RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The NBA Finals tip off tonight with the Dallas Mavericks trying to win their first-ever title. Standing in the way is the most-followed, the most-notable, maybe you want to say the most-notorious team in the NBA: the Miami Heat. And joining us now is NPR's Mike Pesca to talk about it.
MIKE PESCA: Hi.
MONTAGNE: So the Heat have won a title. It was five years ago, and it was against the Dallas Mavericks - although five years might be a rather long time in the history of at least the Heat.
PESCA: Well, actually for both teams. Yeah. Even though it was five years ago, it's not really instructive to look at this matchup as any real sort of rematch, because of all the players on those teams, there are only two on each team that remain. The coaches are different.
Two of the key players do come back. And they were the guys who fought it out and scored back and forth five years ago: Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavericks and Dwyane Wade of the Heat.
But, of course, there's the one huge guy, this fellow named LeBron James, maybe you've heard of him. He's new on the Heat. He's certainly changed the dynamic. And they really - this is why I love basketball and this time in basketball.
Of all the other sports, when there's a long series, like in baseball, the pitchers change. And in other sports like football or college basketball, their playoff structure, it's just one game. But in basketball, it's - you play seven games, at most, from series to series. So you really get a chance to see how teams are constructed. And the thing that changes from game to game isn't the matchup. It's the tactics.
MONTAGNE: So if there is, then, not this long history, what do you think will be the keys to the series?
PESCA: How the coaches choose to play against the other team's offenses. Because while both of these teams aren't bad at defense - and the Heat are certainly athletic - I mean, the question with the Mavericks is how to stop Dirk Nowitzki. He's seven feet tall and can shoot the ball as well as any 6'5 guy.
And then on the other side, the Mavericks will be asking the same thing about the Heat. Not only do they have Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, but there already seems to be one guy who, out of nowhere, scores 20 points. And it's basically because teams are worried about stopping Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James.
MONTAGNE: So how will the Mavericks defend against the Heat? What do you think they're going to do?
PESCA: It's a huge problem, because LeBron James, even though he's not a traditional point guard - he's so tall, he peers over the defense. He makes good decisions. Oftentimes, the good decision is just LeBron James taking a shot. So they are just this huge headache to defend. And, of course, they're really fast, and sometimes their offense is based on steals.
The Mavericks are smart. They're strong, really savvy. They're the oldest team in the league. But you're just dealing with so much talent and so much athleticism with the Heat. I don't know exactly what the Mavericks are going to do. Maybe they're just doing to say: We'll try to do the best we can, and then rely on Dirk Nowitzki to score 35 or 40 points.
MONTAGNE: Well, overall then, who's the favorite?
PESCA: The Heat are the slight favorite, if you look at the people who make the lines, the bookies in Las Vegas and so forth. But throughout the world, the Mavericks are getting a lot of attention. The Heat are about as good as they've been in the regular season. The Mavericks have actually gotten better in the playoffs.
Another huge factor, Jason Terry, a member of the Dallas Mavericks, has a tattoo of the NBA trophy on his arm. He got that before the season. And he said if the Mavericks don't win, they will be removing the trophy tattoo. So that could be a huge incentive. That could come into play.
MONTAGNE: NBA Finals start tonight.
Mike, thanks very much.
PESCA: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR's sports correspondent, Mike Pesca.
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