On the eve of the return of our beloved Miami Heat to the NBA Finals, let us take a look at the rotation players of the Dallas Mavericks and determine areas of strength that they may or may not have against us. Is there an answer to the Dirk Nowitzki puzzle? Is their bench really that much better than ours? Who on their team is a wildcard? Follow the jump for a full preview of the weapons at Coach Rick Carlisle's disposal.
This guy is ridiculous and virtually impossible to guard. His performance in these Playoffs has solidified his standing as an all-time great. While I would not quite put him up there with Coach Carlisle's lofty Top 10 all-time projection, I am comfortable saying that if the Top 50 Greatest NBA Players of All-Time list were to be revised, Dirk gets my vote to be on that list (probably in my Top 30, for the record). Now, enough kissing up to the opposition. Nowitzki is going to get his. There is just no stopping that. We can throw Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, LeBron James, Mike Miller, and James Jones at him in waves, but the guy is pretty much unstoppable (Didn't I say I was done kissing up? Sorry, the guy is just good. Hopefully, the opposition is giving due credit to our unstoppable star player as well). The only way to stop Dirk is if he stops himself, which he does not do nearly as much as he did earlier in his career. That said, the Miami Heat must be satisfied with making life difficult for Nowitzki and living with the results. Another key is not to send him to the foul line for free points and and-ones. Look for No. 6 to guard Dirk late in games. Hey may not ultimately be as successful as he was in shutting down Derrick Rose, but he can certainly give the Mavs' star player a different-and hopefully bothersome-look.
These two guys come off the bench, but they are arguably the second most important weapons in Carlisle's offensive attack. They force teams to stay honest and not double onto Nowitzki defensively-or pay the price if they elect to do so. Peja's minutes went down in the Oklahoma City series--likely due to match ups--but look for him to log huge minutes off the bench in the Finals. Jason Terry plays a similar role, but he is much more active. He is also very hungry. He and Nowitzki are the only holdovers from the 2006 Finals team (By the way, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are the only holdovers on our side. Strange symmetry, huh?). Because Dirk is going to get his regardless of how he is guarded, Stojakovic and Terry cannot get loose. For more on how potentially damaging this could be to the title hopes of our Heat, see the Mavs' sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Jason Kidd in nowhere near the force he was in his prime or during his previous back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. He is, however, a very effective floor leader. He has also made himself into somewhat of a three-point sharpshooter. Only Ray Allen and Reggie Miller, respectively, have made more treys in their careers. Look for him to make timely three-point shots if left open. Watch for that pump fake in an attempt to draw fouls as well. His greatest contribution to this series may be on the defensive end-especially as a help defender.
Speaking of defense, this guy brings his hardhat to work every single game. To help Heat fans form an appreciation of Chandler, think of what Joel Anthony might be like if he were about four inches taller. He would be most helpful to the Mavericks in the Finals (and hopefully this idea does not occur to Coach Carlisle) if they assign him to Chris Bosh. Even if Chandler plays off Bosh, look for him to help defend and rebound like crazy.
Shawn Marion/Jose Juan Barea
I have these two together because they are--in my opinion--the true wildcards the Dallas Mavericks possess. Marion is a hustle guy who rarely has plays run for him, but he finds ways to put the ball in the hole, he rebounds, and he defends his butt off on the perimeter. He is on a bit of a hot streak. The Matrix has scored 18 or more points in two of the Mavs' last three wins. J.J. Barea is perhaps the guy who worries me the most. He is the one perimeter player the Mavericks have who looks to get to the basket. He is not looking to make plays for others. He is looking to get in the lane and score. Look for the more athletic Mario Chalmers to be a counter-substitution anytime Barea checks into a game.