As last Wednesday turned into Thursday, and as the Western Conference Finals turned into history on the path to the NBA Finals, I huddled with Dallas Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson and asked him about “a plan.’’
“Oh, Rick Carlisle and the coaching staff will probably take about an hour before they get back to work and start putting together a plan,’’ Donnie said.
He thought I meant a gameplan. I was just talking about, like, a social plan. Someplace where he and the fellas might go grab a beer.
But this speaks yet again to the focus of an organization that has indeed spent the last few days trying to orchestrate an approach that will allow Dallas to overcome the Miami Heat for its first-ever championship.
Here’s a five-step plan that can help … Dallas Can Win The NBA Title If These Five Things Go Right …
1 Maintain their Kidd-led composure. “He does so many things that cannot be quantified on the stats sheet,” Carlisle said. “Just from having a calming influence, a knack for hitting big shots and finding the window to deliver the ball at the right time to the right guy. And defensively … he’s a guy that’s directing traffic out there for us.”
What Kidd is expected to do for this team, starting with Game 1 on Tuesday in Miami, is in sharp contrast to how business was conducted when it was Dallas-at-Miami in the 2006 Finals.
That was a clusterbleep.
From accidentally-called timeouts to strategic gaffes to panicky hotel re-arrangements to wild-eyed accusations of league conspiracies, Mavericks leadership from then-coach Avery Johnson, owner Mark Cuban, veteran Jerry Stackhouse and star Dirk Nowitzki didn’t total up what Kidd now offers this club with one cool, monotone sentence.
“Everybody’s calm,’’ said Kidd, describing the mood of the huddle in late-game situations. "The crowd might be a little uneasy, especially when we're at home, but the guys don't panic."
That’s because Jason Kidd won’t let them.
2 Make LeBron work overtime. So LeBron might cover Dirk, eh?
Let me reiterate:
It's a fun theory. Almost makes sense on paper, too. And after LeBron volunteered to cover Derrick Rose in the ECF (shut him down, really, in a short stint), MVP-vs.-MVP is worth talking about.
So Dirk does.
"We’ve got to be ready for whatever,” Dirk said. “If LeBron’s at the 4, we’ve got to adjust. But I don’t think that’s anything we haven’t seen all year. We’ve seen small lineups, we’ve seen bigger lineups.”
But there's one thing we haven't seen: Miami's LeBron covering Dallas' Dirk.
I've dug through the videos of both meetings this year, and I see a lot of Bosh on Dirk. I see lots of Joel Anthony on him. And in the final minute of one of the two Dallas wins in the two meetings, I see Dexter Pittman (!) guarding Dirk.
Now, personnel has changed since those games. Most notably, Caron Butler isn't in the lineup -- and he's the guy who often drew the LeBron assignment. Additionally, Miami didn't have the then-injured Udonis Haslem available. But when it did? In the six games in the 2006 Finals, Haslem-on-Nowitzki resulted in Dirk shooting only 31 percent.
So pending further notice -- that is, pending Tuesday night in Miami -- LeBron-on-Dirk is nothing more than a fanciful notion. (Indeed, here's how cheap talk is: Miami swears its planning on using LeBron to guard ... JJB?!)
Getting someone to challenge LeBron when he’s on the defensive end is imperative; if he’s allowed to cruise through games as an offense-only player, he can destroy an opponent. If it’s not Dirk who requires his attention, then who?
3 Win from the arc. Dallas’ offense will play inside out, in three ways: One, when Dirk is doubled. Two, when JJ Barea penetrates. And three, if and when Kidd is guarded by the smaller Mike Bibby. In all three cases, the Mavs can use these opportunities to kick the ball back outside, where precision design, passing, spacing and marksmanship from Terry, Peja and Kidd (and to a lesser degree, DeShawn Stevenson and Barea) can bust a game open.
Dallas wants to tempt Miami’s offense into taking long shots. But on the offensive end, Dallas has an advantage is getting open 3’s. … and needs to nail them.
4 Don’t let both superstars beat you. LeBron is averaging 26 points per game in the playoffs. Wade is averaging 23.7. The Mavs’ path to the Finals includes controlling the dynamic tandems of Kobe and Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder.
So how different is this challenge?
“They’re two of the five best players in the NBA,’’ Carlisle said.
That “top five’’ gets to be a crowded list when one really puts pencil to paper. Kobe was on Dallas’ stated list during that series. So was Durant. Both those guys were first-team All-NBA. And then LeBron and Wade.
There’s five. Obviously, somebody is leaving out some viable candidates for inclusion (um, Dirk?).
But the point is made, and Dallas defenders like centers Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, forward Shawn Marion and guard DeShawn Stevenson are among those making it: Dallas never let Kobe AND Gasol go off. Rarely let Durant AND Westbrook have their way. And now must plug a finger in the Heat dike to prevent LeBron AND Wade (and Chris Bosh, averaging 18 per in the postseson) from all flooding them at the same time.
5 Forget 2006. And then remember it. And then forget it. The Mavs have convinced themselves that losing to Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals has nothing to do with what will happen to this team. There is logic there; only Dirk and Jet remain from that roster of players.
But Dirk and Jet are pivotal to the 2011 team’s success. So there is value in making certain their heads are screwed on tight here.
"If you look, to a man, this team is better than it was in 2006," Terry said, trying to put distance between the two editions of Mavs teams. "To a man. The whole makeup. The chemistry. … Just look at the point guard on that team. It was me. Look at the point guard on this team: Jason Kidd. Big difference.''
That’s an oddly refreshing analysis of Jet on Jet as a PG. I don't buy the "chemistry'' argument; the 2006 team was obviously together enough to accomplish grand things. The respective talent levels? That’s the sort of thing that is always judged in a revisionist way; Dallas thought it was pretty loaded that year until it lost a two-and-seven-eighths-game lead.
And the psyche?
Carlisle was asked over the weekend about the team’s “mental issues,’’ a reference back to 2006.
“Ah,’’ Rick said tersely, “there are no mental issues.’’
Which only leaves the physical and strategic ones – challenges enough against the LeBron/Wade Heat.