Dallas (4) vs. Miami (2)
Before the season even began, many "experts" and fans alike had decreed that the 2006 NBA Finals would be a repeat of the 2005 version, starring the team-oriented San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons. Instead, the 2006 Finals pits the Dallas Mavericks against the Miami Heat, two teams who finished second in their respective conferences' regular season standings, and dispatched the supposed "top team" during their playoff runs.
Now, not only does this series promise to be supremely exciting, but there are myriad storylines which even the most casual of NBA fans will want to follow. Some of these include: will Pat Riley go down as the most overtanned, leathery head coach to win an NBA title, will Shaq feel "vindicated" after being traded by Kobe Bryant to the Heat, how many hugs must be shrugged off and high-fives ignored before Mark Cuban learns paying his players does not make them his friends, and more importantly, how many times will Avery Johnson hit Josh Howard in the penis while frantically trying to make a substitution.
Still, the most important question is who is going to win the series? I have studied some numbers in order to provide the answer.
Each team has played seventeen playoff games, only 3.5 games short of a quarter of the NBA season. Therefore, the way they are playing in the postseason provides a better indicator than any regular season team stats. For this reason, all of the stats I use will be strictly from the postseason.
First, let's look at how efficiently each team plays, both offensively and defensively. Since teams usually play at different tempos, the best way to compare their efficiency is to pro-rate their possession to 100, thus putting them on a level playing field and eliminating the confounding variable that is tempo.
Dallas Mavericks Offense: 114 points per 100 possessions
Dallas Mavericks Defense: 108 points per 100 possessions
Miami Heat Offense: 109 points per 100 possessions
Miami Heat Defense: 103 points per 100 possessions
In terms of how much more efficient these teams have been than their opponents, the numbers are the same, as each team has is plus six. Although Dallas scores five more points than does Miami per 100 possessions, they also give up five more points.
Some may say if Dallas pushes the pace, there will be no way for the Heat to keep up, but there is no statistical evidence that Dallas has been pushing the ball any faster than the Heat. During the playoffs, Dallas has averaged one more possession on offense and one less possession on defense, which is as close to equal one can get without it being identical.
Since this really does not give us a clue as to who will win the series, let's look at how each team gets its points and how they also defend.
Dallas Jump Shot Offense: 49.8 points
Miami Jump Shot Defense: 44.9 points
Dallas Close Offense: 22.0 points
Miami Close Defense: 21.5 points
Dallas Dunk Offense: 5.4 points
Miami Dunk Defense: 4.8 points
Dallas Tip Offense: 1.8 points
Miami Tip Defense: 1.2 points
While Dallas's offense matches up well against Miami's defense, the biggest difference comes in the jump shot department. Miami's perimeter defense has been susceptible the whole year, and if there is any offense that can exploit this weakness, it is one led by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry.
In the other aspects of its offense, Dallas should be able to score at the rate they have so far with no problem.
Miami Jump Shot Offense: 39.4 points
Dallas Jump Shot Defense: 40.8 points
Miami Close Offense: 26.3 points
Dallas Close Defense: 27.4 points
Miami Dunk Offense: 11.5 points
Dallas Dunk Defense: 6.9 points
Miami Tip Offense: 0.2 points
Dallas Tip Defense: 0.8 points
Not surprisingly, the Miami Heat has a decided advantage when it comes to scoring in the paint, most notably on dunks. Their interior scoring prowess is not just a result of having Shaq down low, but also comes off Dwyane Wade's drives through the lane which usually end with an alley-oop to Shaq or a monstrous dunk of his own.
One positive the Dallas Mavericks can take into this series is knowing that with their extremely deep bench, they have a number of players they can use to defend Shaq and hopefully contain him below his average.
Whether or not they succeed remains to be seen.
Now, we must look at the net PER the teams get out of their five positions. Net PER is a measure of how much production a team is being given, by a player or an overall position.
Point Guard: Neither team's point guards have outplayed their opponents' point guards, but Miami has done a better job of being outplayed at this position. Advantage: Dallas (-0.5 to -4.6)
Shooting Guard: Mostly due to having Dwyane Wade on the roster, Miami has a decided edge at this position. Advantage: Miami (+8.8 to -1.7)
Small Forward: Maybe Miami shouldn't even play with a small forward. Just kidding. Sort of. Advantage: Dallas (+3.5 to -5.5)
Power Foward: Two words: Dirk Nowitzki. Advantage: Dallas (+14.8 to +1.2)
Center: Two more words: Shaquille O'Neal. Advantage: Miami (+12.1 to -5.2)
Overall Net PER: Miami trumps Dallas by a slim margin (+1.1).
Although Miami has a slight edge in overall net PER, Dallas does win the battle at three individual postions and it must be said that Dallas has put up its numbers against superior teams, beating two of the top four regular-season teams (San Antonio and Phoenix), making them slightly more impressive. In addition, the Heat have yet to face a team as deep and as malleable as the Dallas Mavericks.
Also, did I mention Dallas has home-court advantage?
Prediction: Dallas wins in 7 games.
Stats courtesy of 82games.com