Runaway Train

Posted by admin on April 26, 2010 under Commentary | 6 Comments to Read

mo·men·tum:
  1. Impetus of a physical object in motion.
  2. Impetus of a nonphysical process, such as an idea or a course of events

(definition from dictionary.com)

NBA games are all about momentum. In Game 4, the Spurs not only seized momentum when they came back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter, they also managed that momentum effectively and didn’t allow the Mavs to take advantage of what appeared to be giant momentum shift in the fourth quarter.

Let’s take a look at the course of the game’s momentum shifts, including the woulda-coulda-shoulda moments in the fourth quarter when the Mavs couldn’t seem to regain the momentum despite a late-game push.

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Momentum Shift #1: Shawn Marion made a layup on a pass from Jason Terry to put the Mavericks up 25-24, after being down 20-24. Immediately after, Matt Bonner missed a three and Brendan Haywood was fouled in the act of shooting. Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan re-enter the game, but didn’t accomplish much, and the Mavs took advantage of poor shooting by both of the Spurs’ stars to go up 15 with 2:33 remaining in the half.

Momentum Shift #2: With two minutes remaining in the half, Jason Terry rolled his ankle on a fast break layup attempt, which was blocked, and the subsequent Spur fast break ended in a Richard Jefferson dunk. The home crowd got back into the game in one sequence. Jason Terry went to the bench and the Spurs took  control, outscoring the Mavericks 38-16 from this point until the start of the fourth quarter.

Should-have-been Momentum Shift #3: Dirk was called for a technical with 1:34 left in the third. On the very next play, Richard Jefferson was called for a flagrant foul for karate chopping Dirk as he went up for a shot. Normally, this course of events would cause a team to rally around their best player, start a run and not look back. Not in this game, though. By this point, the Mavericks had lost the lead and were trying to fight their way back into the game. When Dirk went to the line, the Mavericks were down 57-62. Dirk made both free throws, followed by a Terry missed jumper a George Hill corner three. Any chance of the Mavs gaining momentum was thrown out the window.

Should-have-been Momentum Shift #4: Eduardo Najera got ejected from the game after just 43 seconds of play for a flagrant 2 foul on Manu Ginobili. The Spurs should have completely blown the game open right here, and it looked like they were going to, when Manu made both free throws, then DeJuan Blair got a tip-in on the ensuing play, which made the score 61-70. But no, the next Mavericks possesion was……

Kind-of-was Momentum Shift #5: Blair was called for a flagrant on Jason Kidd (the third flagrant of the game, for those of you counting at home). This play was a small momentum shift, and it allowed the Mavs to get right back into the game, but they never could take back the lead.

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All season long, we’ve heard Rick Carlisle and different members of the team talk about focus, or lack thereof. Even after Game 3, we’ve heard the same song and dance from Carlisle and Dirk about the team’s need to focus. I’m sure that for many, the notion that the Mavs would pull it together for the playoffs seemed like a given considering their veteran status. The team may have thought the same, because they look like they’re expecting the focus and drive to just come to them naturally. It hasn’t. Meanwhile, the Spurs are playing like the vetrans they are and are squelching the Mavs opportunities and confidence at every turn.

Basically, in Game 4, whenever the Mavericks should have taken control of the game due to their veteran leadership, instead they instead expected someone else on the team (Dirk) to carry them to victory.

In order for this series and season to be saved, the Maverick veterans need to take advantage of every opening the Spurs give them. Dirk is going to have to become as agressive as he was in Games 1 and 3, especially if the rest of the team is content to stand idly by while expecting Nowitzki to carry them to victory.

This post was written by Blaine Zimmerman. If you’d like to contact Blaine, drop a comment or email him at bzimmerman11b[at]gmail[dot]com.

San Antonio Spurs 92, Dallas Mavericks 89

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 25, 2010 under Recaps | 15 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

Any event, once it has occurred, can be made to appear inevitable by a competent historian.”
-Lee Simonson

Admittedly, I’m a bit tired of the Mavs being both incredibly predictable and uncomfortably surprising.

On the offenseive end, the Mavs’ limitations are the same old, same old: there aren’t enough players around Dirk who can create shots. Jason Terry’s pull-up game is nice but only when he’s hitting, Caron Butler’s ability to drive is comforting but he’s both resistant of it and can’t finish, and the rest of the Mavs are largely situational scorers that can only complete plays if put in very specific situations. For all of the moves, the money, and the hype, these Mavericks are more or less the same team that they’ve always been.

You can’t walk into every Maverick game knowing precisely what to expect, though. For one, it’s unclear exactly which opposing role player Dallas will allow to thoroughly demean them. Maybe it’s George Hill, like it was tonight, or Richard Jefferson, like it was in Game 2, or DeJuan Blair, like it was in the regular season finale. That’s one regard in which the Mavs will always keep their fans guessing, as you never know when they might give up 52 points to Andre Miller.

That’s the Dallas Mavericks in a nutshell: too predictable on offense, too unpredictable on defense. They have yet to find the magical balance where they can still bewilder their opponents without also startling themselves, and it’s that quality that separates the Mavs from the Spurs, much less teams like the Cavs or the Magic. It’s that quality that has Dallas on the brink of elimination, facing a seemingly impossible three-game gauntlet just to move on to the second round.

That fate is, of course, made even more depressing by a few factors. The Mavs led by 15 points in the first half, and looked to be responding well to the pressure of a “must-win” Game 4. Tim Duncan scored just four points on 1-of-9 shooting and Manu Ginobili shot 25% from the field despite tying the team high in shot attempts. Dallas was right there at the end yet again, despite playing one of the worst third quarters in the post-Greg Ostertag era. You’d think in a game where the Mavs held a substantial lead, the opposing Big Three totaled just 37 points, and their own shortcomings were remedied by a shot at greatness, that something would end up going Dallas’ way. It didn’t. The lead was an empty memory, the Spurs’ stars’ struggles were erased by an incredible game from George Hill, and the Mavs’ second-half struggles should haunt them long into the off-season.

