State of the NBA Finals   

Updated: July 9, 2008, 3:15 PM ET

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Forget about who's winning the championship. I'm starting to feel like the future of the NBA is at stake.

We just spent the past two months raving about the "New And Improved" NBA -- end-to-end action, loads of points, dramatic endings, a new generation of superstars coming into their own, coaches and owners willing to think outside the box. And Dallas personified everything that was happening. The Mavericks could play small, they could play big, they could play fast, they could play slow ... talking about them almost made me feel like Rollergirl describing Dirk Diggler. Their offense revolved around a 7-foot German who created a new form of post-up offense, setting up shop at the foul line and destroying defenders in a variety of ways. They had an answer for everything. That was the best thing about the Mavs -- their unpredictability. You never knew what to expect with them.

Unfortunately, they still had to get through Miami -- an old-school, MJ Era-type team with one superstar (Wade), another All-Star (Shaq), some overpaid pieces that didn't quite fit and a famous coach. Everything about them is predictable -- one guy creates every shot in crunch time, everyone else stands around and watches him, and every once in awhile those guys get to shoot an open jumper or finish a nice dish. This recipe would be boring if it weren't for Wade, a dynamic talent and the most consistent crunch-time scorer since Jordan. But that's the problem: In between Jordan and Wade, we had to watch all the wannabes pretending to be as good as them. And they weren't. Not even close.

Dwyane Wade

Jesse D. Garrabant/Getty Images

If Miami wins the title, the new NBA slogan may be: "Free throws! They're FAN-tastic!"

Here's what happens if Miami wins the title: New Jersey will say to themselves, "Hey, maybe this could happen to us with Vince Carter"; Washington will say the same about Arenas; Boston with Pierce; G-State with Richardson; the Lakers with Kobe; New Team X with Iverson. And so on and so on. But that's just the thing ... we went through this last decade. There was only one MJ; the formula couldn't be replicated. Same with Dwyane Wade; only LeBron can match him. And everyone else will fail trying, which means we can look forward to another decade of perimeter scorers going 11 for 32 in big games, teammates standing around while stars dribble at the top of the key waiting to challenge two defenders at once, and refs deciding every big game (like in Game 5) by how they interpret contact when the same guy is recklessly driving to the basket over and over again. Does any of this sound fun to you? I didn't think so.

As much as I enjoy watching Wade, a Heat title would erase all the progress of this spring. The Heat don't play well together offensively, they don't bring the best out of one another ... they uneasily co-exist for the sake of a larger purpose (an elusive championship). Just watch some of their guys during the average game. Does Shaq ever seem happy? Walker? Payton? Posey? It's a 1990s team playing in a different decade, only Wade is so freaking good, they're getting away with it and, hell, they might even win a championship.

As a basketball fan, I think this would be terrible. A tragedy, even. Nothing against Wade -- after all, it isn't his fault his team sucks and he has to play this way -- but seeing an individual triumph over a team YET AGAIN would erase every positive outcome from the 2005-06 season. Basically, the team with LeBron or Wade will win the next 10-12 titles, and it will come down to which guy made more 20-footers with two guys on him and which guy got the most cheap calls from the most spineless referees. That's not basketball, it's a star system. When my wife was asking why I was so ticked off after Game 5, it wasn't because I had money on the game (I didn't), or because I liked one team more than the other (I don't). If Miami wins, we may as well go back to box haircuts again, because it's going to be 1991 all over again -- the "New and Improved" NBA will have been defeated, and the Old-School NBA will reign supreme.

If you enjoyed the Spurs-Mavs and Suns-Mavs series this year, just root for Dallas these last two games. Trust me. It's for the best.

Some other scattered thoughts as we head into Game 6 of the WWE, er, the NBA Finals ...

