Dallas vs Miami - Game one of the NBA Finals.

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 Dallas versus Miami. Game one of the NBA Finals. A series that will be shaping up with the three D’s:

 1-Dallas. Big D! Apparently we can’t decide a major sport’s championship this year (the NHL notwithstanding) without the city of Dallas being involved. Dallas’ MLB team, the Rangers, made their first-ever World Series last October. The Dallas Cowboys home stadium hosted the Super Bowl (once the stadium was thawed out). And now the city’s beloved basketball team returns to the NBA Finals to face its Finals arch nemesis, the Miami Heat, in a 2006 championship rematch, where the biggest winner will be American Airlines. No matter who wins, that team will call the American Airlines _____ home.

 Sportsbook.com Line/Total: Miami -4.5 & 187.5

2-Dirk. Since the last time Nowitzki was in the Finals, he endured the humiliation of being on a No. 1 seed that won 67 games, and lost a first-round series to a No. 8 seed. All of this happening in the same season that he won the league’s MVP award. MVP? Blown out in the first round? Now after 13 years in the league and playing for his third head coach, Dirk has discovered his path back to the finals, and with fellow future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, Nowitzki will try and shoot his way (off one leg or two, or spinning in the opposite direction) to that elusive holy grail called a championship ring. Last but not least…

 3-The Decision. (I don’t need to explain how that got us here do I? Didn’t think so).

 Which brings us to game one. Normally we might conclude little from two regular-season matchups that took place months ago, when both teams were seeking their identity, but there are things we can take from the outcome of those two games. Dallas defeated Miami twice, in two pretty close games, a 106-95 victory in Dallas last November, and a 98-96 triumph in Miami in December. The Mavs out-shot Miami in both games (46.0% to 41.3% and 44.6% to 40.5% respectively), and were superior from beyond the arc (41.2% to 33.3% and 38.1% to 35.5% respectively). If you take the total number of boards from the two games, Dallas and Miami were separated by just two rebounds (103 for Dallas, 101 for Miami). The Mavericks under Rick Carlisle have become a much more cohesive unit defensively, and a poised team offensively. What it adds up to is a team that despite the absence of a major second scorer, has been very strong when it comes to winning close games and road games. Since losing Games 3 and 4 of its first-round series to Portland, the Mavericks have not lost on the road in five tries. The only contest that they did lose was a six-point defeat in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

 Many people expressed skepticism about the Heat’s ability to win close games. Starting the season 9-8 did not help to reduce those concerns. But Miami and Dallas have proven themselves over the long haul the way championship finalists should. The similarities do not stop there. Both Dallas and Miami finished the season a league best 28-13 on the road. Both teams enter the Finals with a 12-3 record this postseason. Both teams eliminated a previous year’s finals participant in the second round this season, as Miami took out Boston in five, while Dallas swept the once-mighty Lakers in four.

 Nowitzki and James will be crucial to the success of their respective teams, but with the stakes raised and the competition stiffer in the finals, can LeBron James afford to start Game 1 slowly as he did in the previous three series? James has averaged 19.3 PPG in the three Game 1s of the 2011 postseason, with Miami winning two of the three openers. In Game 2s this year, he averaged 31.0 PPG. Nowitzki scored 28, 28, and 48 in his three Game 1s. If he continues that trend of racing out in an opener to get himself and his team off to a quick start, it will be interesting to see how Miami responds to a hot Nowitzki defensively. Will James draw an extended assignment to check him, and if he does, when will that happen? On the Dallas side, how will Shawn Marion fit into the plan defensively? Will Carlisle look to use him to contain James, or could Marion be utilized to possibly take away Dwyane Wade’s attacking nature.

 Based on each team’s conference finals opponent, Miami will probably have to make a greater adjustment to the opposition than Dallas, because the Mavs offensive weapons are much more experienced and numerous than Chicago’s. If Game 1 of the Finals comes down to a final possession the way Games 4 and 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals did, Nowitzki with the ball in his hands will be the tallest scorer on the floor, as opposed to Derrick Rose, who was one of the shortest. That, combined with having Jason Kidd and another shooter on the floor with him at the end of the game, makes the Mavericks a very difficult team to defend in late-game situations. Game 1 is not as much about who is the better overall team. It will be about who will start the series faster, and whether or not the visiting team is equipped to win Game 1 on the road.

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