster, Dirk has elevated his game personally to new levels. James, alongside superstar Dwyane Wade and All-Star Chris Bosh, is benefiting from his most talented team to date. One of these two superstars will finally get a much-deserved championship ring. The other, for all his wondrous gifts and accomplishments, will still have an incomplete NBA resume.
James and Wade are the two best players on the Heat, and perhaps two of the top five players in basketball.
James has evolved into a nearly complete player. With his combination of speed and upper body strength, he wills his way to the basket for layups and free throws while putting opposing frontcourts in foul trouble.
In the past, teams walled off the basket, played James soft and attacked his imperfect ball handling. But James has improved his jump shooting so much that opponents who sag off him get daggered from outside. Meanwhile, his vision, passing and unselfishness allow him to pick apart teams who commit too many defenders. In short, James is becoming nearly unstoppable.
Wade is less comfortable with his jump shot, so Heat opponents have had more success packing the paint against Wade when he has the ball. How well Wade shoots from the outside will help determine how well Miami scores against Dallas.
Bosh will likely be bothered by 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler’s length and quickness when facing or posting up, but because of the pressure James will put on Dallas’ defense, Bosh will likely still feast on a buffet of open 18-foot jump shots.
Miami's frontcourt features strong defenders in the 6-foot-8 James and 6-foot-9 center Joel Anthony, but they are too small to affect the majority of the 7-foot Nowitzki’s jumpers. Nowitzki’s impossibly high release point allows him to shoot over each defender, which at least would keep him off the free-throw line.
The best defensive candidate to defend Nowitzki is the 6-foot-10 Bosh, who is both long and quick. Plus, Miami’s rotations behind Bosh would be better than those of Western Conference finals foe Oklahoma City, which yielded too many dunks. If Bosh can have any success limiting Dirk, then the Heat could sweep.
Jason Terry won’t be able to isolate Wade’s excellent defense with too much success, and Miami’s screen defense is excellent. Terry will have to get his shots off within the confines of the offense, which prevents him from exploding for more than 20 points. Can he provide enough offense to augment Dirk?
Jason Kidd is the unsung star of the Mavs. From slowing down the Thunder's Kevin Durant to plugging 3-pointers to making sure the Dallas offense runs at peak efficiency, Kidd maximized the Mavs' talent in the previous round. If Nowitzki is playing well, then Kidd should be able to knock down or assist on open 3-pointers.
Dallas has the deeper bench, but can J.J. Barea continue his strong play? If so, he’ll open another scoring front for the Mavs.
Will Miami be able to keep Chandler off the offensive glass, preventing easy scores for Dallas? Will Chandler be able to stay out of foul trouble?
Can Miami's Mike Miller or Mike Bibby shoot well enough to keep the Mavs from loading up on James and Wade?
Miami has a better defense than Dallas, and it can slow down Dallas’ supporting cast. While the Mavs will have trouble generating offense, James should be able to dominate. Expect Miami to prevail in five close, low-scoring games. Heat in 5