• Say what you want about Pat Riley pulling an O.J. on Stan Van Gundy (and I have), but you can see why he did it. They never played defense under Van Gundy like they did during these past three games; the overall urgency was never there. Riley also learned a couple of tricks during his Knicks days about evening the odds with an out-manned team -- subtle ways to disrupt the flow of a game, whether it's timely timeouts, constant defensive changes, offense/defense subs, the "no easy layups" rule or whatever. He "uglies" the game up (for lack of a better word). That's why you rarely see the '94-95 Knicks or any of those Mourning/Hardaway Miami teams on ESPN Classic. The games just weren't that fun to watch.

More importantly, Van Gundy never would have had the scrotal fortitude to make offensive/defensive subs with Shaq in the final few minutes of any close game, and Shaq never would have allowed it to happen. At this point of his career, Shaq is like Pedro Martinez with the Mets -- you can get 100 pitches out of him, his stats look great, he's invaluable from a chemistry/confidence standpoint and he's rarely around for the last few outs. Riley realized it last year, Van Gundy never did, and that's the single biggest reason why they're better off with Riley.

Pat Riley

Nathanial S. Butler/Getty Images

"Stan? No, I don't know where Stan is these days."

(On a scale of 1 to 10, how bitter is Van Gundy right now? A 38? Remember, they probably would have won LAST year if Wade didn't get hurt in the Detroit series. If you were Van Gundy, wouldn't you at least start an "I hate Riley" blog under an assumed name? And imagine if Miami wins the whole thing? Will Van Gundy crash the trophy presentation like Jack Ruby? Can't wait to see how this plays out.)

• Put me in the "Avery Johnson has been too wound up" camp. As well as the "Nowitzki looks like he's hit the wall," "Maybe ABC should stop reminding everyone in Milwaukee that they could have had Dirk Nowitzki, it's becoming cruel" and "Maybe Mark Cuban shouldn't have gone on 'Letterman' after Game 3 and made it seem like the series was still in the bag" camps.

• Like any other Celtic fan who watched him stink up the joint in the 2005 playoffs, I've been fascinated by Gary Payton's mini-renaissance -- not that he's good again, but how he figured out that he is NOT good and adjusted accordingly. Last season in Boston, GP was trying to beat guys off the dribble, posting people up down low, demanding to cover the other team's best scorer and sulking if he didn't get the ball. It was like watching Jason Alexander order people around on the set of some crappy sitcom ("Don't you realize who I am? I'm Jason Alexander!") and failing to realize that his time had come and gone.

Now he's desperate enough for a ring that he willingly took a backseat to Wade all season -- with the exception of one "Don't you do that to me, I'm Gary Payton!" blowup in the Chicago series -- personified by a resigned GP flipping the ball to Wade in crunch-time, then trudging up the court to stand in his spot near the corner, almost like a ballboy getting back into position between serves at Wimbledon. When they needed him in the Finals, he dusted off the cobwebs and delivered two of the biggest plays of the series: An off-balance jumper that beat the shot clock and eventually won Game 3, and an old-school GP lefty banker for a one-point lead in the final 30 seconds of overtime on Sunday. The second one was funny because he was reacting to the chest bumps and high fives with one of those, "See, you guys forgot, I used to be pretty good!" looks on his face.

Still, I can't be the only one who's mildly distressed by Payton's reincarnation as a middling supporting player, someone who can barely handle the likes of Jason Terry and surprises us when he makes a good play. Should you really feel surprised when GARY PAYTON makes a good play? This was one of the 10 best point guards of all time! I should feel shocked that he made his patented lefty scoop shot in traffic to help save a crucial game? Really? Things have fallen to that point? What would be the equivalent in another sport? Something like Greg Maddux pitching as a set-up man for the Yankees in 2009, then receiving congrats in the dugout because he extricated himself from a seventh-inning jam in the World Series? Marshall Faulk getting some helmet slaps after returning a kickoff to midfield in a Chiefs-Colts playoff game? Springsteen getting a standing O at MSG after a rocking solo in his new gig as the harmonica player for Death Cab for Cutie? Does anyone else find it to be a little depressing?

