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2011 NBA Finals Preview: In the Numbers

Four wins.

That’s how far the Mavericks and Heat are from making it into the history books and take the Larry O’Brien trophy home.

The long and winding road that 82 games bring have molded the persona of each team into the rolling powerhouses that will now clash until only one survives. Who are they really and how did they do?

Ignoring the human intangibles, we can look at each team’s season statistics to see where they finished ranking and what, if anything, it tells us about their game. No stat is conclusive, but laying it out in comparison can give us a general idea of what to expect in this epic clash. Here they are for your enjoyment to conjure your own opinion:

The Basics

NumbersBasicsQuick Points:

  • Securing the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference gave Miami home-court advantage over every team but the Bulls and Spurs. The Bulls have been just disposed of and the Spurs showed their age being upset in the 1st round, giving way to a much advantageous start at home.
  • Miami has been known for their defensive tenacity all season but Dallas is not far behind, maybe not as athletically imposing but long and savvy which gives teams enough trouble for the Mavs to outscore them with their arsenal of weapons.

 Quick Points:

  • A glaring number that shouldn’t come as a surprise but still does is the amount of plays that Miami is fouled on yet still converts for the And 1.  Having Wade and James help the cause immensely of course, ranking 10th and 15th respectively of players on the court for at least 25 minutes or more.  In a statistic dominated by power forwards and centers, Wade and James are 2 of the only 3 (Rodney Stuckey ranks 9th) non-bigs that convert at such high rate.  Bosh is not too far behind at 28th.
  • While the Heat has often relied on the amazing individual skills of their superstars, Dallas features the best ball movement in the league top ranking in various assist categories.  Miami already dealt with the synergy of the Boston Celtics (rank 2nd) and the plan is to overwhelm Dallas in the same manner.  It’s another classic for the basketball purists, pitting team basketball versus individual talent.
  • Unlike the Bulls, Dallas does not often crash the boards and will not pose such a commanding threat to the Heat.  Rebounding the ball is still of high priority, but focusing on it so much that it hinders the fast break might be over.  An opportunity for the return of the dual wing attack is likely.


Quick Points:

  • The Expect Field Goal Percentage measures the effectiveness of a team’s shot distribution if they were to shoot at the league’s average percentage from each area of the floor.  Both Miami and Dallas rank low as they often take the more difficult, less prone to be successful shots, yet make a high enough percentage of them to rank high in effectiveness.  Simply, being better at scoring at high degrees of difficulty has gotten the both teams farther.
  • Neither team might take as many shots near the rim (layups, dunks, etc) as others but when they do, they convert at a high rate.  Difference is Miami’s success stems from the relentless attack of the Big Three in isolation, transition or off screens whereas Dallas gets their easy baskets by means of their superb ball movement.
  • Watching Dallas Mavericks ball with, one would blindly assume them to be the best 3-point team in the league.  Aside from the obligatory Chandler as a means to deter intruders, Dallas can trot out a deadly long-range armada combo of Nowitzki, Stojakovic, Stevenson/Terry, and Kidd/Barea, all very able bombers (the best Maverick shooter by % is actually Brian Cardinal. The one that looks like your history professor).  A 3-point shooting team they are indeed, taking over a quarter of all their shots from downtown with 90% of them coming from their incessant ball movement.  Miami depends less on 3-pointers, yet convert at a higher rate -- very few of them from a system designed to take such shots but always-too-many from shot clock buzzer beaters or questionable, premature jumpers. Watching James and Wade shoot jumpers instead of driving into the lane is torture to all that know better, yet they make enough to soothe the worst of nerves. It’s a never ending love-hate relationship kind of thing.


NumbersDefenseQuick Points:

  • Obviously, every team in the league hopes to provoke long 2s from their opponent but there is only so much they can do. Miami’s defensive system prioritizes the collapse of the paint, surrounding intruders at any moment’s notice.  As such, Heat opponents get to the rim at an average rate but are less successful at finishing than any other team in the league.  Having the help defense from James and Wade along with Joel’s blocking abilities has created nightmares for anyone who dare enters the forsaken area at the rim.
  • Again, Dallas is not an elite defensive team, but do have the length and size to bother the opposition.  Slightly above average might not be enough, and if defense wins championships, Miami has the upper hand.

More in depth-analysis coming soon....