NBA Finals Preview: Does the Heat Dynasty Begin This June?

NBA Finals Preview: Does the Heat Dynasty Begin This June?

Going into this year's post-season, it seemed like chances were pretty good that the Heat's predicted dominance over the NBA would not start for another year or two, if indeed it started at all. Health, chemistry and mental makeup issues dogged the team all regular season, and a number of high-profile late-game meltdowns—often in marquee matchups against elite teams—made it look like this was a team that was still a long way away from competing with the league's top dogs. Hell, even their five-game, first-round victory over the Sixers, a series that while close in parts left no doubt as to who the better team was, made them look vulnerable due to their tendency to let the Sixers get out to early leads, and their inability to put the games away in the fourth quarter. Surely a veteran team with championship pedigree like the Celtics, or a young, talented, versatile squad like the Bulls would be able to exploit their flaws in a seven-game series.

But unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, this ended up being pretty damn far from the case. The Heat congealed at exactly the right time, partly due to the return of valuable role players like Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller from injury (or general ineffectiveness), and partly due to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade seeming to find their balance playing together, reminding the league that these are two of the three or four best players in the NBA right now and that stopping a team that has both of them turns out to be a mildly tricky proposition. They made the Celtics look old, and they made the Bulls look predictable. Now only one team stands between them and all heavenly glory: The Dallas Mavericks.

As doubted as the Heat were before the playoffs started, at least everyone predicted them to get safely to the second round. When the post-season started, the limping Mavs were forecast by many to drop their first-round series to the younger, trendier Portland Trailblazers. But after eliminating the Blazers in six, the Mavs went on to really shock the NBA world by taking out the two-time-defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in a four-game sweep, an upset that rivaled even the eighth-seeded Grizzlies' takedown of the top-seeded Spurs in terms of playoff intrigue. And thanks to some late-game magic and a couple peerless performances from ex-MVP power forward Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs were also able to silence the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference finals, to move to their second finals in franchise history, the first since 2006.

Of course, 2006 was also the last time the Heat were in the finals, back when LeBron and Chris Bosh were still biding their time in Cleveland and Toronto, and Shaquille O'Neal and a cast of ringless veterans on their last legs (Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton, Antoine Walker) provided the support system for Dwyane Wade. Though the Mavs won the first two games in Big D, the Heat went on to take the next four, largely thanks to a couple superhuman efforts from Wade. Many claimed, however, that Miami's victory was largely referee-assisted, as Wade averaged an unthinkable 16 free throw attempts a game, and several late-game calls came under particular scrutiny for being alleged phantom fouls, particularly one towards the end of game five that allowed Miami a series-swinging victory.

So will the Mavericks be able to re-write history five years later, allowing Dirk (whose play in a couple of the finals losses, as well as the next season's first-round upset at the hands of the "We Believe" Warriors, was highly subpar) to exorcise his demons and bringing Dallas and owner Mark Cuban their first-ever Larry O'Brien trophy? Well, conventional logic would certainly seem to point against it. From a talent standpoint, the Heat have the Mavs crushed, with Miami boasting three guys who were considered legitimate franchise players in the '10 off-season, and Dallas not even having a single player besides Dirk on the roster who was an All-Star this year. The Heat had a better regular-season record, ranked higher in offensive and defensive rating for the year, and have home court advantage in this series. It shouldn't even be a contest.

That said, the Mavs do have a couple things to cling to. For one, they were two-for-two against the Heat in the regular season, and in fact have never lost to the Heat in the ten head-to-head regular season games the two have played since Miami won the '06 finals, though obviously those were against some very different teams than the one they'll be playing in the finals. And as hot as the Heat have been this post-season (no pun intended), the Mavs have been just as scorching, matching Miami's 12-3 post-season record, sharing the ball brilliantly and getting big contributions from every player, from super-over-the-hill veterans like Peja Stojakovic and Jason Kidd to younger energy guys like J.J. Barea and Tyson Chandler. And of course, Dirk has been the single most unguardable player this post-season, averaging over 28 points a game on unconscious 64% True Shooting, with no single Heat player likely to be able to contain him.

What will the Mavs need to be able to beat the Heat, then? Well, there's a lot to analyze, from player matchups to team defensive strategies to coaching substitution patterns, but in my opinion, the thing that Dallas is going to need most is plain old luck. The Heat's two big guns—and even Bosh's play in the Chicago series has arguably nudged him back into that headliner discussion–are so ridiculously talented that if they make a high percentage of the tough shots they're forced to take (which they have so far this post-season, as they have with unnerving consistency for most of their careers), there's really no way to beat them whatsoever. The Mavericks need the Basketball Gods to be on their side, and to have significantly more of those fall-aways, powered-through layup drives, and shot-clock-beating three-point heaves rim out than not, because otherwise, the Heat are just gonna win no matter what. Hardly the most sabermetrically astounding analysis, but I really believe it's that simple—force them to take tough shots, and then pray.

