Updated: June 7, 2006, 10:54 AM ET

No Finals agreement

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.

We asked our writers to elaborate on their picks, and you can find excerpts from their columns below.






(In 6)
(In 6)
(In 6)
(In 7)
(In 6)

Miami Heat

Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine

Shaq's going to go crazy, especially against his favorite punch line, Erick Dampier. D-Wade's going to go wild. Zo's going to contribute. J-Will will hit 3s. James Posey will be a defensive spark and drop some triples, as well. Antoine Walker will make 3s and plays at just the right time. Haslem will continue to be Pat Riley's black Kurt Rambis.

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.

See Broussard's complete blog on who will win the Finals

Dallas Mavericks

John Hollinger, ESPN Insider

A few factors are working against the Heat.

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.

See Hollinger's Q-and-A on who will win the Finals

Dallas Mavericks

Marc Stein, ESPN.com

The Mavs have the toughest player in the series to guard: Dirk Nowitzki. Neither Udonis Haslem nor James Posey can do it without serious help.

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.

See Stein's complete column on who will win the Finals

Dallas Mavericks

Chris Sheridan, ESPN Insider

Two of the six reasons Dallas will win:

The X factor
For the Mavs, that would be Josh Howard, a player seemingly on the verge of a breakout performance in the national spotlight, just as Manu Ginobili was a year ago. Dallas is 25-0 when Howard scores at least 20 points, and he's averaging nearly as many points in the playoffs (17.4) as Terry (17.8). His athleticism should give him the matchup edge over Antoine Walker, and he has been a more accurate shooter from 3-point range than 'Toine.

The home court
I picked this one to go the full seven games, and the support and energy the Mavs receive from their crowd should carry them over the top in the final game. That's what happened in San Antonio last year when the Spurs finished off the Pistons, and I'd expect Dallas to play from ahead in the deciding game and clinch it by pulling away in the fourth quarter behind Nowitzki and Howard. But I also expect the Mavs to have to win both Games 6 and 7 at home because I believe they're going back there trailing 3-2 after Game 5.

See Sheridan's complete blog on who will win the Finals

• Talk back to the Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: June 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Best Photos: West | East

Mavs Not Sweating The Heat
Dallas Mavericks
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.

Scouts Inc.: The Finals Breakdown
Dirk Nowitzki

An excerpt from the Scouts Inc. position-by-position breakdown of the NBA Finals:

Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Udonis Haslem
Nowitzki may be the most unique player to defend in the NBA because of his size and skill set. His ability to shoot with range, drive one-on-one and get to the free throw line have made him unstoppable throughout the playoffs. He is averaging 28.4 points while shooting almost 50 percent in the playoffs.

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.

Udonis Haslem

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.

See the full scouting report and prediction from Scouts Inc.

Question Marc
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.

See the complete Marc Stein chat transcript

NBA Finals Schedule

Thursday, June 8
ABC, 8 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Sunday, June 11
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Tuesday, June 13
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Thursday, June 15
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Sunday, June 18*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Dallas Mavericks at Miami Heat

Tuesday, June 20*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Thursday, June 22*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

* If necessary

All About D

The Heat try to get Dwyane Wade healthy while the Mavs prepare for Wade's sick moves.

SportsCenter report on D-Wade

"I'm A Humble Big Man"

Amusing as ever, Shaq brags about his humility and talks about his place in NBA history.

"I'm a classy individual"

Nothing To Josh About
Josh Howard
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.

Kobe, LeBron or Wade?
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.

Full Jim O'Brien chat transcript

Calling The Game
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.

Full John Hollinger chat transcript

Jet Fuel
Jason Terry
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.



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