The Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks appear destined for a rematch of the 2006 NBA Finals, an oddity unforeseen by virtually everyone who follows the game.
Given that only eight NBA franchises have won a championship since 1980, the Miami Heat fall into a weird subset of that group: name the franchises among the eight champions that won just a single title. The answer, of course, are the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers and the 2005-06 Miami Heat. Two teams that won their respective championships towards the tail end of a would-be series of championship runs, and thus vanished quickly after claiming their rings.
After winning the 1983 NBA Championship, the 76ers were bounced out of the playoffs' first round in 1984, resurfaced in the conference finals in 1985 and wouldn't return to a conference finals again until Allen Iverson led the way in 2001. After winning the 2006 NBA Championship, the Heat too were bounced out of the playoffs' first round the following season and are just now resurfacing with what looks to be another championship run. Unlike the 76ers and Heat, the other champions from the last 31 NBA seasons - the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Pistons and Rockets - claimed multiple championship rings.
Should the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks (as most of us are hoping for) claim the 2011 NBA Championship, I suspect they'll join the 76ers and Heat in the group of one-and-done champions. But I don't think anyone cares - nor should they - as long as Dallas wins a much deserved championship for Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, two aging veterans who have been to the big dance before only to come up empty.
Having handed the Chicago Bulls their first three-game losing streak of the 2010-11 season, the Heat seem primed to take the Eastern Conference Finals in six games, if not five. The Heat's exceptional Tuesday effort was surpassed only by Nowitzki and the Mavericks incredible fourth quarter comeback over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night, which should - in theory - pave the way for the Mavericks to wrap up the Western Conference Finals in five games.
And thus, one of the few "one off" franchises among the eight who claimed a championship ring since 1980 will get their second shot at a championship five years later, likely against the team they beat the first time around. The only players remaining from that 2006 NBA Finals face off are Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem for Miami, and Nowitzki and Jason Terry for Dallas. But believe me, Nowitzki would like nothing better than to exorcise his demons from the 2006 Finals against Wade and the Heat. (Remember that missed Dirk free throw in Game 3 that could have put the Heat away for good? We all do.)
It's rare to see big gaps in-between NBA Finals appearances among the NBA's great players. Typically, great players get themselves to a series of Finals within a regular span of seasons (Magic Johnson had nine appearances in 12 years, Larry Bird had five appearances in seven years, Michael Jordan had six appearances in eight years, Tim Duncan had four appearances in eight years, Julius Erving had four appearances in seven years, and so on) or don't get there much at all. Should Nowitzki appear in the 2011 NBA Finals, his gap between championship appearances will be five years...same with Wade, obviously. The only comparable I can think of from the modern era was the eight-year gap between Finals appearances by the great Hakeem Olajuwon.
As I wrote in last week's Golden Nuggets, I'm rooting big time for Nowitzki. And now that he seems destined to play the Miami Heat - my least favorite team in all of professional sports - I'm rooting for him even more.
On to the links...
Miami Heat could pull off biggest 'I told you so' in sports history - ESPN
Are the Miami Heat actually living up to the hype? It pains Rick Reilly to admit it, but it's true.
Sources: Brown, Lakers in serious talks - NBA - Yahoo! Sports
The Los Angeles Lakers are engaged in serious discussions with Mike Brown about the ex-Cleveland Cavaliers coach.
What happened when James Harden fouled out - Ball Don't Lie - NBA Blog - Yahoo! Sports
Check out the Thunder/Mavericks box score from the moment James Harden fouled out. Fascinating.
Portland Trail Blazers fire GM Richard Cho less than a year after hire - ESPN
The Portland Trail Blazers abruptly dismissed general manager Rich Cho on Monday, after less than a year on the job.
Noah's mistake a teachable moment for all
Ken Berger writes about Joakim Noah being genuinely sorry for the bigoted gay slur that he directed towards a Heat fan in Game 3.