With the NBA season ending last night, a few final thoughts on the Mavs and Heat (with some Lakers mixed in too…)
- First off, congrats to the Mavericks for winning their first championship in franchise history. They played fantastic basketball, not only against the Heat but the entire playoffs. What I found most impressive about them as a team wasn’t the remarkable shooting expedition, the poise, or even the role players stepping up the way that they did. It’s how all those things combined to make every one of their post-season opponents look the same by the time the series ended: confused and defeated. No team could solve the riddle of how the Mavs pressured the paint through wonderful attacking schemes predicated off tremendous floor spacing. Kudos to them, they earned their place at the top of the mountain.
- Obviously any congratulations of the Mavs must also include the singling out of Dirk for his fantastic playoffs and his well deserved Finals MVP. The once “soft” player that “couldn’t close” changed the perception of him (which really wasn’t fair anyway) with a fantastic playoff run that will now put him on the list of great players that actually broke through and won a title. No more Malone, Stockton, Miller, Ewing, Barkley comparisons for the big German and whether he realizes it or not right now, a burden has been lifted off his shoulders as that’s a tough stigma to carry. Special acknowledgement as well to the fact that Dirk won in a truly tough era where the league is as strong as it’s been in decades with many elite players and some fantastic teams.
- Credit must also be given to Rick Carlisle. He pushed all the right buttons, made all the right substitutions and adjustments, called all the right timeouts. He got his team to defend on one end and play a steady, relentless style on the other that confounded the opposition. Just as some of his players, he’s elevated his status in this league and joined the ranks of Pop and Rivers as the active coaches that truly make a difference to their team in a way that led to the ultimate prize. He really was masterful.
- However, we can’t reflect on these Finals without discussing the Heat and their failure to achieve what they set out to do. They fell short in many ways and proved that their elite talent base wasn’t enough this time. Be it coaching, the play of LeBron (no explanation needed) and Wade (he was simultaneously great and mistake prone), or the media missteps they made along the way, this team struggled to rise to the occasion while Dallas capitalized on every mistake.
- That said, I don’t think anyone should be quick to dismiss the Heat as contenders for future championships. In several ways, they remind me of the 2008 Lakers. First off, there are the easy comparisons of Kobe/Wade (leader with experience that played excellent while still showing flaws), Pau/LeBron (the player with more talent than he showed), and Odom/Bosh (the front court player that had up and down performances but was outplayed by his direct counterpart). There’s also factors like the fact that they faced a team of hungry veterans that had fallen short so many times and looked at this series as (potentially) their last shot at a ring, the newness of their team and rapid ascension to elite status, and the need for some of the players who’d not yet seen this level of competition (Miller, Chalmers, Anthony) to get that needed seasoning. Obviously, this isn’t a perfectly parallel situation as I’m unsure who can be Miami’s Derek Fisher nor is it clear that there’s a player like Bynum or Ariza in the wings that can take a big step forward next year in helping this team win it all. Plus, and maybe most important, is that Coach Spoelstra is no Phil Jackson (who is?) and filling that void in coaching may be their biggest obstacle. Not to belittle what Spoelstra’s accomplished nor his coaching acumen, but it’s unclear if he’ll take that next step as a coach and this team needs a guy that certainly will. It’s interesting because Carlisle finally broke through as a head coach but that was after being fired in both Detroit and Indiana. Can Miami wait on Spoelstra?
- Interesting enough, the Mavericks win only cements my thoughts further that the Lakers should not be discounted going into next season as one of the top 2 or 3 clear favorites for the title. The Lakers’ formula (at least what we know of it) of well put together top level talent is a combination of what the Mavs and the Heat brought to the table. With a renewed sense of hunger and purpose, some tweaks to the roster, and some slight improvement from some of their core players (none of which is a stretch) this team could certainly be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy next season. Obviously coaching will be key and how the players buy in will be an issue. But, the Lakers’ window is still very much open. (Now, if only the player’s union and team owners can hammer out a CBA, I think we’d all be a lot happier.)