NBA Finals: Game Six Preview
The Dallas Mavericks are taking their momentum to South Beach.
With the NBA Finals moving back to Miami this weekend, the Mavericks are one win away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Dallas is in the driver’s seat of this series because they have been spreading their offense around, playing excellent zone defense and coming up big in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Miami is looking awfully vulnerable these days. LeBron James is in a slump and Dwyane Wade is nursing a left hip contusion. They have struggled late in games and the swagger that this team displayed all year appears to be missing.
However, this series is far from over. The first five games were decided by an average of 4.8 points and during last year’s Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a 3-2 deficit to defeat the Boston Celtics by taking Games 6 and 7 at home.
In this wildly unpredictable series, we’ve already witnessed a historic comeback, 102° fever and starting lineup change. It’s safe to say that anything can happen at this point. Here are the individual matchups and what to expect on Sunday night:
Point Guard: Mike Bibby vs. Jason Kidd
Bibby will likely remain the starter for Game 6, but Mario Chalmers will receive the bulk of the playing time. He has played more minutes than Bibby in every game of this series, and he has emerged as Miami’s most consistent option off of the bench. He’s hitting open shots and pushing the tempo, which is exactly what Miami needs from that position.
Kidd has done an excellent job limiting his turnovers, and he’s one of the main reason that the Mavericks’ offense is clicking. On Thursday, Dallas had five players score in double figures, and Kidd’s six assists and ball movement had a lot to do with that. He has also been doing an excellent job on defense, even when matched up against LeBron James. On paper, it seems like James would punish Kidd, but that hasn’t been the case.
Kidd has outplayed Miami’s point guards, and all indications point to that continuing on Sunday.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. J.J. Barea
Wade has been outstanding during this series, but his health is now up in the air. He’ll be limited by a left hip contusion, the severity of which remains unknown. If Miami wins the championship, it will be because of Wade’s performances and there’s no question that he would be named Finals MVP. With so much attention being focused on James’ struggles, Wade’s dominance has been overlooked.
Barea had his best outing of the Finals on Thursday, finishing with 17 points and 5 assists. He helped stretch the floor by knocking down 4-5 three-pointers. Rick Carlisle’s decision to insert Barea into the starting lineup was originally met with criticism and confusion, but the move has paid off. Barea adds instant offense as well as the ability to penetrate and kick the ball out to open teammates. His nerves have subsided and he’s looking less reckless each and every game. In fact, he committed just one turnover in Game 5. With that said, Wade has arguably been the best player in this series.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs. Shawn Marion
On one hand, it’s easy to say that James hasn’t been himself during this series. He’s not getting to the free throw line, scoring in the fourth quarter or causing matchup problems against smaller defenders such as DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd.
On the other hand, James recorded a triple-double last night with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He’s just the 13th player to record a triple-double in the Finals since 1985 and finds himself in the company of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. The last triple-double in Finals history occurred last year when Rajon Rondo had 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
One man that deserves some credit for James’ struggles is Marion. He has done an excellent job guarding James throughout this series. He hasn’t allowed him to penetrate often, but when he has, he’s been able to swipe at the ball or contest at the rim without sending James to the foul line. James may be able to get into a rhythm at home, but Marion will do his best to smother him.
Power Forward: Chris Bosh vs. Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki has been phenomenal all postseason, and that hasn’t been any different in this series. He has done everything that James hasn’t through five games. He has gotten to the foul line by being aggressive, hit big shot after big shot in the fourth quarter and balanced when he needs to score versus when he needs to set up his teammates.
Nowitzki’s terrific play has led the Mavericks and allowed him to alter the record books. His 29 points in Game 5 gave him 3,193 career playoff points, enabling him to pass Kevin McHale (3,182) and move into 15th place on the all-time NBA playoff scoring list.
After struggling in Game 2, Bosh has really started to produce for Miami. On Thursday, he totaled 19 points (6-12 shooting) and 10 rebounds. He has stepped up for James during his slump and may have to take over even more with Wade injured. While he hasn’t outplayed Nowitzki, he does deserve more credit for the job he’s done.
Center: Joel Anthony vs. Tyson Chandler
Anthony remains in the starting lineup, but his minutes continue to decrease each game. Udonis Haslem played twice as many minutes as Anthony on Thursday, and was much more productive. Anthony finished with a miserable stat line of 2 points, 0 rebounds and 0 blocks in 16 minutes.
Tyson Chandler, on the other hand, filled the stat sheet last night with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. Not only was he able to score in the post, he was also doing an excellent job of making the pass before the assist. His jump passes led to a number of Mavericks’ scores and Chandler is finally dominating Miami’s weak frontcourt.
Bench: Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, James Jones and Mike Miller vs. Jason Terry, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal and Ian Mahinmi
Terry posted the best stat line of any reserve in Game 5 – 21 points (8-12 shooting), 6 assists and 4 rebounds – and the Mavericks used all of their weapons to secure the victory. With that said, Miami’s bench actually outscored Dallas’, 40-32, because the points were evenly distributed throughout the group. While Dallas still gets the advantage because everyone knows their role and does their job, Miami’s bench deserves a lot of credit for keeping up. Entering this season, most people expected the Mavericks’ bench to dominate, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Game 6 from the American Airlines Arena begins Sunday at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.