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NBA 2006 Playoffs

The Finals

UPDATE: Miami is ahead 3 games to 2 over Dallas. And Dwayne Wade is the reason. His ascension up the ladder of success is amazing to watch and if the Heat do indeed take it, we will have watched the most dominant finals by an off guard since Michael Jordan.

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The twists and lessons of this year's journey has left some teams looking up optimistically, others still looking at what went wrong, and others hopeful for a new beginning. But that's another subject for draft day or even next season. At this point we have whittled down the teams in the most fare way possible and these two teams, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks, have proven themselves to be the best. What we have learned from these teams is that "Underdog" doesn't mean you have to lose and that "Perseverance" is created by a strong, willful coach who instills the attitude in his players that faith is rewarded. In this, both teams are similar but in style, energy, and attack methods, they differ greatly. Dallas is more aggressive with one superstar and a swarm of quality performers. Depth, defense and pace of game are all important for this team to thrive. Meanwhile, Miami is a two headed beast, who are surrounded by aging, complimentary veterans. It wasn't evident when these playoffs started, but both teams are tailor-made for deep runs in the playoffs.

The Match Ups

Dirk "Dirty" Nowitzki vs Udonis Haslem - This is the series. Dirk has to be a monster in this series and no, he's not a dirty player -- it's just a nickname he's starting to pickup because he just gets into it. Against the Spurs, he went toe to toe with Duncan in game seven. And he has to be feeling pretty confident that he can get what he wants, when he needs it. The stats don't lie and Dirk has put up the best numbers of any forward in the playoffs since ole Larry Bird in the 80s. If I'm the Heat, it's my job to keep Dirk on the outside, off the offensive glass and double team wisely. Haslem and Antoine Walker draw the huge of task keeping Dirk and his tongue wag in check. Probably not going to happen.

Shaq vs Eric Dampier - This is Miami's biggest point of favor; no contest in favor of Shaq. But how consistently Shaq plays like he did in game 6 against the Detroit Pistons will go a long way in determining the champion. Remember in that game he went off for 28 points, 16 rebounds and 5 blocks. Dampier has to make Shaq work hard on offense and hustle down court when the Mavs have the ball. Making Shaq slow and tired on defense is Dampier's biggest challenge. When he's blocking shots and keeping the lane clear of the opposition's forays to the rim, the Heat are incredible difficult to beat.

Dwyane Wade vs Adrian Griffith / Josh Howard / Marquis Daniels / Devin Harris - Almost equally important as Shaq in this series, is Wade's great ability to attack. When he attacks the rim, the defense has to think about that first. I like Devin Harris on Wade because of his quickness. Wade can shoot over all these defenders, save Howard, and he is also quicker than them, save Harris. Throwing different looks at Wade will be important but in the end, a team must choose its poison. Dallas would be wise to keep Wade shooting jump shots and minimize his driving the lane. The Dallas big men will probably be in some kind of foul trouble as it is, so this will be big. Legends are made in the Finals and Wade has a chance to polish up his already shooting star.

Dallas Role Players (Erick Dampier, Marquis Daniels, DeSangana Diop, Adrian Griffin, Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Keith Van Horn) vs Miami Role Players (Alonzo Morning, Jason Williams, Antoine Walker, Udonis Haslem, James Posey, Gary Payton) - Dallas is deep. They have offense, defense, savvy, and athleticism. This is where they blew up the Suns, Spurs and, if they are to win, this is where they'll have to whip the Heat. I like their diversity here. The upside is with Dallas; especially with the likes of Howard, Stackhouse and Terry. These guys can fill it up.

Coach Riley vs Coach Johnson - With all the knowledge Riles has, it's tough to not be a little intimidated if I'm the opposing coach. Avery has been in this situation before and sure he'll have butterflies, but won't Riley as well? I think working with a more veteran team helps Riley a little bit more than having a more athletic team helps Johnson. All those series with the Lakers and Heat have to account for something, but coaching won't decide the series. It might be a small advantage for the Heat but players actually play the games.

How's It Going to Break

Either depth and athleticism will break the Heat or the superstar tandem and solid role players will put the Mavs on ice. I say, don't go with the sexy team of the moment. As surprised as I am saying it, the Dallas Mavericks are the team. There I said it. I like Shaq and Wade a lot, but Dallas has the players to adjust to the situations they are likely to be faced with. I'm more comfortable with saying Jason Terry and Josh Howard will show up vs Jason Williams or Antoine Walker. My big fundamental problem in choosing Dallas is Shaq. Can he do it for four games? Big question. I say close, but no: Dallas 4 - Miami 2 .