I'm a big proponent of the whole "We should never tell athletes when to retire" argument -- after all, it's their career, not ours, and most over-competitive people have trouble figuring out when to call it quits. (This is why we keep allowing my Uncle Bob to play in the annual Simmons Family Softball Game.) You can't blame GP for hanging on, even though he hasn't been good in four years. He's also been getting crunch-time minutes for a team that needs one more victory for a championship, so it's not like he's has been the 1989 version of Kareem or anything. At the same time, maybe the story shouldn't have been GP's two big shots to help Miami sweep at home, but that we were surprised he made them in the first place.

• Actual quote from my mom last week: "What about that Wayne Dwyane?"

• Here's all you need to know about Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals -- after Game 5, he even fell out of the 42 Club. He's currently sitting at 41.4. That's Karl Malone territory. And that's not a compliment.

Bennett Salvatore

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Need the home team to win a big game? Bennett Salvatore to the rescue.

• Lost in the hullabaloo about the cheap foul at the end of OT and Josh Howard's phantom timeout ... what about Wade sticking those two free throws to tie/win the game? When was the last NBA Finals game where someone made the tying/winning free throws with under two seconds left? And how many guys in the league would you have completely trusted to make both of those? My list looks like this: Kobe, Nowitzki, Wade, Nash. That's it.

• You might remember my sitting/standing rules from the last mailbag. Well, here's an addendum for everyone in Miami that I thought was self-explanatory but obviously needs to be rehashed: If it's Game 5 of the NBA Finals, there's three minutes or less remaining in a close game and you're attending said game, here are the acceptable excuses for not standing:

Excuse No. 1: You're in a wheelchair.

Excuse No. 2: You're foreign and this is your first NBA game.

Excuse No. 3: Your little kid is sleeping on your lap.

Excuse No. 4: You're so overweight you have trouble getting up and down.

Excuse No. 5: You're an overweight foreign parent in a wheelchair with a little kid sleeping on your lap.

• I hate to bring everything back to the Red Sox. All right, that's a lie. But after Miami improbably pulled out Game 3, I found myself wondering if Shaq hitting those two free throws (down by five, 1:43 to play) had a chance to turn into the Dave Roberts' Steal of NBA moments. Even though Wade had pulled them closer and the refs were obviously favoring Miami down the stretch, sending Shaq to the foul line was a moral victory for Dallas, almost like getting a defensive stop.

So what happened? He made both. For the first time, the overmatched Miami crowd was totally into it, the Heat had a little rejuvenation, Dallas looked like they were on their heels and, for the first time, it seemed entirely possible that Miami could win the game. And that opened the floodgates for everything that ensued: Haslem's key steal, GP's shot-clock-beating jumper, Nowitzki's stunning missed free throw, and then Dallas' unconscionable decision to call for a halfcourt lob on the final play (seriously, with Nowitzki inbounding, was there any doubt that play was coming?), which ended up being a worse decision than Steve Levy's agent convincing him to appear in "The Ringer."

Remember, the Sox didn't win the game when the Roberts steal happened, just like Miami didn't win when Shaq made those free throws. But they needed a borderline miracle to change the momentum of the game and the series, followed by a bunch of mini-miracles, and suddenly the series felt completely different. Dallas looked shellshocked for most of Game 4 -- a little worn-out, a little frustrated, ready to self-destruct -- culminating in Stackhouse's stupid foul against Shaq which ended up hurting them in Game 5 (more on this in a second). Now they're up 3-2 and headed back to Dallas with a chance to clinch the title. Does any of this happen if Shaq misses those free throws? I say no.