This was a game Dallas could have won and should have won. They just didn’t, and while there is some consolation in knowing that all of the Mavericks’ losses have been close, that very fact also makes them incredibly heartbreaking.

I think it would be difficult to fully comprehend everything that happened in the third quarter. It was a bizarre intersection of turnovers, poor defense, and iffy shot selection, and the magnitude of that 12 minutes (or even the first six minutes, in which Dallas went completely scoreless) likely warrants a post of its own. Maybe the Mavs will miraculously climb out of the 1-3 hole they now find themselves in, and we can all laugh and reminisce about how dire it all seemed. But should the rest of the series play out as expected, Dallas won’t have died rolling over in Game 5, toughing it out in Game 6, or clawing to the last in Game 7. They’ll have fallen whiffing, caving, and settling in the third quarter of Game 4.

It’s a shame.

As I mentioned before, George Hill (29 points, 11-of-16 shooting) was beyond impressive. He was deadly from the corners, but just as efficient from mid-range. That’s what surprised me most about Hill’s performance: most of his damage came strictly from jumpers, as a loose ball found its way into his hands or he was left open off a pick-and-roll rotation. With Dirk (17 points on a measly 10 shot attempts, 11 rebounds, four assists, three turnovers) held down by Antonio McDyess and shackled by the Spurs’ double-teams, no Maverick could even attempt to match Hill’s scoring production. Terry (17 points, 5-of-11 FG, six rebounds) tried, and Butler (17 points on 18 shot attempts, three turnovers) really tried, but it wasn’t enough. Haywood and Kidd managed to chip in 10 apiece, but where is the scoring option that can take advantage of the double teams on Dirk? Where is the scorer that will elevate the Mavs above their .416 mark from the field?

The Spurs, by contrast, won in spite of subpar performances by their stars. Duncan couldn’t hit a thing (1-for-9), but it didn’t matter. Hill provided the scoring, DeJuan Blair was so good that his mortal offerings on the stat sheet (seven points, seven rebounds) seem like a joke, and Richard Jefferson was both more productive and more efficient than Tony Parker. It turns out that this is what depth looks like, and though the Mavs would seem to have it in spades, Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson seemed to have done nothing more than make the world’s most ferocious paper tiger.

This post honestly isn’t supposed to be an outright hit; there are still plenty of positive things to take out of Game 4 and the effort was there even if the execution wasn’t. But suffering another close loss by the Spurs’ hand doesn’t make this 1-3 deficit any less glaring or any more manageable. Dallas will need something truly remarkable to advance to the second round, and based on how the Spurs have answered the Mavs at almost every turn, deeming a comeback ‘improbable’ may be too kind.

San Antonio Spurs 94, Dallas Mavericks 90

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 24, 2010 under Recaps, Roster Moves | 14 Comments to Read

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

Box ScorePlay-By-PlayShot Chart — GameFlow

He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end.
-Harry Emerson Fosdick

The conclusions of the past two games have been shockingly similar given their vastly different contexts. The features of Game 3 were greatly exaggerated in Game 2, with the highs even more impressive and the lows even more debilitating, but remarkably enough, both exhilarating contests wrapped up in more or less the same capacity: the Mavs overcame a slow start to put themselves in position to win, but the formula that brought Dallas their crucial, game-changing run had become stale by late in the fourth. A bounce of the ball here, a turnover there, and Tony Parker from everywhere, and the Mavs’ hopes of taking a 2-1 series lead completely dissipated.

Dallas stayed competitive thanks to an incredibly successful stint by the three-guard lineup, with J.J. Barea (14 points, four assists, four rebounds), Jason Terry (17 points, 6-of-15 FG, two assists), and Jason Kidd (seven points, 1-of-6 FG, five assists, seven rebounds) completely erasing Shawn Marion (seven points and two turnovers in 17 minutes) and Caron Butler (two points and three turnovers in 15 minutes) from the rotation. Aside from a three and a half minute stint from Marion in the beginning of the third quarter, neither Shawn nor Caron played in the second half. Barea certainly earned his playing time, as he put together his most impressive game of the playoffs and complemented his much-needed offense with solid defense. Kidd and Terry, however, were present for the Mavs’ crucial third quarter run, but uncomfortably silent for large stretches of the game.

The Spurs defense was just too strong, and they worked the Mavs into 24-second violations and late-clock shots with alarming frequency. Dallas seemed rattled in getting into their offensive success, which is as much a credit to the Spurs’ excellent defensive coverage as it was their physicality. Blowing the whistle on whistle-blowing is pretty useless, but if nothing else I should at least point out the differential in foul calls (25 called on the Mavs to 16 on the Spurs) and free throw attempts (26 for the Spurs to 15 for the Mavs). Those differentials are obviously distorted by the shot attempts taken by the two teams, and particularly so by the Mavs’ reluctance to drive to the basket in the fourth quarter, but it should still be noted. And it is so noted.

Dirk Nowitzki was fantastic again (35 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds), but he was but one man against an army. Manu Ginobili rebounded from a scoreless first half and a nasal fracture to finish with 15 points, Tim Duncan (25 points, five rebounds, four assists, five turnovers) was as terrific inside as you’d expect him to be, and Tony Parker (26 points on 13 shots) came off the bench to three tough shots in a row to finish off the Mavs. All three were long, two-point jumpers, and at least somewhat contested if not heavily so. Parker knocked them down without hesitation, and each ensuing fist pump was a punch in the gut to the Mavericks’ cause.

Also, get this: the Spurs didn’t make a single three-pointer. Not one. Dallas had eight makes out of 20 attempts (40%), but even that wasn’t quite enough to make up for the Spurs’ superior defense and Parker’s resolve. There were stretches of this game where the Mavs looked rather terrific defensively, largely thanks to the effectiveness of the zone. Kidd roamed within the zone D to add even more pressure on San Antonio’s ball-handlers, and the Spurs were forced into turnovers and difficult shots. It was that defense that had Dallas up by nine points in the third quarter, but Manu’s penetration, the threat of Duncan around the rim, and Parker’s shooting were ultimately the Mavs’ undoing.

