Breaking down the NBA finals

Point guard

Heat: Mike Bibby

The Hawks traded Bibby to Washington in February and he secured a buyout so he could join a contender. Bibby is playing in his first finals. Bibby’s role with the Heat is similar to what he did for the Hawks: organize the offense and shoot spot-up jump shots, though he does both less frequently in Miami. Bibby remains a defensive liability and is shooting just 26 percent in the playoffs.

Mavericks: Jason Kidd

Kidd, 38, is among the oldest players in the league. He’s still effective because of his court vision, passing, ability to run the fast break and floor leadership. Kidd also has become an effective spot-up shooter in the latter years of his career. Kidd has always rebounded well because of his size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds); his struggles with quick point guards shouldn’t be as much of a problem in this series.

Edge: Mavericks

Shooting guard

Heat: Dwyane Wade

Wade is among the toughest matchups in the league because of his quickness, slashing style and playmaking ability. He’s also a good defender whose gambling for blocks and steals ignites the fast break. But Wade’s game is predicated on his athleticism and he’s shown signs of wearing down in the postseason. Wade was injured while diving for a loose ball in the second round against Boston and was slowed by a sore left shoulder against the Bulls. He sat out two days of practice over the weekend but says he’s not injured.

Mavericks: DeShawn Stevenson

Stevenson improved his shooting after a drastic decline in accuracy last season and now is a credible 3-point threat. His real value is on defense. Stevenson relishes chasing the top perimeter scorers in the league. He’s already done good work against Kobe Bryant and now draws Wade. Stevenson generally doesn’t play heavy minutes.

Edge: Heat

Small forward

Heat: LeBron James

James is the most complete player in the league. His combination of size, strength, speed and ballhandling make him unique. He can play four positions, from point guard to power forward, and not just be effective but flourish at each spot. Outside shooting is his only true weakness but he closed out the Bulls by making jump shots late in Games 4 and 5. Look for James to spend time guarding Dirk Nowitzki.

Mavericks: Shawn Marion

Marion, a defensive specialist, hounded Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant in the second round but his challenge will be different against James, who is much stronger than Durant and will test Marion’s wiry build. Marion, 33, still runs the floor well and is a good rebounder, skills that should come in handy in this series since the Heat are vulnerable on the boards and relish scoring in the open court.

Edge: Heat

Power forward

Heat: Chris Bosh

For much of the season Bosh struggled to find his niche alongside superstars Wade and James. He’s finally come on in the postseason with averages of 18.6 points and 8.9 rebounds and 50-percent shooting. Bosh’s ability to slip into open space and make jump shots is a fine complement to the athletic slashing of Wade and James. He could be cross-matched against Tyson Chandler, who isn’t the kind of rugged post scorer that gives Bosh problems.

Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki

Nowitzki, like James, is a unique player but for different reasons. As a 7-footer with quickness, superlative shooting ability and clever moves, Nowitzki creates a difficult matchup problem. He’s able to frustrate even a tight defense by shooting over his opponent. The Heat likely will try to get him in foul trouble by having Bosh take him to the basket.

Edge: Mavericks

Center

Heat: Joel Anthony

The Heat were criticized for signing Anthony to a five-year contract last summer but the team cited his intangibles as proof of his worth. Anthony is a hustling, energetic player who does the dirty work that allows the other starters to shine. He’s also one of the league’s top shot-blockers despite being undersized for his position but provides little on offense.

Mavericks: Tyson Chandler

Like Anthony, Chandler is a good defender in the post. Unlike Anthony, Chandler is a strong rebounder and can score with athletic plays at the rim. The Mavericks need him to challenge Wade and James on drives without fouling. Chandler often ignites the Mavericks with his defense and fiery demeanor.

Edge: Mavericks

Bench

The Heat have shown that bench production matters less in the postseason because they can play their best players heavy minutes. Miami’s reserves also are better defensively as a group and the return of Udonis Haslem has provided a boost. Still, the Mavericks can send out more effective and versatile lineups than Miami with reserves J.J. Barea, Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood and Peja Stojakovic.

Edge: Mavericks

Coaches

Heat: Erik Spoelstra

After weathering the inevitable storm resulting from Miami’s early struggles, Spoelstra has steadily guided the Heat back to the finals. When it appeared James’ confidantes were trying to undermine him, Spoelstra made it clear he was in charge by setting James straight in private and then publicly saying he did so. Spoelstra’s best accomplishment has been to get a star-studded team to play dominant defense.

Mavericks: Rick Carlisle

Carlisle might be the best coach in the league yet to win a title. He’s also a coaching survivor: He was run out of Detroit for Larry Brown, left the Pacers after the franchise was devastated by the team’s brawl at The Palace and remained in Dallas despite losing in the first round of the playoffs last year. Carlisle has found the right combinations from a deep roster and has fashioned an effective and balanced offensive attack.

Edge: Heat

Intangibles

Both teams have plenty of reasons to be hungry. Nowitzki is seeking redemption after he missed a key free throw during his team’s collapse to the Heat in the 2006 finals; Kidd has appeared in more playoff games (136) without a championship than any other active player. The Heat, meanwhile, have been pummeled by critics since James, Wade and Bosh joined forces last summer. Winning a title would provide the ultimate answer to those doubters.

Edge: Heat

Prediction

The Mavericks are deeper and more versatile. But two superstars (James and Wade) and an All-Star (Bosh), plus superior team defense, trump one superstar (Nowitzki) and some quality parts. Heat in 7.

-- Michael Cunningham