• That reminds me, here's an interesting question from California reader Brian Ackerman: "After watching Shaq miss more free throws, I can't help but ask: Is there another situation in sports where a seventh-grade girl can be more proficient in a key part of the sport than one of the most dominant professional players of all time? I can't make the question any more basic. There are literally hundreds of 12-year-old girls who can shoot free throws better than him. That fact alone must beg the even deeper question: Can NBA basketball really be a sport, given the above-mentioned situation?"

I will say this: The crazy thing about Shaq's free-throw shooting is that, fundamentally, he's always been completely wrong. Shaq shoots his free throws like line drives. Well, that makes no sense. Imagine you're trying to throw a rolled-up piece of paper into a garbage can -- instinctively, would you throw it with a Nowitzki-like arc, or would you whip it in a straight line at the can? You'd throw it with the arc. Everyone would. So why would Shaq continue to whip straight line drives at the rim for 14 consecutive years? Have we ever definitively answered this question?

• I also agreed with the e-mail from New York reader Justin Sanders: "How much would you pay to go back in time to the '80s when TV producers KNEW how to run an opening montage to a NBA Finals game??? Since when did past stars making moves on a blue screen seem like a better idea than taking a motivating song, some real footage from the past season or past matchups and an announcer talking over it??? It's a simple formula yet somehow the networks CONTINUE to mess this up! What's next? Maybe next year ABC can reenact the Finals with virtual players and just ruin the entire series."

Couldn't agree more. On Friday afternoon, Game 6 of the 1988 Finals came on Classic with the CBS music/montage and Musberger doing the whole "The Los Angeles Lakers have their backs to the wall" routine ... it couldn't have been more fantastic. I loved it. This isn't rocket science, just a simple recipe of cool music, a discernable story line, sequential clips, an announcer with a cool voice, then everything cresting at the end. And the networks haven't gotten it right for nearly 20 years. You figure it out.

• Back to that halfcourt lob at the end of Game 3 -- I can remember that play working only two times. The first one happened during the season when M.L. Carr and the Celtics were tanking to get Tim Duncan (sigh). Down by one in overtime with something like 0.3 seconds to play, the Pistons called a perfect play where Grant Hill lobbed an inbounds pass to Lindsey Hunter (who looked like he was setting a back pick, then quickly shifted direction and jumped toward the rim) for the winning layup. Not only did I see this in person, but I was on a date with a girl who didn't know anything about sports and started gathering her things at halftime because she thought the game had ended. Now that's a memorable night.

Second, the '93 Celtics nearly saved their season in Charlotte (Game 4, first round) when Kevin McHale lobbed a halfcourt alley-oop to Dee Brown, who jumped over everyone, caught the ball in mid-air and laid it down to the basket ... where it was promptly goaltended by Kendall Gill, only the refs didn't have the guts to call goaltending because the game was in Charlotte and everyone immediately charged the court as soon as Brown "missed." This one's on ESPN Classic and NBA TV all the time because it was Kevin McHale's final game.

Here's the point: I follow the NBA as closely as anyone on the planet. Every day, I get at least one e-mail from someone begging me not to write about the NBA so much. (Which I always find interesting because this is a free column -- it's almost like someone complaining at a dinner party that the bar serving free drinks only has Absolut and Grey Goose and not Ketel One.) If I can remember only TWO instances in the past two decades when this play worked (and the Dee Brown game doesn't even count since the Celtics lost), then I'm guessing there's a higher percentage play out there with 1.9 seconds remaining when you have Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry on your team. Call me crazy.

Jerry Stackhouse

Nathanial S. Butler/Getty Images

This isn't supposed to be soccer, everyone.

• Back to Stackhouse's "hard" foul: I watched all of Game 4, as well as SportsCenter after the game, and not a single announcer wondered whether Stack was retaliating for Shaq's three-stitch elbow in Game 1. For God's sake, do you know anything about Jerry Stackhouse? He's one of the toughest dudes in the league -- if you made a list of "Players whose sister you wouldn't want to accidentally sleep with," he'd be right up there. When that Shaq elbow happened and Stackhouse was nodding angrily afterward -- like, "OK, so that's how we're playing, gotcha" -- I specifically remember thinking to myself, "I can't wait for the moment when Stack tries to get him back."

