Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dwayne Does Dallas

NBA Finals MVP Dwayne Wade (Getty Images)NBA Finals MVP Dwayne Wade (Getty Images)

For the first time since the Portland Trailblazers in 1977, a team won 4 straight games after going down 2-0 to win the NBA title. The difference here is that the Miami Heat won game 6 on the road.

And for all the talk about a new "offensive" NBA, Pat Riley and the Heat pulled out all the defensive stops to beat the more talented Dallas Mavericks.

The reason for Dallas's demise is simple. And it has nothing to do with the officiating. Nor does it have to do with the alleged comments of the Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban.

There are 4 fundamental things you must do to win a championship, regardless of the level of basketball.

1. You must get defensive stops.
2. You must get more rebounds than your opponent.
3. You must get points in the paint, either from your big men or from your guards driving to the basket.
4. You must not turn the ball over.

For 82 regular season games, 3 rounds of playoffs, 2 games of the NBA finals, and most of game 3, the Mavericks did all these things. From the 4th quarter of Game 3 onward, the Mavs suddenly forgot what got them there.

The most important causes of Dallas's demise are 2 and 3. In games 1 and 2, Dallas drove to the hoop every chance it got, got fouls, and got to the line. Also, in the first two games Dallas outrebounded Miami. No surprise that Dallas won both games.

After that game, Dallas was outrebounded. And the Mavericks stopped attacking the Heat basket, which causes the trips to the line to go down more than anything the NBA could have done.

U.S. prepares for Ghana

We all know the scenario by now for the U.S., they must beat Ghana and have Italy beat the Czech Republic to advance for sure. If the Czech Republic wins, or there's a draw, the U.S. has to beat the snot out of Ghana to ensure it has the goal differential.

However, on the other side of the coin, Ghana, the best African team in this cup, is in a must-win scenario of it's own. A win gives Ghana 6 points, eliminates the U.S. and puts the Czech Republic in a win or go home scenario. A tie means they have to have help from Italy in the form of a win or a draw.

So basically, Ghana, a very talented team with a number of players playing in European leagues, are going to be fighting for their lives. Motivation won't be a problem for them. Will it be a problem for the U.S.? We've already seen them take their opener off, which is why they are in this position in the first place. However, they did come to play in the Italy game, and played agressive even when down a man.

Still, people are assuming this is going to be a walkover and it isn't. None of these games were going to be walkovers. It's "The Group of Death" for a reason. Plus, Ghana is still the most talented team in this group.

At best, the U.S. gets a draw out of this game.

The rest of the World Cup

Who's In (so far)
Germany - This team has done nothing but put the pressure opponents, which has more to do with their undefeated record more than any "home field advantage". If they were playing the World Cup in Burkina Faso, they would still be undefeated playing the way they are.
Ecuador - Speaking of countries that play well regardless of venue, Ecuador was supposed to be bad when playing at lower altitudes. But, they've been aggressive in their 2 victories as well.
England - England has been short on strikers this whole World Cup. First they lose Wayne Rooney for 2 games, now they've lost Michael Owen for the rest of the Cup. In between, they've been disappointingly boring to watch. Still, they're on to the second round.
Sweden - Like Germany and Ecuador, they've been very aggressive on the offensive end, but unlike Germany and Ecuador, their results haven't reflected it. They should have won the game with Trinidad and done better against England.
Argentina - After demolishing Serbia-Montenegro 6-0, the Argentines bascially shut it down against the Netherlands. They should have come away from that match with more points than they did. Up until that point, there were really no questions about this team. Now one has to wonder if they can flip the switch back on after they shut it off.
Netherlands - Considering they had serious injury questions to begin with, no thanks to Australia, the fact that the Dutch are 2-0-1 going into the next round is a great story.
Portugal - Undefeated in Group play. How's *that* for redemption from 2002?
Mexico - Yeah, there in, but their results have been disappointing so far, particularly that draw against Angola.
Brazil - The current system for group play, instituted in 1998 when the field expanded to 32, favors the aggressive and creative. Not surprisingly, Brazil is 7-1 in group play since 1998. They're no slouch in the knockout round either, having been to the final of the last 3 World Cups and winning it 2 of the 3 times.
Spain - Yeah, they're probably going to win their group unbeaten. Let's see how they do against actual World Cup-quality competition before we declare them a favorite.

Who's out
Poland - With apologies to Rick Pitino, "Gregorz Lato is not walking through that door. Zbigniew Boniek is not walking through that door." Sorry Poland.
Costa Rica - Never recovered from a 4-2 loss to the host country
Paraguay - Considering the players this team had, and all the issues with their opponents, it's a complete mystery that this team is going home.
Trinidad and Tobago - Just happy to have played, I'm sure.
Ivory Coast - the "feel good" story of this World Cup goes home, but not before they scratch out a win against...
Serbia and Montenegro - So long former Yugoslavia, it's been nice to know you.
Angola - Another nice story, without a happy ending.
Iran - can go back to building nuclear warheads and funding terrorism like it usually does.
Japan - OK, technically Japan is still mathematically alive, but they're playing Brazil in their final game.
Togo - It's a little hard to put together a World Cup run when your country can't afford to pay you. Good luck against France.
Saudi Arabia - Also technically still alive, but they play Spain in their last match.

Key Games remaining
USA - Ghana (Thursday 9:00 AM Central, ESPN) - see above
Italy - Czech Republic (Thursday 9:00 AM Central, ESPN2) - Keep one eye on this game. The Italians need to win for the U.S. result to mean anything. Anything else, and the U.S. goes home.
Australia - Croatia (Thursday 2:00 PM Central, ESPN2) - This is basically a knockout game. Whoever wins goes on, whoever loses goes home.
Ukraine - Tunisia (Friday 9:00 AM Central, ESPN2) - Another knockout game. With Saudi Arabia likely to lose to Spain, this will determine second place in Group H.
France - Togo (Friday 2:00 PM Central, ESPN) - Yeah, this looks like a French victory on paper, but no one knows if France will actually show up for this game or mail it in.
South Korea - Switzerland (Friday 2:00 PM Central, ESPN2) - If this game gets out of hand, the losing team will be scoreboard watching the France-Togo game.
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