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Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Is this NBA Finals really a 2006 rematch?

By Tom Haberstroh

Of the many NBA Finals storylines, chief among them is that this year is a rematch of the 2006 Finals that saw the Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in six games. But how compelling is it if most of the players involved in 2006 has nothing to do with this Finals we're about to watch?

Rob Mahoney, author of TrueHoop's Dallas Mavericks blog The Two Man Game, took to the New York Times' Off The Dribble blog to explain why the rematch narrative is off base:
These Heat are a unique beast, and bear little in common with their title-winning 2006 counterparts. Nowitzki is a new version of himself, allegedly, and has supposedly stepped up in his ability to lead his team through the rigors of the playoffs. These Mavericks have been touted as fundamentally different from years past, having overcome significant odds, swept the defending champs, and dispatched the West’s next big thing in the Thunder. Yet even with the winds of change revealing a new Mavericks team and the dust of The Decision finally settled, the picture painted is inexplicably that of two old foes duking it out over a faded memory.

This isn’t 2006, and to use the trials of that campaign as a framework for interpreting the events to come is not only inadequate, but lazy.

As Mahoney points out, only four active players remain from that 2006 (Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Dwyane Wade, and Udonis Haslem -- Erick Dampier has been inactive recently). If the number of survivors seems shockingly low, that's because we haven't seen anything like this before.

According to Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com, it is the smallest number of returning players in a Finals rematch that took place within six years of the initial matchup (there were 37 such cases). The Celtics-Rockets rematch in 1986 only featured five players from the first throwdown.

This is a laundry rematch, and not much beyond that.

I would even take this a step further and say this isn't really a rematch of 2010 -- the regular season, that is. The Heat has undergone so many changes since these two teams last met in December, that most of the lineups that played in the regular season games haven't even played in the playoffs thus far.

Carlos Arroyo started both games, and has since been waived. Zydrunas Ilgauskas started both games, and hasn't played in almost a month. Haslem was in a boot. Mike Bibby was busy starting over Jeff Teague.

In fact, of the 96 minutes of action between these two teams in the regular season, only 36 of them were played by a Heat lineup that we've seen in the playoffs. In other words, most of the matchups we'll seen in Game 1 will be the first time we've seen it all season. And that's before we consider that Peja Stojakovic has swapped in for Caron Butler on the roster.

Again, laundry rematch.

Curious about the scoreboard during those 36 minutes of relevant Heat lineups?

Heat 87, Mavericks 73.