So when he cracked him in Game 4, that was my first reaction: "There it was! I knew it!" But it was a totally legal foul, and only the replay betrayed him -- in slow-motion from one angle, you could see Stack sizing Shaq up for a brief second, much like the Posey-Hinrich incident in Round 1, and that's what ended up getting him suspended. And here's where the NBA has lost its grip a little bit. Shaq was running loose toward the basket for a free dunk and probably outweighs Stackhouse by 125 pounds. If Stackhouse did anything BUT foul Shaq as hard as he could, he would have bounced off Shaq like a 5-foot-10 cornerback bouncing off Antonio Gates, Shaq would have made the layup for a potential three-point play, and Hubie Brown would have told us, "See, now, when you are fouling in that situation ... you cannot ... give up ... the three-point play." Basically, Stackhouse was screwed either way.

So here's my question: At what point are we compromising the competitiveness of these games? If you've ever played basketball, then you know that s---, um, staff happens during a competitive game. It's not abnormal for two teammates to start screaming at one another. It's not abnormal for someone to foul someone else a little bit harder than he intended. It's not abnormal for two opponents to start exchanging some good-natured barbs -- if anything, that kind of dialogue always livens up the game and gets everyone else going.

Believe me, I understand why we reached this point -- in the late-'90s, an entire generation of players weaned on hard fouls (like the McHale-Rambis clothesline), trash-talking superstars (like Bird and MJ) and constant woofing (from the Fab Five and UNLV in particular) ended up taking all three of those elements to inappropriate levels. I concede this point. But haven't we swung too much the other way now? For instance, when LeBron psyched out Gilbert Arenas at the free-throw line in the final game of the Cavs-Wiz series, that was one of my favorite moments of the playoffs -- not only that LeBron had the confidence to do something like that, but that it reminded me of something that would happen on the playground, just two ballers talking smack before a big moment.

Of course, the NBA decided that this was deplorable and ordered their referees to prevent this from ever happening again. (God forbid the last two minutes of an NBA game was anything other than formulaic and predictable.) But I think this is one of the reasons why I enjoy watching those games from the '80s so much -- not just because of the style of play (constantly moving, constantly going) but the competitive energy that never seemed to wane. Now guys are allowed to compete, but only to a point. It's like a glorified youth soccer game with more fans. And out of everything that's happened in the Stern Era, this was their biggest mistake. Well, other than continuing to have Bennett Salvatore work playoff games.

Officially Speaking
Note: I'm not saying I agree with these perspectives ... but here's a very fair sampling of the e-mails that drifted into my mailbox on Sunday night and Monday morning.

I do solemnly swear, this 19th day of June, 2006 that I will never watch an NBA game again. Everyone is supposed to say what a great game that was with a straight face? At least the WWE has the grace to give you a wink. If watching a man in a flak jacket and thigh pads repeatedly throw himself into defenders to draw foul calls is what passes for "competition," or better yet watching said man hit layups because no one can breathe on him, I believe I can live without [it]. Why would anyone follow a "sport" that employs Dick Bavetta and Stu Jackson? All that was missing was David Stern running onto the court with a steel chair, ABC execs in tow. Bill Simmons, I name thee prophet. It went down exactly as you said it would.
-- James, Richmond, Virginia

Twenty-five free-throw attempts is nonsense, not even MJ would have gotten some of those foul calls. And I'm not just saying this because I'm a bitter Pistons fan. Sixty-year-old officials should not be officiating 20-something-year-old professional athletes.
-- Paul, Detroit, Mich.

