viernes, 3 de junio de 2011

Defense and bench production will win the series

(This column was published in the "Puerto Rico Daily Sun" on June 1, 2011.  The finals already started, but I still want to share this analysis, specially now that both teams are tied with one victory each.)

By Rafael Díaz Torres

Special to “Puerto Rico Daily Sun”

With Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, the Miami Heat has three of the top NBA stars of our era. Despite their struggles and lack of chemistry during a bulk of the regular season, the team was able to set aside individual egos and started working together toward the only goal that was set last summer after James and Bosh were hired. Winning an NBA championship for the franchise and for the city of Miami was at the top of the agenda for the Team President Pat Riley. The Heat’s sensational series against the Celtics and Bulls demonstrated that they were ready to accomplish the next step.

Their last obstacle is an inspired team that is hungry for vengeance and redemption after losing in the 2006 NBA finals against the same team that they will face in this championship series.

Led by German sensation Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks will have the unique opportunity of claiming their first NBA title ring in the history of the franchise.

Unlike Miami, Dallas does not have a powerful trio of starters as dominant as the Heat trio. Still, the Mavs have in Nowitzki the player considered by many experts to be the best finisher in today’s NBA basketball. To this outstanding all-star, add another future hall-of-famer to lead the Mavs’ offensive schemes: Jason Kidd. Despite its 38 years of age, Kidd still manages to control the game tempo for a team with talented shooters in all positions. To the Nowitzki-Kidd duo, add former Team USA member Shawn Marion and the dominant center Tyson Chandler.

Many basketball experts see the Mavs’ defense as a weakness. Throughout the regular season and most of the playoffs, the team struggled with this key area of the game and often had difficulties stopping the opposition’s top scorers.

Miami, on the other hand, demonstrated consistent defensive schemes toward the end of the regular season and their previous playoffs series. In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bulls, Coach Erik Spoelstra did a good job in containing the powerful offensive attack of this year’s MVP Derrick Rose. Similarly, in the conference semifinals, Miami’s organized defense did not allow the powerful Boston Celtics to find the offensive rhythm in a series completely dominated by the Heat.

The Heat, however, has demonstrated a lack of consistent contribution by bench players. In that part of the game, the Mavericks have a clear advantage. Led by former NBA’s sixth man of the year Jason Terry, Dallas has one of the most impressive benches in the entire league. Besides Terry, veteran Peja Stojakovic, center Brendan Haywood and Puerto Rican sensation José Juan Barea, the Mavs have all of the necessary tools to have a balanced offensive and give quality minutes of rest to veterans like Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd.

The point-guard combo of Barea and Kidd gives Dallas strength in one of the most important positions in the sport of basketball. Miami, on the contrary, and throughout the whole 2010-11 season, has never valued the role of the point-guard. After freeing Carlos Arroyo and hiring veteran Mike Bibby a few weeks before the end of the regular season, the Heat’s poor use of the position has not changed. Superstars James and Wade continue to control and make the important decisions regarding the team’s offensive organization and while their full-court fast paced game is among the top ones in the league, the Heat still struggles with arming an organized and collective half-court offensive scheme.

As a team, Miami is capable of winning games and consistently dominating most of their opponents. However, in order to win championship, more importance should be given to their point-guard players Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers. Both Lebron James and Dwayne Wade are two of the best offensive and all-around players in the league. However, arming the game is not their strength. Franchises with superstars always need a person capable of controlling the production of points for teams in which more than one player claims the “right” as the first “offensive voice.” Miami can hire the best point guard in the world, but its performance will not change if Spoelstra continues to rely most of the time on his two superstars as the persons responsible for arming the half-court offensive scheme. Point guards are key pieces that can make the difference between having a contender TEAM as opposed to just a group of “superstars.”

As highly important as it is, defense will not be enough for Miami to win the championship. Unlike the conference finals against Derrick Rose’s Bulls, Dallas cannot claim to put its entire offensive burden over one player’s shoulders. For the Mavs, Dirk Nowitzki is dominant and difficult to defend. The team’s offensive revolves, but does not depend on him. Other players such as Terry, Marion, Stojakovic, Barea and Kidd can also contribute with the offensive and confuse the opponents’ defensive systems.

Basketball and sports fans can expect a great series that will feature a great defensive and explosive team against a franchise that has the best game-finisher and one of the most dominant benches in the NBA. The team that combines good defense with consistent contribution from the bench players will win the title and become the 2011 NBA champion.

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