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Tempo in the Finals

   by Al McMordie - 06/08/2006

To run, or not to run? That is the big question for the NBA Finals as Miami battles Dallas. Actually the key will be who controls the tempo? Detroit had an explosive offense all season, then blew away the Cavaliers in their first two playoff games. Suddenly, the Cavs completely slowed down the pace, controlling the tempo, and winning 3 in a row over the stunned Pistons. The Heat also controlled the pace in slowing down Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals.

A younger and deep Dallas lineup no doubt will want to run while Miami will try and slow the tempo. Dallas has been unique and unpredictable in the postseason with respect to tempo. Against San Antonio, the Mavs played the Spurs' pace in Game 1, a slow, methodical tempo won by San Antonio 87-85. However, the Mavs scrapped that style and went uptempo the rest of the series, winning 3 in a row, in fact, by running.

Dallas continued to play uptempo in Game 1 against Phoenix, but lost at home 121-118. So what did Dallas do? Scrapped that plan and played defense the next five games, winning four of them. After scoring 121 in that first game, the Suns scored 98, 88, 106, 101 and 93 the rest of the series. After missing most of Game 1 against Phoenix, Josh Howard averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds in the final five games. The Mavs went 4-1 with him.

So what does Dallas and Miami do now? Game 1 may have told us a lot. It makes sense for Dallas to run, not only because they are younger, but because Miami is a terrific high percentage shooting team, almost solely from the low post, along with Dwyane Wade's drives. Dallas is less likely to keep Miami from shooting well (just ask the Pistons, who had no answer for Shaq or Wade). But a halfcourt pace favors the Heat. After all, Shaq is 34-years old and Alonzo Mourning is a 36-year-old veteran. And we saw a low-scoring 90-80 affair in Game 1, and perhaps, a bit surprisingly, a Dallas victory.

For Dallas to continue to be successful against the Heat, that could mean turning often to a group that includes Dirk Nowitzki in the middle, forcing O'Neal to defend a fellow seven-footer who has the quickness and shooting prowess of a guard. Dwyane Wade said defending the Mavericks in that scenario would become the ultimate team challenge. On the other side of the ledger, Dallas will have to decide whether or not to double team O'Neal. In the regular season, the Suns had success double-teaming Shaq with smaller players at all times and daring the Heat to beat them with ball movement. Miami has been much better in the postseason against that type of defense.

Oddly, one game really turned around Miami's season: a 112-76 loss to the Mavericks. Afterwards, Gary Payton and Udonis Haslem addressed the Heat players. "There's nothing worse than being out on the court knowing that your teammates don't trust you and you don't trust them," Haslem said this week. "I don't think we had 100 percent trust for one another."

Three days later, they turned things around, as the Heat rallied from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit at home to beat the Pistons. Wade scored the Heat's final 17 points in that game, and it started a stretch in which the Heat won 15 of 16 games. So now Miami comes full circle, in a sense: To thank the Mavericks for helping to turn things around? Or, to get beat again by the better, younger team? Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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