Have you ever, I mean EVER, seen a guy get more calls than Wade in Game 5? As staggering as it is to even think it, much less say it out loud, this surpasses the level of calls Jordan used to get in the playoffs. Simply AMAZING. I am a die-hard NBA fan, and I understand and accept the whole "stars get calls" factor, but this is an insane new level. Every time Wade falls down (even if not touched) he gets a call. You called it in your preview, the refs were gonna give some games to Miami, and they did.
-- Jonathan, Raleigh, N.C.

Please admit to everyone that the treatment Dwyane Wade is receiving is absolutely absurd. The final play in Game 5 summed it up: He commits a backcourt violation, pushes off on Terry, then goes wildly to the bucket and gets bailed out on a phantom foul call. Is what the NBA has to do to create its star of the future?
-- Mark, Chicago

I watch very little NBA basketball; however, as the playoffs have been playing out, I have found myself watching more and more games, becoming more interested. Then comes the Finals and I feel like I am watching pro wrestling, except I can fool myself into thinking those matches aren't fixed. At least it makes the NBA the easiest sport to gamble on.
-- Jeremy Louden, Cincinnati

I want to say something about Dwyane Wade, but I fear I may get called for a foul.
-- Warren, Ludington, Mich.

Unfortunately you were right that the NBA finals could come down to the officials. David Stern would rather choke to death on his own vomit than hand Mark Cuban the trophy. It's clear he instructed the refs to take an active interest in the outcomes of the games. Every time Wade drives the lane the refs call a foul on whoever is closest.
-- Jeff, Baltimore

After witnessing the Game 5 debacle, I am absolutely convinced that Stern is trying to fix the Finals for D-Wade and the Heat. Stackhouse's suspension, Dirk's phantom foul in OT, and then Joey Crawford's inexplicable call for a Mavs timeout -- it all adds up too perfectly. This could be a conspiracy as far-reaching as Watergate. I can already imagine the inevitable ESPN movie, "All The Commissioner's Men," where a stubborn, upstart young sports columnist brings down Stern and the entire NBA hierarchy. So, Simmons, the only question is: Will you be our Bob Woodward?
-- Robert P., Topeka, Kan.

All the comparisons between Wade and Jordan need to stop right now. There's no way Jordan would have gotten that call in the final seconds of Game 5.
-- Chris Richardson, Charleston, W.V.

• Speaking of the refs, Game 5 of the Finals took its rightful place alongside Game 7 of the Seattle-Phoenix series in 1993, Game 6 of the Kings-Lakers series in 2002, Game 5 of the Knicks-Celtics series in 1973 and some of the other famous entries in the Pantheon of One-Sided Officiated Games. We're running some e-mails in a sidebar (look to the right), but you know it's bad when the owner of the losing team runs out onto the floor to stare down the commissioner after the game -- the last time that happened at a sporting event, Vince McMahon was involved.

(FYI: In today's Miami Herald, Greg Cote writes that Cuban was screaming profanely at referee Joe DeRosa right after the game, "then turned to Stern and other NBA officials who were seated at the scorer's table and was overheard to shout venomously in the jubilant din, '[Bleep] you! [Bleep] you! Your league is rigged!'" Remember when I wrote that, on a scale of 1-to-10 about being excited for the moment when Stern handed Cuban the trophy, I was a 35? Now I'm a 72. Although Cuban did deny saying this on his blog.)

I tackled this in a Cowbell blog last year, but it's worth rehashing again: The NBA doesn't fix games. That's impossible. And stupid. It could never happen. (Well, except for the Hubert Davis game -- that was fixed. Just kidding. Kind of.) A few months ago, I looked David Stern in the eye and asked him about the ongoing officiating problems, and he seemed agonized enough about it that I actually believed him. Unless he was pulling a DeNiro-level acting performance on me. Which I doubt. But there are three major problems here.

First, Dwyane Wade shot as many free throws (25) as the entire Dallas team in Game 5. I just don't see how there's any way this can happen in a fairly-called game. It's theoretically impossible.