Maybe having Caron Butler or Shawn Marion in at the end of the game helps, and maybe it doesn’t. Either way, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea played essentially the entire second half, with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry not far behind. There was a lot riding on what had to be tired legs, and despite what was, at times, a rather resilient effort, the Mavs fumbled this one away. They had a win in their grasp, but couldn’t seal it, and should the series end up going to the Spurs, Games 2 and 3 will be the ones that got away.

More analysis to come, along with closing thoughts.

The Nose Goes: Post-Game 3 Injury Update (Manu Ginobili)

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 23, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

Per a release from the Spurs:

Manu Ginobili suffered a nasal fracture in the third quarte rof tonight’s Spurs-Mavericks game. X-rays taken at the AT&T Center confirmed the injury.

Tomorrow Ginobili will be re-examined by Spurs team physicians at which time he will undergo a CT scan. Additional details will be announced after his examination.

The injury will undoubtedly cause Manu pain and discomfort, but the odds of him missing any playing time from this point on are roughly equivalent to the Mavs winning Game 3.

Heard It Through The Grapevine

Posted by admin on April 22, 2010 under xOther | 4 Comments to Read

  • Jesse Blanchard from 48 Minutes of Hell discusses how the Spurs adjusted to contain Dirk: “Given the same looks he has gotten in the first two games, and they have been the same despite the vastly different outcomes, on most nights Nowitzki will produce a stat line that looks like  8-17 from the field and four to five free throw attempts. A great line, but hardly unmanageable.”
  • Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie notes that the Mavs’ Game 2 offensive performance was atypical: “Dallas was stinko, in that regard. Save for the late comeback mentioned above (after trailing for double-digits for most of the contest, the Mavs got it down to five points before Duncan and Ginobili put it away), Rick Carlisle’s team consistently failed to connect on shots that, I’m sorry, they’ve consistently made for years.”
  • Apparently, DeJuan Blair has a new nickname.
  • Spurs owner Peter Holt responds to Mark Cuban’s comments regarding “hating” the Spurs: “Listen, there might be some people in the league that are mad at him, but I’m not mad at him. Anything that raises the awareness is only good for us.”
  • Johnny Ludden of Yahoo explains Tim Duncan’s post-season focus, and with Duncan turning 34 on Sunday, Ludden spotlights the implications of Duncan’s age: “As much as anyone, Duncan settles into a rhythm in the postseason, which spares him the grind of back-to-back games. He’s at the age where any day off is a good day. Popovich’s decision to hold Duncan out of the season finale afforded him five days to rest before the playoffs. He received another two days before Game 2. ‘I’m feeling a lot better and I’m re-energized,’ Duncan said. That’s why it was imperative for the Spurs to win one of these first two games. The series now shifts to an every-other-day format, which should favor the deeper Mavs. The Spurs can’t ignore that reality, nor do they pretend Duncan is the same force he was seven seasons ago, when he won his second MVP award. Last year’s knee problems spurred him to lose 15 pounds during the summer, and no longer does he command a double team as often as he once did…But this, too, is also true: ‘He’ll never lose his skill set,’ Dirk Nowitzki said. Come Sunday, Duncan will have another birthday to celebrate, another game to play. And if the Spurs’ season needs saving again? Yes, Tim Duncan is both older and wiser. No one should think he is done.
  • As usual, Rick Carlisle kept his cool during the post-game interview.
  • Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas writes that when Kidd isn’t playing well, neither are the Mavericks.

This post was written by Blaine Zimmerman. If you’d like to contact Blaine, drop a comment or email him at bzimmerman11b[at]gmail[dot]com.

Sing to Me of the Man, Muse, the Man of Twists and Turns

Posted by admin on April 21, 2010 under Commentary | Be the First to Comment

odysseus

A seven-game series between two closely matched teams is one of the most fascinating spectacles in all of sports. Like in any epic tale, the plot thickens with every quarter of every game as the dynamic between the two teams shifts and the tension rises. The battle for series supremacy does not stop between games as even now, each coaching staff works furiously in a battle of wits. What plot lines did we see in Game 1 and what adjustments can we expect to see in the games to come?

Usually it’s the losing team that is most in need of strategic adjustments so we’ll start with the Spurs. Coming into the game, the biggest question faced by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich defensively was how to stop the unstoppable force known as Dirk Nowitzki. Pop only has two options. He can play ball denial and rush an extra defender to double-team Dirk every time he touches the ball or he can play Dirk straight-up with the likes of Matt Bonner or Antonio McDyess. In last season’s playoffs, Popovich went with the first option, double-teaming Dirk throughout the series, limiting him to 19 points per game. However, as the defensive attention shifted to Dirk, the supporting cast stepped up as the Mavericks rolled over the Spurs in 5 games. In Game 1 of this series, Popovich elected to cover Nowitzki with a single defender for the most part, allowing Dirk to erupt for 36 points on just 14 shots in one of the most efficient scoring performances in the history of the NBA playoffs. When a solitary Spur was left alone on an island, Dirk showed that he would bully them, steal their lunch money, and then drain the shot after for good measure. On the flip side, Popovich might be thinking that it’s unlikely that Dirk Nowitzki will continue to shoot 86% for the rest of the series, so the unanswerable question remains. In Game 2, I expect to see more double-teams mixed in, challenging the Mavericks’ supporting cast to hit open shots. Realistically, I don’t think there is a strategy in the world that can stop Dirk right now, but if there is, trust Coach Popovich to find it.

