As you can see below, five of our experts are split on the question of which team will hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy in a few days -- and which team will go home with broken hearts.
No Finals agreement
We asked our writers to elaborate on their picks, and you can find excerpts from their columns below.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine
Heading into this season, there were only two questions about Miami: Will Shaq be healthy come playoff time? And will the Heat ever get all those egos on the same page? No one with a measurable hoop IQ questioned their talent because everyone knew Miami was loaded.
Well, both questions have been answered in the affirmative. Shaq is playing his best ball in two years, and the Heat are clicking at just the right time.
So nobody's beating them. Period.
John Hollinger, ESPN Insider
First, the matchups. Dallas' ability to mix and match its combinations on the floor has given it a decided advantage in every round of the playoffs, and there's no reason it will stop here.
Second, there's the emotional aspect. I expect Miami to come out a bit flat for the first few games, just as Dallas did in the last series, and it will be difficult for the Heat to prevail if they're down 2-0 heading back to South Beach.
Finally, there's the question mark in the back of my mind about the East. I'm absolutely convinced of the Mavs' quality after watching them sweep Memphis, dispatch the world champs and outlast Phoenix. I'm less certain of the Heat's, just because the one team that was supposed to provide its big test began fizzling just before the big showdown.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com
They have quality platoons to send at D-Wade (Josh Howard, Adrian Griffin and Marquis Daniels) and Shaquille O'Neal (Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop and DJ Mbenga starting in Game 5).
They have slashers and drivers (Howard, Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris) and another good shooter (Jason Terry) to (a) capitalize on the double-teams Nowitzki is sure to draw, and (b) cause defensive, stamina and foul-trouble problems for Shaq by attacking the rim and quickening the pace.
They have more wild-card looks to throw at Miami, like playing Keith Van Horn and Nowitzki together to try to pull O'Neal away from the rim and keep Alonzo Mourning rooted to the bench.
Dallas also has a coach, incidentally, who reaches his players as well as Riley does, even though Avery Johnson has 20 fewer seasons of experience.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider
The X factor
The home court
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NBAE via Getty Images
On Tuesday in Dallas, the Mavericks underwent intense drills to prepare for game situations, such as standing around, handling the ball, communicating with teammates and trash talking. Good to see 2004 first-round pick Pavel Podkolzin (right) could make it.
An excerpt from the Scouts Inc. position-by-position breakdown of the NBA Finals:
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Udonis Haslem
But it is his aggressiveness that has made him so deadly. He is getting to the rim on drives and offensive rebounds and thus teams cannot keep him off the free throw line.
Look for the Mavs to run a lot of pick-and-pops with Dirk. It will be interesting to see how the Heat play the Nowitzki pick-and-pops. If they blitz hard, they may not be able to get to him on the pop thus they will be forced into a rotation. They may have to rotate from the closest man in order to get to him in time. Also look for the Mavs to put Nowitzki in isolations in the middle of the foul line or elbow and let him attack Haslem off the dribble.
This may be the key matchup in this series for the Miami Heat. Some people think that Haslem can guard Nowitzki. I am not a believer. Haslem has the size, toughness and grit but I am not sure that he has the quickness in pick-and-rolls or isolations at the top or elbow to be able to stop Dirk.
My guess is that he will get in foul trouble each game and will not be able to guard him without help. If the Mavs come to double Shaq or Wade, Udonis will get a lot of mid-range shots. He needs to be consistent with his shooting in the Finals.
Gabriel (Plantation, FL): Marc, do you ever learn? The Heat aren't the same team that went 2-14 against the top teams in the league. And they are the best defensive team in the playoffs right now in opposing FG% and rank behind only the Pistons in points allowed.
Marc Stein: So you're saying the Heat plays better D than San Antonio? Interesting. Also incorrect. This might not be the same Heat, true, but it's not the same Dallas, either. So don't try to tell me to discount Miami's regular-season performance and Dallas' postseason breakthrough.
Jamonti (Auburn Hills, Mich.): How much of an X factor do you think Josh Howard will be in this series?
Marc Stein: The X-factor is his health. Howard has to have a great series for Dallas to play how it wants to play and he was a force against Phoenix even after messing up both ankles. Heat have to hope his condition deteriorates.
Brad (NM): Any possibilities of seeing Shaq choke-slam Mark Cuban?
Marc Stein: Zero. Shaq loves Cuban and that's a big reason why he wanted to come to Dallas before the Miami option materialized.
Thursday, June 8
The Heat try to get Dwyane Wade healthy while the Mavs prepare for Wade's sick moves.
SportsCenter report on D-Wade
Amusing as ever, Shaq brags about his humility and talks about his place in NBA history.
"I'm a classy individual"
Glenn James/Getty Images
Josh Howard is not only a defensive stopper; the unsung Mav also will be a handful for Wade and Co. on the offensive end.
rayray: Hi Jim, You're the best NBA coach who's not coaching right now. Better than many of them who are. Which player would you like to coach more: LeBron, Wade or Kobe? Why?
Jim O'Brien: I think that Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league right now, because of his ability at both ends of the court. He can shut people down when he puts his mind to it.
LeBron is quickly becoming dominant at the offensive end to the point where he will be virtually unguardable, but his defense is still not quite at the level of Kobe's.
I would choose Wade over either LeBron and Kobe, because I think he brings great offense and he's quickly becoming a guy that's showing he can defend at a high level. It was difficult for him to guard Rip Hamilton and still be a dominant offensive player.
Any franchise would be happy to start their growth with any of the three.
Wayne (Virginia Beach): I believe that the Mavs will win rather easily. I don't think that the Heat match up with Nowitzki at all, and I think that Josh Howard is too much for either Walker or Posey. I won't even mention the Terry/Harris matchup against Williams. I know that "that's why you play the game," but do you disagree with me?
Jim O'Brien: I do disagree. I feel that Miami's going to win the series.
Nowitzki is definitely a difficult matchup, but I think Udonis Haslem has the toughness and the size to do at least a fair job on Nowitzki. You are right in saying that Walker can't guard Howard, so it would appear Posey would get the call more often and Walker may have to settle for playing Stackhouse or they'll have to use Walker and Haslem as a tandem at the power forward spot.
Brett (Miami): I see so many matchup problems for the Heat with the new style of officiating in the NBA. Ten years ago this Heat team would have "bullied" the Mavs. Now you can't touch the guy with the ball. How do you think the officiating will factor in this series?
John Hollinger: Officiating will be a factor, but don't automatically assume that a tight whistle benefits Dallas. Remember, Miami has the quickest player on the court, and he's benefited as much from the new rules as any player in the league. So it's a bit rich for me to hear Pat Riley complaining about it.
Lance (LA): Would you give a slight advantage to the Mavs in a close fourth quarter? Sure, the Heat have Wade, but can't the Mavs hack Shaq until Riley takes him out? The Mavs are a much better free throw shooting team, too.
John Hollinger: Hack-a-Shaq should become an issue at some point during the series. Incidentally, Chop-a-Diop (54.2%) could also come into play.
Tim Heitman/Getty Images
When last in Dallas, on Feb. 9, the Heat couldn't stop Jason Terry, who shot 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the Mavs' 112-76 rout.