The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus San Antonio Spurs Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2009-2010 Official Post-Season

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 16, 2010 under Commentary, Previews | 11 Comments to Read

It’s a date: the Mavs savor the thought of playing the Spurs, and the Spurs apparently aren’t too intimidated by the Mavs. That much was certain based on how each coach chose to play the regular season’s final game, and now everyone gets what they want.

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

This series is going to be excellent. I’m talking 2006 Western Conference semifinals excellent. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not this series is going to go the distance, but based on how Dallas and San Antonio match up, I’d honestly be shocked if there was a single blowout. We’re looking at at least six games of stellar, well-executed, well-coached, and entertaining basketball.

Let me get this out of the way early: if you’re a Mavs fan and you think this series is going to be a cakewalk, you’re sadly mistaken. Many a MFFL fancied this match-up over a series with the Thunder, (healthy) Blazers, or Suns, but a lot of that is familiarity. The Spurs are so familiar to Mavs fans because of their status in the Southwest division, their location, and their frequent playoff battles with Dallas. So in this case, I think the fans (and possibly the Mavs) prefer the devil they know…even if they don’t know him all that well.

The Spurs that we’ve saw in last season’s playoffs barely resembles this model, largely because a healthy Manu Ginobili is capable of making an MVP-level impact. He’s certainly one of the top shooting guards in the game, and not only has he been out of his element a bit over the last few seasons, but he skipped last year’s playoff series with Dallas entirely due to injury. As a result, the Mavs won in 5 and the games honestly weren’t as competitive as precedent would have predicted. Dallas’ 2006 win over San Antonio was a huge step in the evolution of the rivalry, but the 2009 series between the two teams had a completely different dynamic. Even though both series fell well short of the Spurs usual title aspirations, the 2009 playoffs brought something new to San Antonio: shame. They can excuse away the loss with Manu’s absence, but never before had the Spurs been so thoroughly embarrassed by the Mavs.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

The storylines from San Antonio are primarily concerning those two elements: Manu’s renaissance and the Spurs’ revenge. Understandably so, as Ginobili should be both feared and respected, and the same should go for this entire San Antonio team. They’re quite formidable. If the Mavs’ offensive and defensive ratings for the season are a bit misleading due to the trade and — Dallas hopes — a legitimate mini-surge to close the regular season, the the Spurs’ are even more so. Tony Parker missed 26 games this season due to injury, and while he isn’t quite up to his 2008-2009 scoring level, he looked more than capable against the Mavs in the regular season finale.

That’s significant. If Parker is as ready as he seems, he could end up causing a lot of match-up problems for the Mavs alongside Ginobili. If it’s just Manu doing considerable damage, then the Mavs are well-equipped to contain him. Shawn Marion’s perimeter defense has been superb this year, particularly against elite opponents. Ginobili certainly qualifies. Caron Butler also has shown himself to be an aggressive defensive alternative for highly productive wings as well, with perhaps his keynote performance coming just five games ago against Brandon Roy. Like Ginobili, Roy is an atypical cover; he’s not a 2 that’s reliant on incredible athleticism, and his strength lies in his ability to change speeds and confuse defenders. I wouldn’t say that Ginobili is an extremely similar player, but he and Roy are similar in their deviance from the 2-guard norm. That doesn’t prove that Butler is a great option for defending Manu, but it does at least show that Caron can defend unconventional off guards. Beyond that, Jason Kidd is terrific defender at the two, and DeShawn Stevenson has done fine defensive work over the last two weeks.

Unfortunately, it’s never quite as simple as locking in one defender on one opposing player and calling it a day. The Mavs’ general defensive strategy against teams such as the Spurs is to overload on the initiator of the offense, which in this case would be Manu. Even if Ginobili has technically been listed at the two, the team is in his hands when he shares the floor with George Hill. It’s not an issue of who plays what position but who takes on what roles, and Ginobili’s spot in the Parker-less Spurs’ offense is to initiate. He’s the one triggering plays and he’s the one making entry passes. As a response, not only does Dallas typically cover such a threat with a long-armed, athletic wing defender, but they throw all kinds of pressure at them. You’ll see the Mavs completely blitz the ball-handler on the pick-and-roll. You’ll see them trap the initiator as soon as he crosses half-court with the ball. You’ll see double teams coming from all over the place at various times, just to throw a stud like Manu off his game. The price of that is leaving Brendan Haywood or Erick Dampier to their own devices against Tim Duncan, but Rick Carlisle and the Mavs’ coaching staff have deemed that an acceptable risk.

