History says Dallas won’t beat Miami

by Andrew Kennedy

Timing is said to be everything in life and it is no different when it comes to sports and the NBA. I’ve been saying all year that this was the perfect time for LeBron James to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami to win right away. If the timing is right for them, it most certainly is not for Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.

We overanalyze a lot in sports sometimes and can get into trouble doing so. Like looking at the Bulls and how they are a bad matchup for the Heat. They were but the Heat were still that much more talented and that much better at playing their game consistently that it didn’t matter in the end.

Underanalyzing is also a problem. Like saying the Heat will win because they have the best player (LeBron) is boring and not entirely true.

I tried to combine the two, while overanalyzing the underanalyzing when it comes to the matchup between the Heat and the Mavericks.

It’s a good gage of a team if you look at who their three best players are. It can tell you a whole lot about them when they’re like the Heat and their three best players are by far their three best players. It can also not tell the whole story if you only look at who the three best players were of the Pistons teams in the late 80’s because those teams had deep rosters. And it can definitely reveal why some teams don’t succeed when you have a hard time even figuring out who a team’s third best guy is because there doesn’t seem to be one.

I looked at that combined with the experience (years in the league) of each of the three best players of every team that played in the NBA Finals since 1980. I did this because it was very exciting for me.

A lot of things stick out when you do this and as I went through all of these teams and players to find the information on basketball-reference.com, it almost always seemed to make sense who won after getting the numbers.

The main thing I did was add up all the years of experience, find the average and then the differential between the two teams. A lot of the obvious that showed up was teams losing because they were too young and dynasties ending because they were getting too old.

The most common amount of experience leading to winning the Finals or getting there was eight years in the league. A lot of great players tend to peak around this time as they are still young enough to be dominant athletically and are also at a better place mentally with their game.

Moses Malone was in his ninth year when the 76ers won in 1983 and he dominated. One of the best teams of all-time, the ’86 Celtics, won the title with Larry Bird in his seventh year. Similarly Magic Johnson was in his eighth year when he turned into Magic 2.0 for the ’87 Lakers. Isiah Thomas was in his eighth season when he and the Pistons finally got over the hump in 1989 and won. Michael Jordan was in his seventh season for the beginning of his first three-peat and MJ ’92 when he peaked was his eighth year. Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing all lost in the Finals in their ninth seasons, maybe a year too late (I know, a stretch). Shaq won his first in his eighth season. Dirk was robbed in 2006 during his eighth year. Kobe Bryant got back to win two more titles once his running mate, Pau Gasol, entered his eighth year.

So it’s a big deal to be an eight-year pro (or close to it) in the NBA if you want to win a title. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all in their eighth seasons. I think this more than a lot of things makes it clear that they will win and, if nothing else, makes it harder to make the case for the Mavericks overcoming whatever odds we’re putting against them.

No team since 1980 that won the title has ever had their three best players in the league as long as this Dallas team. The closest teams all were dynasties either with Jordan’s Bulls or Magic’s Lakers. The only teams older than Dallas in this regard that got to the Finals and lost were the Celtics last year and Utah in 1998.

The differential of an average of five years that Dallas is older than Miami is the third largest differential of any Finals matchup. The Lakers were older in 1989 when they lost to Detroit (largely because I ranked Kareem their third best player and he was in his 20th season) and Houston in 1995 was by far older than that Orlando Magic team at an average of 7.3 seasons.

The advantage of being older and perhaps wiser is when your opponent is also young and this advantage dies when your opponent is perfectly in their prime.

This isn’t a perfect comparison but the Finals this year could play out like 2000. The Pacers’ best three were older than the Lakers’ by an average of 2.6 seasons. Reggie Miller was in his 13th season while Dirk is in his 12th. Shaq, the most dominant player of that era, was in his eighth year while LeBron, the most dominant player now, also is. And having Reggie or Dirk as your best guy both of them being shooters doesn’t seem to be the right idea if you want to win a title. It’s always better to have your best guys obsessed with getting to the line (Shaq and Kobe; LeBron and Wade).

So Dallas has no chance. Don’t even bother watching the games. Miami in 6.

The case that’s left for Dallas: No other team and their best player ever could have more of a revenge factor than Dallas and Dirk. If there’s a balance in the universe, taking a title away from the more talented team in 2006 (Dallas) and giving it to Miami, shouldn’t the same happen this year with Dallas taking one back from the more talented team (Miami)?

Dirk may be in his 12th season and that sounds old and past his prime but he’s actually in his prime. His prime window seems like it may be the longest in the history of the NBA. Combine that with the fact that he is playing the best basketball of anyone in the league right now and is on a Bird-level. I mean, a 7-footer playing at a Bird-level has never been seen before and could be enough to overcome the obstacles in front of Dallas. Like, if anything were too beat this Miami team this year I feel like a 7-foot Bird could.

If you put real doubt in LeBron’s head, you can beat him. That’s what really happened last year against Boston. Sure, he basically quit (I don’t care about the numbers, he hustled bizarrely hard to rebound missed free throws from teammates, also had a weird thing where he would pass after crossing halfcourt then sprint like a wide receiver to the corner to space the floor and let his teammates go to work, basically saying “I’ve done what I can, now let me see you help me beat Boston.” If you don’t believe me, watch the game again.)

Beyond quitting to a degree, it was obvious that Boston did something that really made him feel he could no longer win. They got in his head, defended him a certain way, maybe he overheard Kevin Garnett yell something particularly scary at one point, but something happened that caused something in LeBron’s head to click and he knew he had no chance. So if Dallas can somehow do this, by giving Miami a ton of trouble with zone or Dirk scoring at will with LeBron on him or JJ Barea going off (somehow this might happen in the NBA Finals by the way), then Dallas would obviously have a great chance to win the series. It does seem like that LeBron has a sidekick this year he probably won’t be doing any quitting anymore.

At the end of the day, it just seems cruel if Miami beats Dallas (not unreasonable because obviously they’re so talented). How hard would this be for Dirk? He will go down as maybe a top five power forward that could never win the big one if they lose, basically a choke. And if Dallas wins this year you almost have to seriously consider Dirk as a top 10 player ever. It would defy so many odds and speak to just how good Dirk is.

But it seems to be more of a cruel world than one that allows the right thing to happen. That’s why I think Miami wins and this is how I’m looking at it because it’s going to hurt less this way.