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One quietly re-signed with his original team. One ensnared the entire NBA in gossip-filled trade speculation. One fades away, pulls up and does whatever it takes to create separation. One thrives on contact, absorbing its reverberation and eventually casting it aside. Both have the late-game pedigree. Both have arguably unstoppable offensive repertoires. Both are built for one-on-one.
This game will come down to stops. When Dallas won the NBA title, we praised Dirk’s renewed commitment to defense. But let’s be honest with ourselves: Dirk is a below average defender. He’s not physical, he can’t jump and he’s not exactly fast. Melo’s no Bruce Bowen either. Too often he allows his inner Baron Davis to guide his defensive mojo.
Maybe, then, it’s just a question of heart. Who’s willing to slap the floor, pull up their shorts and get into that awkward and uncomfortable defensive stance that every high school coach in America forces down his team’s throat? Who’s putting a hand up on the close out? Who’s chasing down stray rebounds? At a glance, this isn’t even a question. It’s like asking whether Mikhail Prokhorov will singlehandedly bring down the United States’ economy if Deron Williams gets hurt in Turkey.
But Melo has an on/off button that muddles the equation. When it’s on, see Game 2 against Boston in the first round of this year’s playoffs. When it’s off, see “I’m going to ignore my incredible strength and ability to finish at the rim and fire threes Mike D’Antoni-style.” When it’s on, Melo imposes his physical will on lesser specimens. When it’s off, it’s Mike D’Antoni defense time.
Dirk is prideful. He may be quiet and unassuming, but there’s no doubt that his championship joy was exponentially compounded by shutting down Miami’s dynastic plans. When he takes the floor against Melo, he’ll have that extra edge. The Denver deserter is trying to pull a Miami part two, and Dirk will have none of that.
But Melo’s a man of pride as well. There’s a part of him that detests his secondary class status among NBA stars. There’s a part of him that loathes the notion that he and Amar’e can’t form a better, more successful Eastern Conference powerhouse. We saw that other side against Boston, the side that permits us to dream of what could be.
In a battle of wills, I’m taking Dirk every time. I’m betting my life savings on him. I’m sitting courtside, champagne in hand and lit cigar in the mouth. But Melo’s an anomaly in every way because his flashes of dominance are unrivaled. Five straight minutes of Melo at the top of his game is more compelling, convincing and dominating than any other NBA player, period. But can he sustain it throughout an 11-point game?
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