Carlisle also elected to play the Spurs straight-up, for the most part. The Spurs’ Big Three of had an impressive scoring night for a combined 71 points, but that’s something Rick Carlisle can live with when the teams other 7 players scored only 23 points on 41% shooting. While Duncan and Ginobili put up big scoring numbers, they also turned the ball over at an alarming rate with six and five turnovers, respectively. Credit goes to Jason Kidd and Caron Butler here for great anticipation in jumping into passing lanes and deflecting balls. The only adjustment I can see for the Mavericks defensively is how they play the pick-and-roll. The Mavericks, obviously concerned with containing Ginobili and Parker, showed hard on every pick and roll. While this helped stop penetration, it led to open rolls to the basket by the Spurs big men. For the most part, I expect the Mavericks to stick to their game plan: Ginobili and Duncan will get their points but they’ll have to work for them against quality defenders in Marion, Butler, Dampier, and Haywood and the rest of the Mavericks will stay at home on the Spurs supporting cast.

Offensively for the Spurs, Manu Ginobili took on the ball-handling and playmaking duties as Tony Parker took a backseat. This strategy produced mixed results as Ginobili recorded 26 points and six assists but with six turnovers. Parker had a decent scoring night with 18 points but was nowhere near the dominant offensive force he was in these teams’ previous playoff series. I expect to see Tony Parker having a larger role in dictating the offense when these teams come together for Game 2. Of the Spurs’ role players, only Antonio McDyess can be said to have played a quality game; Popovich was understandably upset and criticized his players for “playing like dogs”.

Young guard George Hill was essentially useless, perhaps because of a sprained ankle, but Pop clearly went away from him in the second half. It’ll be interesting to see what Pop does with the guard rotation. Richard Jefferson, Roger Mason Jr., and Matt Bonner continue to be Spurs fans’ favorite whipping posts as they contributed little or nothing to the Spurs’ cause. Coach Popovich is notorious for his distrust in rookies in the playoffs, and it showed with DeJuan Blair only receiving eight minutes even after his spectacular game against Dallas in the regular season finale. Still, if the other Spurs reserves (particularly Bonner) continue to “play like dogs”, expect Blair to get some extra burn in the upcoming games.

On the offensive side for the Mavericks, things went well for the most part. Carlisle has to be happy with the way his superstar dropped 36 and second banana Caron Butler took over (22 points) when Dirk needed a rest. The biggest concern is Jason Terry, who scored only five points on 2-of-9 shooting. Terry, however, came through in the fourth as usual, hitting two big shots after being held scoreless through the first three quarters. J.J. Barea was held scoreless in 15 minutes. If Barea is not effective, I (along with every other Mavericks fan in the world) would like to see Carlisle give Rodrigue Beaubois a legitimate chance. You have to believe that Beaubois will be given a chance to contribute in this series, and given the way he’s played this season, I think he earned it.

And so the story continues. With one chapter done, what should turn out to be an amazing series is underway and although we can guess at the twists and turns, unexpected heroes, and devious villains, nobody will know for sure until the final page. The only thing we do know is that it’s going to be good. Stay tuned.

Foul Ball

Posted by admin on April 20, 2010 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images.

Sunday night, the Mavericks attempted 34 free throws to the Spurs 14. If you’ve been a Mavs fan since before 2006, you know how it feels to be on the short end of this stick.

The game was called very close, which was surprising knowing the previous battles between these two teams. This is a long-standing, heated rivalry that is typically very physical. The referees haven’t been known to call ticky-tack fouls when these two teams meet. They’ve usually just let the players play. Last night that wasn’t the case, as almost every small touch foul was called…on the Spurs.

It’s hard to argue that the game was called fairly, because the Mavericks still hadn’t committed a foul yet in the 3rd quarter when the Spurs were in the bonus. And this was before the “Clamp-a-Damp” technique thrown out by Popovich.

By no means am I complaining about this. Sometimes teams just get the calls, and it can happen on any given night. I highly doubt Bennett Salvatore said to himself before the game, “You know, I feel bad for the way I’ve treated the Mavericks before, so I kind of owe them one.” Things like this just happen every once in a while, and it’s fairly normal for playoff games.

Looking at the season series, the Mavs  attempted 96 Free Throw Attempts to the Spurs 84. In games one and four, the Mavericks had more FTA (27 to 19 in game one and 28 to 20 in game 4). In games two and three, the Spurs had more (24 to 21 in game two and 21 to 20 in game three). The only game the Spurs won was the first game, where the Mavericks shot 8 more free throws than the Spurs. On the season, though, the Spurs have been better at getting to the line. The Spurs finished the season tied for 18th in the league with 1,969 FTAs and the Mavericks were ranked 25th with 1,870 FTAs. Bascially, neither team has been spectacular at getting to the line, which is suprising considering Tony Parker’s driving game and Dirk’s knack of getting fouled on jumpers.

How does this affect the players? Well, the whole reason Popovich called for intentional fouls on Dampier was to get the ball out of Nowitzki’s hands, to take the Mavericks out of the flow of their offense. It didn’t quite work, but with the Mavs aiming to push the tempo, having to stop and inbound or shoot free throws would technically take them out of their game, and made Dallas run more half-court offense. The Spurs may have been cautious defensively due to the frequency of foul calls, but they maintained their focus and energy on the offensive end. San Antonio shot 50% from the field as a result, but they didn’t seem to adjust to how closely the game was being called. Matt Bonner drove a few more times than Spurs fans probably wanted him to, but Parker and Ginobili didn’t drive as much as they normally do. A more aggressive approach by the Spurs’ guards would have almost forced the referees to call more fouls on the Mavericks.

Basically, Game One was an anomaly to how these teams have played all season. Between the two teams, the free throw attempts are very similar, so don’t expect this to become a trend, particularly after the Spurs have had a chance to revise their approach. If anything, expect Game Two to be loosely called, with the referees allowing a lot of contact. After having a chance to review the film from Game One, it’s likely that the officiating crew will give both teams more leeway on defense.