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images.

That strategy works pretty well, but if Tony Parker is as healthy and dominant as he’s capable of being? Trouble. Big trouble. Parker is the one player on the Spurs that the Mavs don’t have a good match-up for. Should Tony start feeling like his former self, it’s likely that Dallas would be forced to go with speed without considerable defensive skill (J.J. Barea, Rodrigue Beaubois) or size without considerable speed (Butler, Marion, Stevenson). Both could work, as J.J. showed in spots in last season’s playoffs, but if you’re Rick Carlisle, do you feel particularly great about those players trying to handcuff a fully-effective Tony Parker?

Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier are thus far more useful than simply acting as the large bodies between Tim Duncan and the basket. Don’t get me wrong, their post defense is still important. Really important. But should Parker start revving up, Haywood and Damp’s ability to protect the rim will be fairly essential. Neither has to be Dwight Howard, but having some kind of deterrent in the middle will be Dallas’ best shot at curtailing Tony’s production.

Then again, Tony Parker hasn’t been himself this season. He isn’t playing like the player that torched the Mavs a year ago, and even if he is, Dallas is a better team than they were then. The Mavs aren’t a great team, don’t get me wrong. I still stand firmly committed to the fact that this team has, on the whole, played mediocre basketball, regardless of whether you want to look at their season-long or simply post-deadline performance. But Dallas knows and matches-up with San Antonio so well, that the only thing putting the Spurs way over the top is a suddenly resurgent Parker.

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Otherwise, we’ve pretty much got a coin flip on our hands. No one on the Spurs’ roster can really cover Dirk, and he’s not going to be flummoxed by Popovich’s defensive pressure. Tim Duncan will likely be prevented from completely dominating, though he’ll still be very productive. Jason Kidd will hit big spot-up threes and run the offense expertly, but the Spurs defense will be ready and waiting. Jason Terry and Caron Butler can combine to eclipse Manu Ginobili’s scoring, Shawn Marion can cancel out Richard Jefferson’s production, and the Mavs’ bench offers more versatility than the Spurs’. Rick Carlisle is an excellent coach, but Gregg Popovich is an all-time great coach. It’s point-counterpoint all the way up and down the rosters, and while that’s not likely to let MFFLs sleep easy over the next few weeks, it’s absolutely brilliant for this series’ entertainment value.

The only conclusive fact that anyone should have to say about this series is that it’s going to be close. If you’re resolved that either team should win outright, you’re probably wrong. Every game will be a battle, but I’ll take Dallas in seven. I’m picking the Mavs because I think Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are in a great offensive rhythm right now, and I trust in the Mavs’ ability to contain Manu Ginobili. I think home court advantage matters, and a playoff atmosphere should remedy Dallas’ woes at home. I don’t trust Tony Parker’s ability to dominate the series like he did a year ago, but I do trust the balance of the Mavs’ offense. As good as George Hill and DeJuan Blair are, I don’t think they’re going to step out of themselves to become x-factors. This Dallas team is in a good place right now, is brimming with confidence, and knows they can beat the Spurs.

All that’s left is for them to go out and do it.

  • db

    ‘Mediocre Basketball’ – right, that’s how you get 54 Wins in the Western Conference…

  • Cynthia

    Agree with db. I don’t understand how you can call the MAVS a mediocre basketball team after a 55 (sorry db, you left a win out) win season (making it 50+ wins for the last 10 yrs), finishing 2nd in the West and being the Southwest Division leader ALL season long. But whatever. MAVS in 6.

  • MattSFFL

    As a spurs fan, I am a little worried about this match up. Dallas is a really good team this year. I actually, would have perferred the Spurs play the Lakers in the 1st round. Should be a great series. But as a Spurs fan I predict the Spurs take it in 6

  • harry

    me·di·o·cre (m d – k r). adj. Moderate to inferior in quality; ordinary. See Synonyms at average.

