Dallas in six.
There. This business of soberly avoiding predictions, taking the high road, staying away from daily-columnist shtick: It gets old.
The NBA Finals start Thursday night in Dallas, and I'm picking the Mavericks over the Miami Heat, and yes I realize I'm the guy who said the Mavs can't win a championship with Dirk Nowitzki as their go-to player. Repeatedly.
Now I'm saying they can, and you should give this statement all the consideration you gave the earlier one.
Nowitzki has stepped up in a big way, and he's done it deep enough in these playoffs that I've become a believer. There was that worrisome ending to Game 6 in the San Antonio series last month, but then again there was that 50-point outburst in the pivotal Game 5 win over Phoenix last week.
If I were a Mavs fan I'd still hold my breath if the ball were in Nowitzki's hands at the buzzer with a Finals game on the line -- which is exactly where Dallas should put it in such a situation -- but Nowitzki is no longer the mentally soft jump shooter he's been for most of his career. Now he does whatever it takes, and usually it takes hard drives to the basket, hard work on the boards and leadership.
But the Mavs aren't all about Dirk Nowitzki, which is good because the Miami Heat are a damn good team.
A lot of fools doubted Pat Riley when he overhauled the roster after the Heat came within a Dwyane Wade injury of beating the Detroit Pistons and making the Finals last year. Now that Gary Payton, Antoine Walker and Jason Williams have helped the Heat get to within four wins of a championship, we can all laugh at the doubters.
I laugh right in the face of one every time I shave.
I've also been a doubter of Shaquille O'Neal, writing that he wasn't likely to keep up his high energy level through a tough seminightly series against the Pistons. Wrong. With Wade weakened by a virus, O'Neal, who was tremendous throughout the series, carried the Heat to a clinching victory in Game 6 Saturday.
But you know what? I'm saying it again. The Mavericks are not the Detroit Pistons -- you can't get this kind of analysis just anywhere, folks -- and neither are they the New Jersey Nets or Chicago Bulls, the Heat's victims in the first two rounds of the playoffs. You're back in the Western Conference now, Shaq.
The Mavericks run, which means O'Neal will have to run. They also have two true centers, Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop, who will never make anyone forget Bill Russell but who bring 545 pounds and 12 fouls to the lane every night. Starting in Game 5, when his suspension runs out, lean 7-footer D.J. Mbenga will be able to come in and draw six more whistles.
The Mavs also have a variety of slashers who can get Shaq into early foul trouble, and they have jump shooters who can draw the Heat defenders out onto the floor.
The Heat have Shaq, of course, who can't be stopped if he stays out of foul trouble and doesn't wear down. And they have Wade, who can take over a game and a series. They also have Riley, a coach who knows how to win championships, and a veteran group that's gelled as a team.
The Mavs have two guys who are nightmare matchups, Nowitzki and Josh Howard. They're faster, they're deeper, they can play several different styles effectively, and they have a coach, Avery Johnson, who can't match Riley's track record -- yet -- but who has turned this perennial paper tiger of a team, an exciting offensive show that wouldn't play the hard-nosed defense necessary to win in May and June, into a true contender.
Last year's Finals, interesting as they were for hardcore fans, lacked star power and glamour. This series has those in spades. There are megastars in Shaq, Wade and Nowitzki, an intriguing coaching matchup between the old lion Riley and the youngblood Johnson, familiar faces such as Payton and Walker. And just to the side there are the always fun Marc Cuban and a passel of courtside celebrities at every game in Miami.
There also will be a new champion, something the NBA needs badly. For all the talk that baseball lacks competitive balance over the last couple of decades, it's basketball whose seasons keep coming down to the same few teams. Whichever team wins this series will bring home its first NBA title. That's a great thing.
It'll be Dallas, it says here. In six.
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PRV update: Caught stealing! [PERMALINK]
"Great minds think alike," read the e-mail from Steven Goldman, author of the Pinstriped Bible New York Yankees blog. What he meant by that was: "You thieving, plagiarizing son of a Red Sock!"
"I used a similar acronym last week, albeit for different purposes," he continued calmly, no doubt sharpening knives and shopping for discount airfares from Newark to St. Louis at the same time. He was referring to the new stat you're helping me invent, pitcher run value, or PRV -- pronounced like a word -- which endeavors to take into account the offensive contributions of National League pitchers by adjusting their earned-run average.
In a May 31 entry about Mariano Rivera, Goldman had coined the acronym PERV, for premium expensive retreaded veterans, to describe that part of the Yankees bullpen, most years, that is not named Mariano Rivera.
So I have now been outed as either a plagiarist or a person who doesn't promptly read every entry of the Pinstriped Bible. I'm not sure which is worse. I feel really bad about it, especially because Goldman found a way to get a vowel in there. And I'll probably feel worse after he sends me a 98-page black fax. Oh, here's a FedEx package from New Jersey. It's ticking ...
Other than in my imagination, Goldman's being very gracious. If I can think of another good acronym for our new stat -- or if you can -- I'll change it.
Meanwhile, I've received several offers of number-crunching help. Thanks for that, and I'll be getting back to you all. I think we've got ourselves a really great project here, and if everything comes together the way I think it will, we should be able to come up with something of absolutely no use to anybody -- a lifelong goal of mine.
OK, I heard you say, "What about your column?"
Also, at least one letter in response to Monday's column wondered why we don't use each pitcher's actual number of plate appearances in figuring his runs created per nine innings, rather than multiplying his runs created per plate appearance by 3.5.
The answer is, I didn't have the time or chops to make all those individual calculations. I think I agree it's a good idea, though.
And last, a reader points out that ESPN.com does, in fact, let you sort hitting stats to see only pitchers. You do it through the filter options at the upper right.
Still, I think it's telling that the "sort options" at the top of the page feature this line: "Position: ALL | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | OF | DH | ROOKIE." See anything missing there?
More to come! It's like you're present at the creation of game-winning RBI (GWRBI), isn't it?
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