That being said, here are some points to look at moving forward:

  • Dampier played very good defense on Tim Duncan Sunday night. Haywood had 10 points on 4-5 shooting. In close games during this series, don’t be surprised if Carlisle does offense/defense substitutions between these two.
  • Caron Butler (22 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) had his best game as a Maverick. It is absolutely essential for him to keep playing that well if the Mavs are to make a deep playoff run.
  • Jason Terry had another off night, though he did hit a jumper and a corner three late in the fourth that could boost his confidence going into the next game. For a streaky shooter, a little confidence is all he needs to go from a slump to a monster series.
  • Gregg Popovich is one of the all-time best at making adjustments. Expect an entirely different game plan Wednesday night (especially against Dirk), because that’s just how Popovich works.
  • As Rob said, I doubt we’ll see Beaubois this series, he’s just too inexperienced and Barea has had some great games against the Spurs in the past. I do think Najera will make a couple of appearances, especially if Popovich tries the Clamp-a-Damp again.

Maverick Hoops Summit: Previewing Mavs-Spurs

Posted by Rob Mahoney on April 17, 2010 under Previews | 8 Comments to Read


You’ve already read my thoughts on the Mavs’ series against the Spurs, and if not I implore you to do so. However, the beauty of the internet lies in the multitude of perspectives that are readily available just a click or two away, and I’ve brought a few of those perspectives here to The Two Man Game for a media roundtable of sorts. Zac Crain (FrontBurner/D Magazine), Mark Followill (TXA 21/Fox Sports Southwest), Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade (103.3 FM ESPN Radio, TXA 21/Fox Sports Southwest, ESPN Dallas), Tim MacMahon and Jeff Caplan (ESPN Dallas), Art Garcia (NBA.com), Mike Fisher and David Lord (DallasBasketball.com), and Gina Miller (TXA 21) were kind enough to join me for a discussion of the upcoming series.

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Rob Mahoney: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are pretty good at the whole basketball thing, but the Spurs are notorious for consistently boasting a capable crop of role players. This year’s supporting cast may not be as daunting as in years’ past, but which of the non-’Big Three’ Spurs do you anticipate giving the Mavs the most trouble?

Zac Crain: Even though he hasn’t fully clicked this season, I’ll say Richard Jefferson. Roger Mason is a feast or famine shooter, and George Hill is, at times, worrisome. But with Manu back being, seemingly, a fully operational Death Star, I think the defensive attention the Mavs will have to pay him might open things up for Jefferson a bit. Remember: his best game as a Spur came against the Mavs. If nothing else, it will likely mean Caron Butler expends more energy on that side of the court.

Mark Followill: I gotta go with George Hill, assuming (of course) he is healthy.  Hill was great while Tony Parker recently missed 16 games, averaging 15.5 points and shooting 50% as the Spurs went 11-5. Hill can drive, shoot 3′s and defend, and even if he returns to a role coming off the bench he will probably be on the floor at the end of games. If crusty old Gregg Popovich says you’re his favorite player, then that’s good enough for me in terms of judging whether or not this kid has the heart and toughness to be a player under the intense playoff spotlight.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade
: I was pretty worried about George Hill and without knowing the extent of his ankle injury, I’d have to say I’m still worried about him. As best as I could tell, he didn’t look to be in too bad of shape when he left the floor Wednesday night, but that doesn’t really tell you anything. I’ll assume he’ll be ready and my worries begin there. That guy does everything well. And I know people like to goof on Matt Bonner ’cause he doesn’t look like a baller and he has quite possibly the worst nickname in the history of pro sports (can’t even bring myself to type it here), but he burns you on pick and pops and in the minimum possession game that we anticipate the Spurs will want, those threes are painful. If the refs let San Antonio get really physical, then I’ve seen him frustrate Dirk before (the 93-76 Mavs loss in San Antonio last season comes to mind). But hey, he’s no Ryan Bowen, and I’m sure Dirk’s happy about that.

Tim MacMahon: Can I get an injury report on George Hill before giving my answer? He might actually have pushed past Tony Parker to become the Spurs’ third-best player. Richard Jefferson has been a bust, but he’ s still a scoring threat. But if not Hill, DeJuan Blair is the Spur that worries me most. Not sure if Pop will trust the rookie enough to give him significant playoff burn, but he’s a wide-body beast who showed in the regular-season finale that he can give Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood fits.

David Lord: In my crystal ball, no one. Any or all of the SA role players will make some plays (if I have to predict, probably someone will hit a big 3 here or there), but from what I’ve seen, with Parker still feeling his way, the Spurs chances will rest almost entirely on the ability of Duncan and/or Ginobili to have one of those sustained all-world caliber series they have had before and carry the Spurs on their back.

Art Garcia: It starts with George Hill. At this time last year, Popovich didn’t trust rookie. Hill didn’t get off the bench in the Dallas series until it was too late. Now he’s vital. He’s long, athletic, gets to the rim and defends. And don’t sleep on DeJuan Blair, though I’m not sure how much time Pop finds for this year’s rookie.

Mike Fisher: I’m sure the Spurs would like to unleash George Hill and/or DeJuan Blair, but there are some problems there: The more minutes those guys get, the more it means Parker and Duncan, respectively, must be sitting due to rest (or ineffectiveness). It’s one of the issues with teams’ ballyhooed “depth’’ (and an issue the Mavs have, too): Once we get to this point, that ninth guy in the rotation is a minute factor compared to the front-of-the-rotation heavy-lifters.

Hill is twice the player, statistically, that he was a year ago as a rookie. And next year, DeJuan might be twice the player he is now.

But they are still supplementary at best.

And that’s not even counting the facts that if you play Hill, you might be asking him to do it on one ankle … and if you play DeJuan, he’s more likely to collect fouls as he is to go 20/20 again.

Gina Miller: McDyess for what he can do against Dirk defensively. Popovich because he’s such a smart coach and so good at making adjustments.  Richard Jefferson was good against Dallas this year (put up 16 a game) but I have heard from some San Antonio sources that he just doesn’t fit in well.

