Since Magic Johnson's rookie year only seven different teams have won the NBA Championship. This year that will finally change. A new name will be added to the O'Brien Trophy, and for the first time in 35 years, the battle for the crown will be waged by two teams playing for their first title - one team of veterans led by a young superstar trying to give his vet teammates one last taste of glory going up against a long-suffering franchise which finally seems to be hitting its stride, with a deep roster led by arguably the greatest foreign-born player in league history.
The man with the most Finals experience in this series will be wearing a suit and sitting on the sidelines. Miami Heat coach Pat Riley, returns to the Finals for the first time since 1994 with the Knicks, and is looking for his first ring since 1988 when he led the Lakers the promised land. Holding the chalkboard for the Dallas Mavericks will be the Little General, Avery Johnson. Johnson rightfully took home this year's Coach of the Year award and has turned a once anemic Dallas defense into an aggressive unit. The diminutive former point guard with the gigantic heart as imprinted his personality on a team many once considered too soft to win it all.
Riley's team struggled through much of the season, battling injuries and learning to play together, while Johnson's Mavericks have been one of the most dominant teams in the league all season. The Heat come into the Finals not having faced the level of competition the Mavericks had to weather to get there. Miami easily dispatched the upstart Chicago Bulls, breezed by a New Jersey team that relies on two-scorers to win games, then beat a mentally-defeated Detroit team that seemed to fall apart at the seams as the playoffs wore on. As for the Mavericks, they are certainly battle-tested. After easily handling the poor man's Mavericks (Memphis Grizzlies) the Mavs had to endure a grueling seven-game series against their arch rival San Antonio Spurs and then battle the MVP of the league and his up-tempo Suns. The Mavericks may be exhausted from their last two playoff series, but after beating teams of contrasting and constantly pushing themselves to not have letdowns, the Mavs must feel at this point that they can take down anybody.
Despite their previous playoff exploits of this season or their coaches' pedigrees, this series will obviously be decided by the players on the floor. There is little argument after seeing the early rounds of the 2006 playoffs that Dirk Nowitzki enters the series as the best player in the postseason. Certainly, if not considered the best all-around player, he will cause the toughest match-ups on either side of the ball. The Heat have nobody to guard Nowitzki, as do few teams in the league at this point. His ability to go inside and outside, post people up, and take people off of the dribble have made him a juggernaut that not even Riley will be able to solve.
As for the Heat's biggest weapon Dwyane Wade, while he is a dynamo whose potential has yet to be fully understood by the league, he will be covered by a slew of Mavericks, including the excellent defender Josh Howard, and the feisty Marquis Daniels. And when he is at the defensive end, Wade will have to keep up with the speedy point guards of the Mavericks, because there is no way the aging Gary Payton will be able to. Over 6-7 games this will undoubtedly take some of the zip out of Flash's game. Which means the small superhero will need his Superman to come through for him. And, although Shaq showed some of his old form in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, it is ridiculous to think he is the same dominant force that won those three rings in Los Angeles. He is still one of the best big men in the game, but he is no longer able to impose his will on people and single-handedly change games. So, while he may have one or two classic Shaq performances, if the Heat are relying on him rescuing them, especially as he is dogged by the Mavericks rotation of big men and their 18 fouls, they are in trouble.
The Mavericks have faced their worst nightmares in San Antonio and Steve Nash's run-and-gun style. They are ready to slay the beast and give Dallas its first championship in franchise history.
Prediction: Dallas in 5