Personally, I don't think the Mavs are going to get enough good fortune to have much of a chance in this series. It's possible that some combination of Jason Terry, DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion can hold Wade and LeBron reasonably in check for stretches, and that Dirk can just go nuts for 30 or so a game on the other end. But considering that Dallas has already been playing ridiculously over their heads for the whole playoffs—Terry, Marion, Stojakovic, and Barea have all been playing their best basketball of the season through the first three rounds—and that most of those guys are well past their prime at this point, I think a far more likely scenario is that Dallas's supporting cast starts to slip, and there are one or two games where their shots just don't fall and Dirk is left holding the bag on his own, like he was for most of the last two NBA post-seasons. As great as Dirk is and has been, he can't win a title on his own, not against a Heat team this skilled on both sides of the ball.

However, if you're an NBA fan, I do believe it's something of a moral imperative for you to watch this series and pull as hard as you can for the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat may or may not be evil in the traditional sense—my judgment on this matter is too clouded to speak objectively—but their eventual reign over the NBA, whenever it comes, will be one of arrogance, athlete-as-celebrity hype, and general insufferability. (Though to be fair, it will also be one of some of the best, most lyrical basketball we've ever seen played.) Meanwhile, the Mavericks are a squad with four or five of the best players of the last 15 years to never win a ring shooting for that first taste of championship glory—led by Dirk, one of the league's greatest, most lovable and most singular superstars, who in all likelihood will never get a chance like this at a title again. Oh,
and if all that's not enough, I shouldn't have to remind you that the Heat did beat the Sixers in the first-round this year, with LeBron referring to wrapping up the series in Game Five as "finishing [the team's] breakfast." You shouldn't need to do too much debating about which team to be rooting for in these here finals.

Regardless, I gotta say Heat in five for my series prediction. I pray that I'm wrong, but I think the dawn of the South Beach chapter of basketball history begins this post-season. If not...well, maybe there is some sort of divine NBA power after all.

(Photo: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE)

Watch: Odubel Herrera with a ridiculously awesome bat flip after big home run

ap-odubel-herrera-bat-flip.jpg

Watch: Odubel Herrera with a ridiculously awesome bat flip after big home run

In case you were working this afternoon and weren't able to tune in for the Phillies game in Detroit, Odubel Herrera absolutely killed a baseball off of Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez to put Philadelphia up 5-1 in the top of the 4th.

The ball was crushed and Odubel knew it immediately. He displayed one of the best bat flips a Phillie has flipped in recent memory.

Franzke and L.A. seemingly enjoyed it greatly.

You can watch the wonderful bat flip below. And how about the fantastic photo of it above courtesy of Associated Press photographer Carlos Osorio.

Odubel Herrera just wants to Make Baseball Fun Again.

The Phillies maintain a 8-5 lead in the top of the 8th at the time of this posting.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 4: Matt Read to Mark Streit

051816-the700level-show-ep59-spectrum.jpg

Flyers Stay or Go Part 4: Matt Read to Mark Streit

In the fourth of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 can be seen by clicking the links. Today, we begin with Matt Read.

Matt Read
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 11 G, 15 A; Contract: Signed through 2018-19, $3.975 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Read is a two-time 20-goal scorer but is coming off his second straight disappointing season. Simply put, he’s not that player anymore. But he’s not as bad as you would think if you were to search his name on Twitter. He can play on both special teams, which is valuable. He’s not a terrible ninth forward or fourth liner. Read is signed for two more seasons, but the Flyers desperately need goal scoring and I think Hextall finds a taker for Read this summer.

Verdict: GO

Hall: You wonder if a role change will help Read rediscover himself (see story). Maybe a change of scenery does the trick. Or, perhaps Read is simply the player we’ve seen over the past two seasons. He’s a third- or-fourth-liner in the NHL, and that’s OK. But he’s making $14.5 million over four seasons with the Flyers through 2017-18, which doesn’t help. Read will be back but fighting his tail off for playing time. Ultimately, though, Ron Hextall will start looking at all avenues to part ways with Read — it’s just a matter of when.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: No Flyer’s game has fallen off more over the past few seasons than Read’s. After a 22-goal campaign in 2013-14, the 29-year-old forward has scored just 19 goals in the past two seasons combined. That’s a span of 159 games. He struggled so much this past season that he was a healthy scratch at one point. This just screams of a situation where a change of scenery could benefit both parties. The question is how that gets done. Will someone take a chance on Read via trade? Or is a buyout with a projected cap hit at $875,000 next season before going up to $1.375 million in 2017-18 an option? Time will tell. But Read’s time in Philadelphia seems to be up.