Jeff Caplan: The first guy I’m sure is on the tip of everyone’s tongue is George Hill, and we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s available and if he is, how well he can move on that bum right ankle. It’s too bad really. Hill’s had a heckuva year and it’s a shame to see the young guy not at full strength. However, my key role guy is none other than Richard Jefferson. He’s had a tough, tough year. Every time I flipped on a Spurs game, Jefferson was getting the mother lode from Popovich. But Jefferson has played better the last month of the season. He’s really excelled playing with Manu Ginobili, who’s probably the closest thing to a Jason Kidd who helped Jefferson thrive in Jersey. Jefferson is rebounding better, he has good size, and can shoot the 3-ball. If he gets hot, and he can, he can be trouble.


RM: In a perfect world, Rodrigue Beaubous’ cup would overfloweth with minutes and shot attempts, and he’d have all the opportunities in the world. Life’s not only a bit less perfect, but far more complicated; despite all of Beaubois’ strengths, he’s still a rookie with zero playoff experience. J.J. Barea, on the other hand, made a killing last year against the Spurs in the playoffs, and his ability to irritate Tony Parker defensively and penetrate against the Spurs’ D was a big reason why Dallas won decisively. How should Rick Carlisle make sense of the dilemma between a proven pest to the Spurs and the seemingly bottomless scoring potential of the rook?

Zac Crain: As much as I love Roddy, I think Carlisle would be smart to stick with the proven formula. In other words: JJ gets the backup minutes and Beaubois gets spot duty. That said, I think Carlisle needs to have the guts to pull the trigger with Roddy if 1) the Mavs need an energy boost and/or 2) Barea isn’t getting it done. He’ll make mistakes, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Plus, he’s one of the few Mavs Pop hasn’t (completely) gameplanned for.

Mark Followill
: Great question and more than anything should give us all a taste of the challenges of the job of NBA head coach. When Roddy had a chance to play backup point recently after his 40 point explosion he didnt play like the dynamic scorer we have seen some nights this year. In terms of being able to run the team for the minutes that Kidd is out I’d have to initially give the nod to Barea and turn to Roddy if JJ struggles. I still maintain Roddy’s greatest success this year has been as a scoring 2 next to Kidd. If coaching is all about putting players in the best spot to be successful then Roddy’s likely role is the x-factor guy who can play next to Kidd and ignite the team and crowd with his ability to score.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: Is this where I’m supposed to employ the “x-factor” cliché? I think Rick Carlisle took the most unnecessary beating from the fan base in his handling of Beaubois. I thought he put him in situations where he thought he’d be successful and he was. I thought he was more careful in situations that were a little more “perilous” because so much was on the line for a veteran team. Looking back, not a lot of wriggle room, was there? Barea isn’t even sniffing Roddy’s talents, but he’s a veteran who has performed well in several clutch situations last season when he earned Rick’s confidence, and then as you noted Rob, against San Antone in the playoffs. In a playoff series, execution is so critical and every possession is at a premium. I think that was one of the reasons Pop tightened the reins on Hill at the end of last season – he was learning the point after playing off the ball in college and he was rookie on top of that. There are plenty of Spurs fans who’ll argue that it was a bad decision. Maybe it was, or maybe it was just residue from his naked pics – who knows? I think that If Rick throws Roddy out there it’ll be with J-Kidd and I think Roddy will have an impact. If it was my team, I’d be willing to go down that particular road if JET or Caron are struggling. I fear that if Roddy gets playoff point minutes, it’ll resemble more of his performance in the home game against the Lakers than the road game at Golden State. I think their sets with Roddy at the one would be too limited to be effective in a playoff series and it’d put enormous pressure on your offense to come from transition opportunities created by stops. And keep in mind that a long first round means Kidd will log heavy minutes, so the minutes may be so limited here that it won’t really matter.

Tim MacMahon: I’d like to see Roddy B. get a stint in the second quarter of each game. If he’s feeling it, let him roll. If not, let him ride the bench. But, since Rick Carlisle refuses to ask for my advice, I expect him to ride pine for the playoffs.

David Lord: Ride the hot hand. Both should (and will) get their chances.

Art Garcia: You roll with what you know, at least at first. Barea has been on this stage and performed well, so if I’m Rick, I’m going with J.J. to in the three-guard look and to back up Kidd. But if Barea struggles, I think we’ve all seen enough from Roddy B to throw him out there. The rookie appears fearless and, if given the chance, could make a big play … for either team.

Mike Fisher: Many Mavs-watchers have given up trying to predict Rick’s handling of Roddy B. Many Mavs-watchers have also gone nuts trying to understand it. The end result is obviously positive; Beaubois came from nowhere (oh, OK, Pointe-à-Pitre) to a place where he is statistically the greatest rookie perimeter shooter in NBA history. (Yes, really: at 51.8 FG percent, 40.9 3-pointers percent and 80.8 FT percent, he’s the only rookie guard ever to enter “The 50/40/80 Club.’’

My argument is that represents evidence that this isn’t the normal rookie. My argument continues: Roddy B is literally the only person in that locker room who hasn’t been through these sort of basketball wars – and therefore can be “hammocked’’ by so many teammates, coaches and staffers who have.

If JJB pestered Parker last year (and he did) … think what Roddy B might do?

And then there is this, and it goes beyond record-breaking stats or historical precedents: Other teams cannot guard Roddy B. If I’m Rick, I damn sure give Beaubois a taste of the postseason … and if he holds up in his first minute of play, I’d given him a second minute … and then a third.

Gina Miller
: I think we’ll see Beaubois get very little time.  The mistakes he could make are much more costly now.