Second, everyone knew the officiating would be a problem heading into this series because of Cuban's past problems with the league. In my Finals preview, I wrote that "No team depends on the refs quite like the Heat. When the refs are calling all the bumps on Shaq and protecting Wade on every drive, they're unstoppable. When they're calling everything fairly, they're eminently beatable. If they're not getting any calls, they're just about hopeless. I could see the refs swinging two games in Miami's favor during this series, possibly three. In fact, I'm already depressed about it and the series hasn't even started yet." Well, we had our two games -- Game 3 (the last five minutes were just obscene) and Game 5 (again, a top-five debacle). And the series isn't over yet.

Third, here's a theory on referees that I described in a blog last spring:

"I don't think the NBA fixes games, but they have one trick that they use for situations like this -- when they want a home team to win the game, they invariably assign the worst referees possible to that game for two reasons: Bad referees have a tendency to get swayed by the home crowd, and bad referees never have the stones to make a tough call on the road. In a related story, I went to 35 Clippers games this year and kept a list of the referees in my pocket which I also used to follow the referees for any televised games. And yes, the referees in the NBA -- as a whole -- have never been worse. But there were six referees that stuck out as being especially terrible."

Then I went on to list the worst six referees. Here was No. 2 on the list:

"2. Bennett Salvatore -- Always one of the worst, he took it to another level this season. If you see him on the court at the start of the game, get ready for about six technicals, two near-brawls and both coaches having to be restrained by their assistants at various times."

Why is this relevant? Not only did Salvatore officiate Game 4 of the Suns-Lakers series (the one where Kobe tied it at the end of regulation and won it at the end of OT on two shaky non-calls on Nash, both by Salvatore), not only did Salvatore officiate Sunday night's Game 5 (in which Miami had a 40-12 free-throw advantage at one point), but Salvatore called the foul on Wade's final drive in overtime (remember, the call where ABC couldn't find a replay to show that anyone touched him?) even though he was standing at midcourt a full 35-40 feet from the play, and even though two other refs were closer to the play. Not only was that NOT his call, he butchered it.

Considering I brought this up LAST spring, do you find any of this a little strange? Why aren't the best referees calling these games? Why do the worst ones always seem to get assigned to games in which it would be better for the league if the home team won? Why am I the only one who notices this stuff or seems to care? Why do I find myself watching these games and concentrating more on the one-sided officiating than some of Wade's spectacular plays? As my buddy House e-mailed on Monday morning: "I don't think I can take much more of NBA refs insisting on controlling the outcomes of the most significant games. The NBA is a disgrace and should be completely embarrassed. I hate this game."

And that's coming from one of the last 19 NBA diehards -- I can only imagine what the casual fans thought after watching such a one-sided travesty. Look, we all love Dwyane Wade. He's fantastic. But there's absolutely no scenario in which a 2-guard should be attempting as many free throws as everyone on the other team. It's absolutely unfathomable. And here's what really kills me: If there's a Game 7, you KNOW they'll come up with the best possible officials for that particular game. So why wouldn't every Finals game work like that? We have seven possible games spread over 17 days ... they couldn't pick the best three or four refs and have them work every game, like how MLB picks the best seven umps to comprise the World Series crew? Why wouldn't that work? Is there a single reason you can come up with? Arrrrrrrrgh.

• My favorite "Damn, I wish I had thought of that" e-mail of the weekend, courtesy of Greg David in Philly: "Did you see Dirk heading to the locker room after Game 5 when he knocked over that exercise bike? He was totally like Karl from 'Die Hard' after Bruce Willis killed his brother."

• Finally, here's my prediction for the next two games: Dallas wins Game 6, Dallas wins Game 7, and I would absolutely not wager on either of these events because of Dwyane Wade. He's officially joined the Michael Jordan/Barry Sanders/Brett Favre "Don't ever bet against me under any circumstances" Club. Now if my mother can only figure out how to pronounce his name.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace is available on and in bookstores everywhere.