Think Dirk wants revenge?
*sings* It's the most wonderful time of the year!!!! ... No seriously, from February until June is my favorite time of the year in sports. It's all basketball, all the time. And aside from the occasional run of baseball highlights that serve to make me pull my hair out, the dunks, crossovers, nail-biting vitories and ridiculous action of the NBA is at a fever pitch. That said, the NBA Finals are here and the storylines couldn't be more ripe for the picking. This year's fight for the Larry O'Brien trophy is much more than your average Finals. Why? Three reasons:
1) You Mavs and Heat players both have had quite different seasons.
On the Heat side, you guys came into the regular season with the entire world watching for you to go 82-0. LeBron's incantation that you guys would win multiple championships placed a high bar on you guys. When you took those nasty losing streaks earlier in the season, were stumbling against the upper echelon teams of the league and were having trouble closing out games, I questioned whether you guys had what it takes. Either way, that was the regular season, and now that you've reached the Finals there's no denying that you guys meant business. After making quick work of the Sixers, defenestrating (look that up) the Celtics and stifling the Bulls, it's clear this is a squad that can compete.
In the case of the Mavs, your team had the same predictions placed on you that you've had for the duration of this decade: ehhh, about 50+ wins, an All-Star Season from Nowitzki and an early 2nd to late 1st round exit. You guys had the reputation around the league of being 'soft', and were pretty much written off coing into the Playoffs. Everyone thought the Blazers would upset you, the Lakers would outclass you and the Thunder would outrun you. But looky here... You guys are in the Finals again, and seem more hungry than ever to shake off the naysayers. You guys didn't have the high standards that the Heat had for their season, and by making it to the Finals are making people reconsider picking against you.
2) This series is going to be not only a grudge match, but also a story of redemption.
We all know why LeBron left Cleveland and why Chrissy Bosh left Toronto: the couldn't do it by themselves. And honestly, who could blame them? After seeing the Cavs and Raptors sleepwalk through the regular season like a confused Resident Evil zombie, I can say that I would've left years ago. That said, I was a stark critic on both of you. I questioned whether having to team up with your friends was for the better or worse, only to realize that no NBA team has ever won the 'ship with just one star on their team. You guys have three, all of whom had somewhat fallen from glory; LeBron with his departure from Cleveland, Bosh with his laconic performance in Toronto and Wade two years removed from having the worst record in the league. For you Heat, this series is about making good on your promises of domination and giving the league a reason to believe the hype.
For you Mavericks, this is like the NBA version of 'The Replacements'. A bunch of rag-tag veterans, cast off from other obscure teams, and Playoff contenders' benches mashed together to make a championship-caliber team. J-Kidd will be the oldest point guard to ever start in the NBA Finals, having been written off as a game-changer after his controversial trade from New Jersey. Shawn Marion and Peja Stojakovic, once perennial All-Stars in Phoenix and Sacramento, have settled into being comfortable role-players who somehow come up with big plays when you need them. Even Jason Terry, once heralded as the next great point guard out of Arizona, has made himself instant offense in Dallas after a disappointing run in Atlanta. Tyson Chandler is the definition of an prep-to-pros bust, but has created a niche for himself as a prime defender. And Finally, Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-footer whose leadership has been questioned constantly since Dallas' Finals collapse in '06 and first round upset in '07, has returned to the promised land. Mavericks, you have been given a second chance at greatness, something that few players are afforded.
3) This is a grudge match.
Never mind that Dallas beat Miami twice this season. This series is a grudge match from 2006 for both of your franchises' faces. Dirk Nowtizki, you know you've got 2006 looming over your head, and Dwyane Wade wants to remind you of it. There won't be any punches pulled here. While this series might not have any of the hatred or genuine dislike for each other that the Heat/Celtics or Spurs/Lakers, make no mistake about it. Both of you are going to come out firing. Neither of you are looking to make friends this Finals, and people are going to be surprised at how physical this series will get from the first tip-off. I wouldn't be surprised if there were mroe than a few technicals, and some extremely chippy play. The American Airlines Arena and Center (you think they planned that?) are going to be madhouses starting Tuesday. I hope you guys are ready. Play on!