    Even as a Mavs fan, it hard for me not to see very long stretches of these season where the Mavs were that definition to a tee.
    We can hang our hat, and be proud of the fact, that the Mavs won the 2nd seed. To do that without acknowledging that they were only 5 games from missing the playoffs entirely would be a little self-delusional.

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  • Cynthia

    And how many games where the Spurs from missing the playoffs? And how many times have the Spurs NOT had home court advantage in the playoffs? And who is 2nd seed and how is 7th seed? And how many “bad” teams have the Spurs lost too this season? If the MAVS are “mediocore” what does that make the almighty Spurs this season? And how many other teams in the Western conference were 5 games or even less from being out of the playoffs? If you base your reasoning on that the MAVS are “medicore” on any of those statistics what does that make the other 6 teams in the playoffs (not including LA)? Even more “mediocore”? And you think we’re being self-delusional?

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  • Cynthia

    Denver had a stretch this season where they lost 3 or 4 games straight to under .500 teams. Spurs have lost to under .500 teams this season including the Nets. Utah has had their fair share also. Phoenix’s record is good against UNDER .500 teams but not so hot against above .500 teams. And all Utah had to do to get home court advantage (which they so desperately need) was to beat Phoenix (which by the way was on a b2b) on THEIR home court and they couldn’t even do so. My point is, we can call out MANY MANY times where EVERY Western Conference playoff team has LOOKED “mediocore”….even the defending champions (have you EVEN bothered to look at their record the last 10-15 games of the season?) but I don’t see Rob or Harry applying that same moniker to any other team. And WHY is that? Because ONLY the MAVS are “medicore”? THAT is a load of crap.

    • Rob Mahoney

      @Cythia: It’s not based on those measures, it’s based on the Mavs’ offensive and defensive efficiency, and their completely unspectacular marks in each of the four factors. Some of those teams you mentioned have been playing poorly, Denver in particular. This isn’t about those teams, nor is it about the ones who have not been playing poorly (Phoenix). It’s strictly Mavs and Spurs, and when you look at those two teams, one has played decisively better basketball down the stretch than the other.

      Does that mean Dallas loses the series? I obviously don’t think so, considering I picked the Mavs to win. That said, to ignore the data in this case (San Antonio’s statistical superiority in almost every regard, even offensive efficiency) is just irresponsible. The numbers must be accounted for and most of them favor the Spurs. Such statistics and metrics aren’t going to decide a series, but they do give us a good indication of the type of basketball that each team has been playing on the whole. The Mavs, impressive though their record may be, haven’t been all that impressive this season, and their five-game streak to win the season isn’t quite convincing enough for anyone to be assured of their strength.

      The playoffs are a different beast and everything could be flipped on its head, but at the moment there’s no point in refuting that the Mavs, by the numbers, have been mediocre.

  • harry

    I don’t remember saying that only the Mavs were medicore.
    Medicore is the term you apply so a constantly average product, be it the produce section of my local supermarket or my favorite basketball team.
    To be elite means to seperate yourself from the pack. My point about the Mavs only being 5 games up is intended to show how the Mavs didn’t seperate themselves from anyone. When I look at teams like the Magic, the Cavs, and yes, the Lakers, its hard to reasonably put the Mavs in that class. We can point at LAs late season struggles, but really, they built such a huge lead they could mail in an entire third of the season. It was rare for our Mavs to do that for one game, much less a season.
    Sorry if I offended you. Remember we root for the same team.

  • don

    When Dallas traded for Caron Butler, Deshawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood, I honestly believe this team was poised to move to the next level. They already had a good team but with the addition of these experienced players the Mavs appeared to add more rebounding, bench scoring, defense, shot-blocking ability.

    Add those players to an already viable mix of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry.

    Homecourt advantage. The fact that this San Antonio team has seen its better days.

    I saw the Golden State/Dallas upset coming a mile away. Dallas experienced all kinds of matchup problems when it arrived at GS. But I would have never believed that Dallas would lose to the Spurs, in only six games at that.

    Mark Cuban is an owner who loves his franchise and would do whatever it takes for them to win a championship. Sadly, nothing has appeared to work.