Verdict: GO

Brayden Schenn
2015-16 stats: 80 GP, 26 G, 33 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Schenn became a go-to guy this past season for the Flyers, which is exactly what you wanted to see from him in his fifth NHL season. He found a consistency in his game that has been lacking and showed he can play at wing. He scored a career-high 59 points and 26 goals and you have to think he’s still not done growing. He’ll be here for a while.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Schenn, a pending restricted free agent coming off a career season, is hoping for a long-term deal with the Flyers. Ron Hextall and company, of course, want him back. Schenn will be re-signed. As Hextall said, the Flyers will “get it done.” (see story)
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: No way Ron Hextall and the Flyers give up on a 24-year-old winger (yeah, Schenn’s found a home on the wing) who’s coming off a career-high 26-goal season and showed profound chemistry with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line. That’s especially true with the way the Flyers crave goal-scoring. No question Schenn will be back with a not-so-little raise.

Verdict: STAY

Nick Schultz
2015-16 stats: 81 GP, 1 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $2.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Schultz is basically the Jason Smith to this Flyers team. He’s respected in the locker room, a guy the team looks to lead and blocks a ton of shots. There’s always room for a guy like Schultz on a roster and it’s good to have him around with the young guns on their way. Ideally, his role decreases next season, but nonetheless, he should stick around.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Dave Hakstol and the Flyers’ locker room routinely extolled Schultz last season for his presence on and off the ice. He’s under contract and will be here for one more year, a season in which he can continue leading by example. And, who knows, maybe a contending team in need of an experienced blueliner will pursue the Flyers at the trade deadline.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Schultz is what he is at this stage of his career. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman who blocks a ton of shots. He’s also a leader in the locker room, and that can’t be undervalued. With just a year left on his contract, Schultz isn’t in the Flyers’ long-term plans. Think of Schultz as a veteran placeholder until a prospect is ready to join the big club. In the meantime, he can fill his veteran leader role on the blue line for the upcoming season and then the Flyers can reassess the defensive situation after the season.

Verdict: STAY

Wayne Simmonds
2015-16 stats: 81 GP, 32 G, 28 A; Contract: Signed through 2018-19, $3.975 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Simmonds is the Flyers’ first 30-goal scorer since Scott Hartnell in 2011. The Flyers need goals. Simmonds scores goals. This is easy. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Simmonds, the emotional heartbeat of the Flyers, is locked up and fresh off a career-best 32-goal campaign. He’s getting better and going nowhere.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Power forwards who create havoc in front of the net and continue to increase their production year after year don’t grow on trees. Therefore, the Flyers wouldn’t even think of getting rid of Simmonds, who scored a career-high 32 goals and tied another career-high with 60 points. Plus, it’s probably not a good idea to mess with the chemistry Simmonds, Schenn and Giroux had on the top line at the end of the season.

Verdict: STAY

Mark Streit
2015-16 stats: 62 GP, 6 G, 17 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $5.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Streit is two years shy of turning 40, but he’s still an above-average puck mover. He didn’t seem to have the same step in his game after returning from his pubic plate dislocation and lost his job as the Flyers’ power-play quarterback to Shayne Gostisbehere, but he still has value. He’s on the last year of his deal. He’s a candidate to be moved to free up a spot for one of the defensive prospects. Plus, I think they could get something of value for him.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Streit said he takes a lot of pride in training and preparing for the NHL grind at 38 years old. He wants to keep playing until his body says no. The Flyers have an ideal trade chip here in Streit. In 2016-17, he’ll be on the final year of his contract, making him an attractive second-half rental for a win-now team. I think he stays but the Flyers find a suitor and complete a deal before the trade deadline.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: To me, Streit is the most difficult player on the entire roster to answer this question about. On one hand, the Flyers probably would like to move his salary and free up a spot for a younger player or prospect. But, to me, that just seems like it will be easier to do closer to the trade deadline when teams get desperate and will bite on a defenseman who’ll be 39 this coming December but can still produce and can help out tremendously on the power play. I just feel it will be too difficult for the Flyers to move Streit in the offseason. If they do, they’ll have to add something or someone to entice another team into taking him. The chances of having to do that at the trade deadline are much less. For that reason, Streit stays for now.. Plus, it can’t hurt having Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim play a half-season in the AHL until then.

Verdict: STAY (for now)

Watch: The Phillies pulled off the old double steal

double-steal.jpg

Watch: The Phillies pulled off the old double steal

The Philadelphia Phillies are attempting to salvage something this afternoon in Detroit this as they take on the Tigers. The Fightins got on the board early and hold a 2-0 lead midway through the second.

After a Peter Bourjos single scored Ryan Howard, Odubel Herrera came up to bat and didn't even have to move to get another run in.

The Phillies pulled off a double steal with Bourjos taking second which allowed Andres Blanco to come home easily.

With the Phils showing such little pop at the plate this season, a little hustle and ingenuity is needed.