As I started watching the first few games of the conference finals, it became clear to me that we were heading towards a Dallas-Miami showdown. That was because both those teams had something the other two teams didnt. Championship swagger. That is something that every championship team in the last decade has had. The Lakers with Kobe certainly had the swagger of a team that knew they had the best player on the court and could turn it up another gear. The Celtics team with the new big three also had a swagger about them led by Kevin Garnett on defense. They knew they could completely shut down other teams. The Spurs certainly had that "been there done that" attitude, and they had a guy in Ginobili who was otherworldy in the things he could do. Even the Larry Brown coached Pistons team had fearless players like Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Ben Wallace who believed in themselves way more than the media did.
So who are the players on Dallas and Miami who have shown this championship swagger? We all know about the superstars Nowitzki, LeBron, and Wade. But there's Jason Terry, who really thinks he's one of the three best shooters in the league. There's Peja Stojakovic, who puts up threes like he was still back in Sacramento. There's Shawn Marion, who has always been a very confident player, stepping up to play great defense. And for the Heat, Chris Bosh really started to have that swagger, and you could see it from the gleam in his eyes. This was a very different man than the one who admitted to feeling the nerves in Boston.
As for the teams that lost in the conference finals, you could see they just weren't ready. They didn't have that swagger, that body language that signified, "This is our time." While Chicago played hard and good team defense in the Thibodeau mold, they just didn't have that "we will shut you down" swagger. And when Lebron started guarding Rose in crunch time and their offense stalled, it was all over. As for the Thunder, I don't know if it's because they have a young team and a young coach, but they just never seemed to me to have that real sense of urgency in their approach. Remember last year's finals game 7? The Celtics played their hearts out and took a good lead in the 4th, but then the Lakers stepped it up and played defense that was amazing to watch. Odom and Artest trapping like Pippen and Grant used to. Completely stifling. There's plenty of talent on this Thunder team, but I just don't know if they really have one more gear that they can turn on which will signal that they're ready.
So what do I expect for this finals matchup? Lots of scoring. I'm actually pretty amazed that the over/under line in the first game is only 187. Dallas is so deep at every position with skilled players that I don't really see them being shut down for a long period of time in any game. Sure, they might go cold, but I don't see Miami being able to shut them down defensively. We can't go by the Chicago series because Chicago really doesn't score that much. Miami, as we all know, can score with the best of them in a fast paced game, and much will depend on the isolation execution and foul calling at the end of games.
My pick is Dallas to win in 6 games. I think they will dominate the boards with their true centers in Chandler and Haywood, and good rebounding small forward and point guard in Marion and Kidd. Furthermore, I expect that there will be one game on the road where Dallas just shoots lights out and builds too big of a lead. I think Dallas will be very smart about playing to their strengths, build their leads with the second team, and let Miami's big three get as much as they want, but only on isolations.