Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Must-Win for Mavs?

I was having an e–mail conversation with a friend of mine shortly before the Dallas–Miami game on Sunday.

I asked my friend if he thought Dallas would win the game. He wasn't sure, but he did say he believed the winner of the game would go on to win the series — and, hence, the NBA title.

I agreed with him — but, I will admit, it was a pretty safe bet. The teams split the first two games, which meant the series had become a best–of–five. The winner would only need to win two of the remaining four games while the loser would need to win three.

While I don't know the exact numbers, I think the finalists have split the first two games about 40% of the time since the NBA introduced its current schedule in the finals — the first two games played at one site, followed by three games at the other site, followed by the last two games at the original site — about 25 years ago.

By the time the game tipped off on Sunday night, I had heard from numerous sports writers — in both interviews and columns — that the winner of the third game had always gone on to win the whole thing.

That must mean that history is on the side of the Miami Heat, who held on for a two–point win.

Sean Deveney of The Sporting News sums it up for many when he says Miami is "clearly ... the much better team."

I would admit that Miami has been the better team in the first three games. But much better? Clearly better? I don't think so.

As I have conceded on many occasions, I am hardly an expert on the NBA. I am, at best, a casual observer. I haven't followed the NBA closely since I was a kid. I usually don't get interested in the NBA until it reaches this point in the playoffs.

Nevertheless, there are some things that I know — and that I will continue to believe until I am proven wrong.

One is that, although home court/field is an advantage in the early going, by the time you reach this stage of the playoffs, home means little, if anything, beyond being able to sleep in one's own bed.

For a true champion in any sport, a game is played within the confines of the playing surface, and whatever is happening outside those boundaries is separate from what is taking place within them.

Oh, sure, I suppose some of the younger, inexperienced players may be affected by opposing fans' efforts to distract them, but not championship–caliber veterans.

I think my point has been proven in the first three games of this series. The home team won the first game; the visiting team has won the last two.

And the last two games were decided by two points each. One was a great comeback (although, when compared to the epic comeback against Oklahoma City in the previous round, Dallas' come–from–behind victory in Game 2 wasn't as impressive — at least not numerically).

That doesn't necessarily suggest that anyone has dominated things yet.

Actually, it reminds me more of this year's Triple Crown in horse racing. The winner of the Kentucky Derby had to come from way behind to win that race, then almost did the same thing but came up just short in the Preakness a couple of weeks ago. Now, the horses will run in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, which is the longest of the three races.

The winner of the Derby has proven to be the fastest horse at the end of the first two races. His speed and endurance could well pay off in Saturday's Belmont when his rivals start to fade.

After three games of the NBA Finals, you knew that someone was going to have two wins — at least. Regardless of what led up to them, the final margins suggest that the teams were competitive at the end — and that suggests that the rest of the games in this series, however many that turns out to be, will be entertaining.

That makes me believe that tonight's game is not a must–win for the Mavericks — although a loss will certainly make things much more difficult for them.

It is an important game, though. If I were you, I'd watch.

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