Jeff Caplan: You’re right, J.J. was very good last year against the Spurs, averaging 10.0 points and 4.6 points. Kidd averaged 10.0 and 5.6 (of course Kidd outrebounded Barea 30-10 and out-stealed - is that a word? – him 12-2). Barea told me today (Saturday) actually that he doesn’t think the Spurs guard the pick and roll well, especially up top with Dirk setting the pick. He said he picked apart the Spurs that way and got to the rim, which he did. Look, Barea is going to play. He’s a fourth-year guy and has earned the right. As exciting as Beaubois is — and he is exciting — I don’t look for him to have much run. Of course, you say something like that and the unpredictable Rick Carlisle will have him in during crunch time. You never know. I also think back to last season’s series and I wonder if Popovich regrets not letting George Hill off the leash sooner than he did.


RM: Which is more important to the Mavs’ success in this series: Shawn Marion’s (and perhaps DeShawn Stevenson’s) defense against Manu Ginobili, or Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier’s defense against Tim Duncan?

Zac Crain: Whomever defends Manu. His points (and overall court game) is way more important to the Spurs’ confidence. They feed off him. The fans feed off of him. And the reverse is true: he can get right inside the heads of the Mavs and their fans.

Mark Followill: Again, great question. Winning basketball is best played from the inside out leading me to want to answer Dampier/Haywood vs. Duncan. However I’ve heard Rick Carlisle say the worst thing that can to happen to your defense is to be beaten by dribble penetration. So since Ginobili can do that among his myriad of other skills and the intangibles he brings to the floor as a wily veteran I’ll say it’s Marion et al against Ginobili.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: Slowing down Manu ten times out of ten. He’s been unbelievable.  He’s also far and away the single biggest reason why I seem to fear the Spurs more than anyone else I’ve talked to about it. If Matrix can keep Ginobili from going nuts then I think he’ll be the MVP of the series. But as Marion will tell you, a dude will get his if he gets enough shot attempts. If Ginobil needs a bunch of shot attempts to get his, that’ll be counter-productive to what SA wants to do and I’m sure Marion will have been a big part of that.

Tim MacMahon: Matrix vs. Manu. Duncan had three 25-point games in last season’s series, all of which came in losing efforts. The Spurs took off down the stretch this season when Ginobili got in a groove.

David Lord
: I think Ginobili can turn the series, so give the biggest pep pills to Marion and Stevenson, don’t overlook Butler, and don’t be surprised if Kidd gets the assignment on some key possessions. I don’t think the Spurs have the ability to grind out victories in this series but instead will have to win with flashes of greatness, and these days I think Ginobili has more potential to do the unexpected.

Art Garcia
: Matrix hands down. Manu is balling, so the Mavs need Marion’s length and savvy. Remember, Manu didn’t play in the series last year, so the Mavs didn’t have this issue. I expect El Contusion to be the focus of Dallas’ D.

Mike Fisher
: The Mavs are in many ways built to contend with the Spurs – which means, “build to contend with Duncan.’’ They’ve done it with Damp/Diop and they ought to be able to do it with Damp/Big Wood. (“Contend with’’ being different than “being superior to,’’ of course.)

Duncan really labors up and down the floor these days, that requisite knee brace a tell-tale sign.

But Manu? He’s the guy who can go off with consistency, he’s the only guy on the Spurs right now who can effectively create his own show, and he’s Job One for Marion … in a sense, Marion’s acquisition was “built to contend with the Spurs,’’ too – or, at least, one Spur.

Gina Miller
: The defense on Ginobili.  Duncan is still Duncan, despite what I feel, is in a bit of a decline.  He can drop 20 & 10 but that’s almost a given.  Ginobili has been so strong from San Antonio recently and such a part of their late-season surge this year that he’s the one the Mavs need to focus on containing.

Jeff Caplan: Manu, Manu, Manu. Duncan is going to get his. We know that. But, Manu is dynamic. He can get to the rim and the free throw line, he’s draining the 3 and making everyone around him better. There are few guys that can twist and turn and contort and do the things he does with his body and convert at the bucket. The guy is totally confident and ridiculously dangerous. Shawn Marion has his work cut out for him on the defensive end, but Marion also makes a good point: you’ve got to make Ginobili sweat on the defensive end. That responsibility likely falls with Caron Butler.


RM: San Antonio has never really been able to match up with Dirk, and this season has, more or less, been the same (28.8 PPG and 8.5 RPG in four games vs. SA this season). Which Spur defender has the best chance of making Nowitzki’s life difficult?

Zac Crain: No one. It’s true. He can only stop himself. Bruce Bowen had a decent run, but even he fell off. Maybe, maybe, Antonio McDyess, but I only see that working for short stretches, if at all. Best bet? Making Dirk work on D.

Mark Followill: The best defenders historically against Dirk has been the tall, mobile defenders like Lamar Odom or back in the day Sheed. The other style of defense that has had some success against him is to use a SG/SF type who is quick and can crowd Dirk and get up under his arms. Since the Spurs definitely don’t have the former, the closest player the Spurs have to the latter and who has a rep as a defender would be someone like Keith Bogans so perhaps Pop could try to use him in a Bowen like capacity. While you noted the number of points per game that Dirk scored against the Spurs this year he only shot 40.4% against them. The more likely way to replicate that is not by the play of a single defender but by running multiple defenders at him as the Spurs have often done recently.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: They don’t have the type of rangy athlete most known for giving Dirk fits, though some of that has been debunked over the years by the way Dallas moves him around depending on the match-up.  The best example I can give you within the course of one game is how differently they utilize Dirk when he’s checked by Mehmet Okur versus when he’s covered by Andrei Kirilenko.  For all the credit Stephen Jackson has received for “stopping” Dirk, nobody seems to recall that in every time he’s defended Dirk since that dreadful series, #41 has just murdered him in the post.  Problem is Dirk doesn’t pass that well out of the post on double teams.  I’d say it depends on how the game is officiated. If it’s “no autopsy, no foul” vibe, then I think it’s Bonner. If they’re going to call actual fouls they way they’re supposed to, then I’d say McDyess is best-equipped and Bonner will foul out in short order. But I’d say Dirk is far and away San Antonio’s biggest worry as they don’t have the right guys to slow him.

