The 2011 NBA Finals tip off on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), pairing the star-laden Miami Heat against the hot Dallas Mavericks. Each team has ripped through its conference during the playoffs; the Heat and Mavericks are both 12-3 in the postseason. Miami dropped a game to each of its first three series; the Mavs needed six to beat the Blazers in Round 1, then swept the Lakers and beat the Thunder in four.
The Finals are a rematch of the 2006 NBA championship series; Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are the only players left over from those Finals, which were won by the Heat in six. Dallas actually had a 2-0 lead in the series, and a big margin late in Game 3. But Wade took over the series and raced to four straight wins, three in Miami and one in Big D.
Miami has the advantage of home court in this series by virtue of a better regular season; Games 1 and 2 will be played in South Beach, Games 3-5 are scheduled for Dallas, with Games 6-7 back in Florida. LeBron James, who has two MVPs under his belt at age 26 and has been unstoppable in the playoffs, looms large as the best player in the series. He'll draw constant attention from Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson; there are suggestions LeBron will also share defensive duties on Dirk.
Depth is another factor; Mike Miller just began playing well in the Bulls series, while the Mavericks have dependable Jason Terry and J.J. Barea as backcourt reserves and the league's top reserve center in Brendan Haywood. Beyond Wade, James and Chris Bosh, Miami relies on Miller, Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers for scoring; James Jones was excellent in the Heat's 4-1 win over the Celtics, but hardly played against Chicago.
Will the Heat add a second championship banner to the rafters? Or will the Mavericks celebrate their first title? We won't know for another week or so, but the journey begins now. Follow our NBA Finals hub for full coverage. For more on the Mavericks, visit Mavs Moneyball and SB Nation Dallas. For more on the Heat, visit Peninsula Is Mightier.