Friday, June 9, 2006

Shaq ready to fulfill guarantee of NBA title

The NBA Finals have started once again.

And, for the first time in three years, the Detroit Pistons aren’t representing the Eastern Conference.

In their place is a team that put them in their place last series, the Miami Heat. The Heat didn’t only want to beat the Pistons, they wanted to embarrass them for what happened a year earlier.

Powered by the dominant Shaquille O’Neal and electrifying Dwyane Wade, they showed the offensively impaired Detroit squad the door in six games.

Now, the only thing that stands behind the Heat and a NBA Championship that O’Neal guaranteed upon arriving in Miami is the upstart Dallas Mavericks and superstar Dirk Nowitzki.

First year head coach Avery Johnson has, (and I promised myself I wouldn’t use this saying) put the “D” back in the “Big D.” For the previous several years, Dallas has notoriously been unable to stop anyone from scoring, whether it be Kobe Bryant or Star Jones.

It’s only fitting that on the road to their first Finals appearances, both teams hurdled their previous roadblocks. Dallas unseated the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in a thrilling seven game series in the Western Conference Semifinals. This series saw this Maverick team earn years of playoff experience as, after losing Game 6 in Dallas, they traveled north to beat the Spurs at home in the deciding Game 7.

The big adjustment the Heat will need to make is in defending Dallas’ transition game. The Pistons didn’t run the floor nearly as much as Dallas will be, and this could be key in getting O’Neal fatigued. If I’m Avery Johnson, I’m salivating over this match-up because the Mavericks can run the Heat into the ground.

If that doesn’t happen, watch for O’Neal to take over. Once the Heat get comfortable running their half-court offense, which is a two man show with a mediocre supporting cast, Dallas will run into one question:

How do we stop Shaq?

They won’t be able to answer that question because it simply can’t happen. Dallas doesn’t have big enough or enough big bodies to bang with O’Neal throughout this series. The problem with the offense being run through O’Neal is that, like the late years of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty with Kobe Bryant, there is another superstar waiting to explode and capture the spotlight.

If Wade realizes the best way to earn his first ring is to use the big man down low, I see the Heat winning in seven, and Shaq flashing his fourth ring.

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