Tim MacMahon: Can I go with Gregg Popovich? The Spurs will need some X’s and O’s wizardry to keep Dirk down. If I have to pick a player, it’s Tim Duncan, but that’s asking a lot of an aging star who has had knee problems

David Lord: Frankly, none whatsoever. The Spurs simply have no defender that can do much to match up with Dirk. If I’m Pop, I’m resigned to the fact that Dirk will get his no matter what I do, and instead try to focus on keeping players like Butler, Marion, Terry and Kidd held completely in check.

Art Garcia: Not sure if that guys exists with Bruce Bowen gone. McDyess may be the early call since he’s clearly more comfortable away from the basket than Duncan. The Spurs’ plan may be to double Dirk and force someone else to beat them.

Mike Fisher: Pop has tried to double-team The UberMan at times in the past, and as a reward, the other weapons – and they are substantial – has jumped up to beat him … while Dirk still gets his 30 points. Last year that meant J-Ho and Barea; this year it can mean Caron, Jet, Kidd, Marion … weapons!

San Antonio will change it up, but I think there is logic to assigning one guy to Dirk (it’s often been that Bonner Character) and conceding him his points … and then hoping that Dallas’ other weaponry is contained.

Gina Miller: Dirk will see a combination of defenders but McDyess and Bonner will give him the most hell, in my opinion.

Jeff Caplan: None. It will take a gang effort and Popovich will probably bring it. Dirk is preparing for it (he calls Popovich a defensive genius). The one stat not listed next to his 28.8 ppg is his 40.4 percent shooting against the Spurs this season, Dirk’s worst perecentage against Western Conference teams. Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner get the official tag as Dirk defenders, but the Spurs will bring double teams. The big key for the Mavs is how well Jason Kidd shoots the 3-ball now (and I still have to wipe my eyes every time he hits one, which is like every time). If Dirk can pass out of the double team effectively and Kidd continues his 40 percent thing from the arc, the Mavs are in good shape.


RM: Describe this series in one word.

Zac Crain: Inevitable.

Mark Followill: Bitterness.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: Draining.

Tim MacMahon
: Again.

David Lord: Desperation.

Art Garcia
: Familiar.

Mike Fisher: “Two-seed.’’ This is why they played 82. To establish an advantage. Dallas has done that by achieving the No. 2 seed – which I argue is the third-greatest team accomplishment in the NBA this year.

Gina Mille
r: Rugged.

Jeff Caplan: Unpredictable.


RM: Prediction time: who ya got?

Zac Crain: Mavs in six. Duncan can’t turn it on like he used to for a full series, Parker is still out of sync, and Manu can win a game or two by himself, but not a series.

Mark Followill
: Mavs in 7.

Jeff ‘Skin’ Wade: I think Dallas in six and I think all the games will be close.

Tim MacMahon
: Mavs in six.

David Lord: Dallas in 6.

Art Garcia: As I wrote in my NBA.com series preview, I’m expecting a return to the rivalry’s bitter roots … and the Mavs in six.

Mike Fisher: Mavs in six. Last year, the Mavs were a No. 6 seed and the Spurs were a No. 3 … and the Mavs cruised. This year, San Antonio is calling itself “improved’’ yet drops to a No. 7 seed, while the 10X50 Mavs move up to No. 2.

Dallas has moved up … and in six games, will move on.

Gina Miller: Mavs in 6.  They clinch in San Antonio for the 2nd straight postseason.

Jeff Caplan: Mavs in 7.

——————–

A huge thank you to everyone for being kind enough to participate, and be sure to visit their respective sites and Twitter feeds for more of their thoughts on the Mavs.

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.

Heard It Through The Grapevine

Posted by admin on April 15, 2010 under xOther | 5 Comments to Read

  • The Spurs hope George Hill will be ready for the first round series vs. the Mavericks, and Jesse Blanchard of 48 Minutes of Hell breaks down why he’s the key to the series for the Spurs, and Gregg Popovich’s favorite player.
  • While watching the game last night, I, like many of you, started wondering why Marion shoots so many floaters around the basket, even though it seems like he never makes them. I looked up his At-Rim FG% at HoopData, and surprisingly, he’s at 62%, 1% higher than the league average. I’m still of the opinion that he needs to lay off that floater.
  • Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas writes about the respect the Mavs have for this Spurs team: “The Mavs simply have too much respect for Gregg Popovich’s team to get their britches in a bunch about Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili taking off Game 82. Plus, the Mavs are much more concerned about preparing for Game 1. “
  • Angry Trey shared this video with us Mavs fans, from the 16th President of the United States
  • And in case you were wondering, my first round predictions (in the West) are Lakers in 6, Jazz in 5, Suns in 6 and Mavs in 6…..which isn’t very brave of me at all.

Grapevine cont’d, by Mahoney:

  • Rick Carlisle has been named the Western Conference Coach of the Month according to a release from the team. It’s the first time a Mavs coach has won the award since Avery Johnson nabbed it in February of 2007.
  • From Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) on Twitter: “Ed Stefanski interviewed Dwane Casey twice last year and source close to Sixers GM says ‘He loved him.’ Philly may have to move fast should it want to hire Casey this time, because sources say he’s moved to top of Clippers search. OKC almost hired Casey over PJ Carlesimo.”
  • Shawn Marion manages to crack out the “that’s what’s up” “it’s on” and “it is what it is” trinity. Not in one scrum, but one after another in a single sentence.
  • Yahoo’s John Ludden has an excellent piece in Manu Ginobili: “Looking back, maybe it was foolish to question him. Through his eight years in San Antonio, Ginobili had lifted the Spurs through all those end-of-game, pressure-cooker moments. Resurrecting himself might have been his greatest comeback yet. It took five months, but he has again made believers of them all, and that explains more than anything why the Spurs decided to give him a contract extension that will pay nearly $40 million over the next three years. When Ginobili’s healthy, when he’s playing as he has over the past couple months, isn’t anything possible?”