NBA Finals Preview

Between their considerable physical skill and better role-players behind them, expect the smiles to continue for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James when the Heat begin the NBA Finals against the Thunder Tuesday. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

This is the NBA Finals that David Stern dreams of at night and pleasures himself to during the day. The Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Miami Heat. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook vs. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The league’s best teams pitting its brightest stars against each other on its biggest stage.

The advertising pitch pretty much sells itself. It all starts Tuesday night, and here’s my preview.

Heat Too Multifaceted

Besides both having meteorological collective noun as mascots, the Heat and Thunder have much in common. Both have two elite offensive players, as capable of splitting defenses and dunking as stepping into mid-range jumpers. Both teams’ youth enables fast-paced, transition offense designed to strike before an opposing defense sets. And both teams have role-players capable of big plays when called upon.

Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Heat just have more. When Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and apparently even Chris Bosh can all shoot three-pointers, the Heat’s offense becomes nigh-unguardable. And at their best, James and Wade may be the physically strongest players in the game (minus Dwight Howard), which has translated into numerous trips to the foul line (17.0 per playoff game for James and Wade combined, 13.3 for Durant and Westbrook).

James Harden gives the Thunder a little more depth, but not enough to overcome the myriad snipers the Heat can use to eat up leads quickly.

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NBA Conference Finals Preview

Expect the Miami Heat to win the East and the San Antonio Spurs to win the West. The Heat won their one match-up against each other this season, 120-98. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

A similar story runs through both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals. Both series will match athletic, physically strong youngsters against experienced, cagey veterans. The brash and burly Miami Heat play the ancient and venerated Boston Celtics in the East, while the run-and-gun Oklahoma City Thunder play the super-synchronized San Antonio Spurs in the West.

Each teams stands just four wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals. A Celtics championship would write the perfect ending to the likely final year for their New Big Three, while a Heat championship would do away with all the criticisms LeBron James has endured about his lack of big-game effectiveness.

The Spurs would love to milk one more championship out of Tim Duncan, who’s already won it all four times since 1999. And a trophy by the Thunder would provide some hardware to match Kevin Durant‘s considerable skills.

Do brains conquer brawn in basketball? Do teams win in the playoffs by scoring or preventing scoring? Here’s my preview of the third round.

Celtics vs. Heat

Celtics fans desperate to believe their team can beat the Heat will no doubt look at the Celtics’ 3-1 record against them this season. You know who started all three wins? Avery Bradley. You know who won’t play basketball again this season? Avery Bradley. And without him, the Celtics don’t have enough perimeter defense to contain Dwyane Wade, especially with Ray Allen hurtin’ and the bench nonexistent.

The Celtics struggled with the 76ers’ strength and athleticism throughout their series. Doc Rivers even called them “Atlanta on steroids.” Well, the Heat are the 76ers on steroids: even stronger, even faster, even more durable. And they’ve had two extra days off.

Kevin Garnett won’t be able to dominate in the post as he did against the 76ers, and an injured Paul Pierce won’t be able to hang with James. Rajon Rondo is an infinitely better point guard than Mario Chalmers, but both perform best as facilitators, not scorers. And Chalmers just has better offensive options than Rondo.

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Ten Worst First Overall Draft Picks in NBA History

The Golden State Warriors gave up Robert Parish and the third pick to draft Joe Barry Carroll first overall in 1980. The Celtics drafted Kevin McHale. The old knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade would probably say the Warriors "chose poorly."

No matter what scouts say, successful NBA drafting requires as much luck as research. Lower-round draftees sometimes star – Chicago’s Carlos Boozer, for instance – and first-rounders sometimes flop. And the higher that first-rounder goes in the draft, the more embarrassing his struggles.

The most tragically funny stories, then, all come from NBA first overall selections. Here’s my Top 10 for the worst first overall selections.

10) John Lucas: drafted by Houston Rockets in 1976. Lucas averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 assists per game in his career and helped the Rockets to an NBA Finals appearance in 1986, but he threw his talent down the toilet, exiting the NBA to get treatment for cocaine and alcohol addiction. Lucas eventually cleaned up and became an NBA head coach. Not exactly a tragedy, but probably a pick the Rockets wish they had back.

9) Pervis Ellison: drafted by Sacramento Kings in 1989. Pervis’ NBA dreams never materialized because he could never stay healthy. He appeared in 70-plus games just once in his 11-year career, averaging just over 43 games per season. And despite his 1992 NBA Most Improved Player award, Ellison went first in a draft that featured nine future All-Stars, including Tim Hardaway and Mookie Blaylock.

8) Michael Olowokandi: drafted by L.A. Clippers in 1998. Had the Clippers not blown this draft, they could’ve had Paul Pierce or Dirk Nowitzki. Instead, they got Olowokandi, who in five seasons averaged fewer than 10 points per game. Under Olowokandi the Clippers won fewer than a third of their games, never qualified for the playoffs and perpetually played under the Lakers’ shadow until drafting Blake Griffin first overall in 2009.

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Nowitzki, Mavericks Crush Shorthanded Celtics

Dirk Nowitzki takes a shot against Chris Wilcox during Monday's Celtics-Mavericks game in Dallas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Hmm… let’s see. The Celtics struggled badly with rebounds Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks. They also couldn’t move the ball offensively, find open shots or accomplish anything in the paint.

The Celtics played the Mavericks without Kevin Garnett (family matter), Brandon Bass (knee) and Rajon Rondo (two-game suspension). They lost to the Mavericks, 89-73.

For some reason, I can’t help but think the two previous paragraphs are related.

Nowitzki’s Double-Double Highlights Celtics Struggles

Without Garnett or Bass, the Celtics had few options for defending Dirk Nowitzki. Whoever Boston sent at Nowitzki, he made that defender look silly.

It didn’t matter if Nowitzki was in the low post, high post, top of the key, whatever. Nowitzki scored 21 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, including a run of 10 consecutive points in the second quarter. A particularly abusive move on Jermaine O’Neal highlighted that run.

Along with all those points came 16 rebounds and two blocks. The Mavericks out-rebounded the Celtics eight, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ five. They also out-scored the Celtics 32-18 in the paint, getting a solid nine points from reserve power forward Brandan Wright.

Wright scored an alley-oop bucket from reserve guard Jason Terry (16 points on 6-of-11 shooting) in the second, then added an emphatic dunk in the fourth. He also grabbed two offensive rebounds in the same possession, eventually kicking it out to Terry for a three-pointer that put the Mavericks up 40-26 in the second.

The Celtics showed moments of offensive consistency that led to moves in the paint, in particular a fast-break dunk by Ray Allen followed by a dribble-penetration from Paul Pierce that made it 44-34 late in the second. But overall the Celtics never looked in rhythm, throwing up crazy shots in the lanes or running anemically into defenders for easy blocks.

Pierce (20 points), Allen (15) and Avery Bradley (12) did their best, but with Bradley running the offense the Celtics lose most of the fluidity Rondo typically brings. And with so few second-chance scoring opportunities, the Celtics’ stiff, disjointed offense just meant more minutes on defense.

The Celtics didn’t lead at any point during Monday’s game. Their five-point deficit after one quarter became 10 after two and 17 after three.

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