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InsideHoops [NBA Playoffs]

NBA Finals Preview




| June 8, 2006

The 2006 NBA Finals begin tonight. The Dallas Mavericks represent the Western conference, while the Miami Heat represent the East. It's the first time making the finals for either of these teams.

Dallas is led by superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki, who averaged 26.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.02 blocks per game in the 2005-06 regular season, shooting 48.0% from the field and 40.6% from three-point range.

Dirk's main support comes from swingman Josh Howard (15.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.9 apg and 1.15 spg - plus great defense) and point guard Jason Terry (17.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.25 spg).

Off the bench for the Mavs, Jerry Stackhouse and Keith Van Horn provide scoring punch.

Miami is led by superstar guard Dwyane Wade, who in the regular season averaged 27.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6.7 apg and 1.95 spg on 49.5% shooting. Although he barely made any three-pointers during the regular season (13-of-76, 17.1% - awful), Wade's been on target from anywhere on the court in the playoffs so far.

The Heat's other star is center Shaquille O'Neal. Although his career has been in decline over the last few seasons, the Big Diesel is still extremely hard to guard -- and sometimes still unstoppable -- for large stretches. He's picked his game up as the playoffs have progressed. In the regular season, Shaq averaged 20.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.76 bpg on 60% shooting.

They're supported by the scoring and passing of point guard Jason Williams, the big-time scoring and versatile skills of forward Antoine Walker, the rebounding of Udonis Haslem, and the rugged, banging, shot-blocking ways of monster big-man Alonzo Mourning off the bench. Also, veteran point guard and former all-star Gary Payton contributes steadily.

The AP reports: This postseason has provided further proof Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki are two of the world's best players. Only one is about to become an NBA champion for the first time. While Wade has the advantage of three-time champ Shaquille O'Neal playing beside him and a coach in Pat Riley who has won four titles, Nowitzki and the Mavericks appear to be deeper and have the home-court advantage over the Miami Heat as the NBA finals get underway. This series features two franchises appearing in the finals for the first time. It took the Mavericks 26 years to get here, 18 for the Heat.

The AP reports: This is the third team Riley has taken to the finals, though he hasn't won it all since 1988 with the Los Angeles Lakers. O'Neal won three championships with the Lakers, the last of which came in 2002 as he won a third consecutive finals MVP award. That trophy could end up in the hands of Wade or Nowitzki this year.

The AP reports: Though O'Neal still helps carry the load, Wade takes most of Miami's shots when the game is on the line and his 26.2 scoring average in the playoffs is about six more than the superstar center who is 10 years his senior.

The AP reports: The task of slowing down Nowitzki will most often be left to Udonis Haslem, who gives up about four inches to the 7-foot German who has been just as good from the outside as he has been driving to the basket.

The AP reports: No supporting player has been more important to Dallas than Josh Howard. The Mavs are 25-0 this season when he scores at least 20 points, and Howard could be just as important at the defensive end in this series because Johnson may use the 6-7 forward to guard Wade.

Ticker reports: The Mavericks swept both regular-season meetings. Their 103-90 win in Miami on November 25 came with O'Neal sidelined and Van Gundy still the Heat's coach. Their 112-76 home romp on national TV on February 9 was the last of their team record-tying 14 straight wins. After that loss, which Wade called "the turning point of our season," the Heat began a stretch where they won 15 of 16.

The AP reports: The Dallas Mavericks expected all along to get to the NBA finals -- just not this year. Playing in a tough conference and not long after releasing longtime star Michael Finley, the Mavericks actually thought they might take a step back this season, not a giant leap forward.

The AP reports: When the Heat take the court in Game 1 on Thursday night against the Dallas Mavericks, many of the players and coaches involved will be new to the NBA's biggest stage. Neither franchise has ever advanced this far, so there's plenty of rafter room for the banner to be won in the next two weeks. But while Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki marvels at what he calls "the most exciting time of my life," O'Neal and Riley know all about this familiar pressure on their shoulders. There's no relief unless they make good on their promises of a championship for Miami.

The AP reports: The Mavericks also have coach Avery Johnson, who got the club to its first finals in his first full season in charge. The Little General became the NBA's top young coach with a remarkable alchemy of old-fashioned motivation and a sophisticated ability to adapt to any opponent's style. Dallas scored plenty of points against the NBA's top two defenses (Memphis and San Antonio) in the first round before outscoring its top offense (Phoenix) in the conference finals. Nowitzki led the way, but Johnson knows it will take more than one player to win the franchise's first title.

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