With the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat tipping off Tuesday night, the time has come to break down this series from a Las Vegas perspective.
In 11 Finals games over the previous two seasons (LA vs. Orlando in 2009, LA vs. Boston in 2008), the straight up winner lost against the spread four times. We saw a Boobie Gibson three pointer at the buzzer of Game 4 cash Cavaliers tickets as Cleveland got swept by San Antonio in 2007.
When Miami beat Dallas in six games back in 2006, we saw the Mavs cover in losing efforts in both Games 3 and 5. The Heat won the series, but Mavs backers went 4-2 ATS.
The last time the SU winner was the ATS winner in every Finals game came back in 2005, when the Spurs outlasted the Pistons in seven games.
Last year, four of the seven games between the Lakers and Celtics were decided by seven points or less. Clearly, we can expect to see more than a handful of tight games in the Finals again this year.
SU Does Not Equal ATS
Recent history shows it’s tough to lay points at this time of the year. Over the past three NBA Finals, favorites are just 6-12 ATS, without a single winning season. When Miami and Dallas met five years ago, the Mavs covered as home favorites in each of the first two games, but only more game for the remainder of the series (Miami’s Game 4 win) cashed a winning bet for the chalk.
The lesson to be learned from recent history is relatively simple. Sometimes, there are legitimately undervalued or overvalued teams, even at this late stage of the season (the Celtics 6-0 ATS mark against the Lakers in ’08 stands out). And generally, it’s better to take points than lay them at this stage of the campaign.
We should expect close games and tight results – we’ve seen them consistently in recent finals, and there’s absolutely no reason to think 2011 is going to be different in that regard.
These two teams are here because they can win tough playoff games in hostile environments. The Mavs clinched their first round series with a SU Game 6 win in Portland. They swept the Lakers at the Staples Center in the second round and swept the Thunder in Oklahoma City with upset wins in Games 3 and 4 of that series as well.
The numbers don’t lie. So far, here in the postseason, Dallas is 5-2 SU, 6-0-1 ATS catching points on the road. I don’t put much stock into regular season results at this time of the year, but it’s surely worth noting the Mavs won SU in Miami on their lone previous visit to South Beach.
The Heat have been just as good away from home. They effectively ended their first round series with the 76ers by winning Game 3 in Philadelphia. The Heat toughed out an overtime win in Game 4 at Boston, once again taking control of the series with a road victory. And Miami beat Chicago at the United Center twice, including the Game 5 closeout.
The Heat haven’t been dramatically undervalued throughout the postseason like Dallas has been (12-2-1 ATS in the playoffs for the Mavs). Still Miami has enjoyed modest ATS success as an underdog; with a 3-2 spread mark catching points here in the playoffs.
Haslem and Miller Return
I have no interest in breaking down the two regular season meetings – games played before Christmas are truly irrelevant in June. And quite frankly, I have no interest in discussing anything from either team prior to their respective Conference Championship series. What we’ve seen over the last two weeks is what we expect to see in the Finals.
And what we’ve seen over the last two weeks is a Miami team primed to win a title. The Heat entered the playoffs with a dramatic void in the paint, and no set rotation minutes for many of their role players. Head coach Eric Spoelstra was giving major minutes to the likes of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magliore in the frontcourt. Eddie House and James Jones were bouncing in and out of the lineup on the wing.
Ilgauskas, Howard, Magliore, House and Jones, as a quintet, didn’t see a single minute of playing time in the last three games of the series with Chicago. Instead, Spoelstra used a nice, tight, eight man rotation with Mike Miller coming off the bench on the wing and Udonis Haslem coming off the bench in the low post.
Both guys missed extended time this year due to injury, and neither was in any kind of a rhythm entering the playoffs. But with Miller on the floor against the Bulls, Spoelstra was able to create major matchup problems.
Miami went for extended stretches without a true point guard on the floor, playing with three wings. That gave the Heat an enormous size advantage in the backcourt and helped Miami sweep the final four games of that series SU and ATS.
The return of Haslem to the lineup after a five month absence was every bit as important. Howard, Magliore and Ilgauskas played their best basketball a decade ago, or more.
With a healthy Haslem providing defense, rebounding and the occasional jump shot, that trio wasn’t forced to bang with the likes of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Here against Dallas, that trio will only see the floor if the Heat need extra fouls to give.
Defensively, we can expect Dallas to have a very hard time with both of Miami’s superstars on the wing. Who can Jason Kidd defend when Miami plays without a point guard? How can the Mavericks two primary bench scorers – Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic – defend Dwayne Wade and LeBron James respectively?
Terry is too small and Stojakovic is too slow to have defensive success in this series. Terry has been the Mavs second leading scorer both in the playoffs and during the regular season. – if he can’t get his usual complement of minutes because of defensive liability issues, it’s a major concern for Rick Carlisle.
Shaun Marion had the series of his life against Kevin Durant and the Thunder, but can an aging Marion have similar success against a much more physical presence from LeBron? The Mavs core group of experienced veterans were difference makers against a young team like Oklahoma City, but that same experience (read: old) isn’t going to help them beat Miami.
On the other end of the floor, the Heat have defensive answers for Dallas. Jason Terry isn’t going to get easy looks over a much taller defender and Dirk Nowitzki is going to have his hands full on both ends of the court against Chris Bosh.
Let’s not forget Dallas got outrebounded in every single game of their series against the Thunder, despite starting a pair of seven footers.
Dallas has enjoyed a tremendous playoff run for themselves and their backers here in Vegas. But the matchups don’t work for Dallas here in the Finals against Miami.
Teddy’s Prediction: Heat in 6.