- Can the Mavs beat the Lakers? A definitive answer from within the Dallas organization.
- Erick Dampier is making his list and checking it twice. Certain to be considered: Miami and Houston. A possible surprise: Atlanta. I’ve heard Utah may be interested as well, but I haven’t the faintest idea if there’s any reciprocation.
- Josh Howard, on why the Wizards “took a gamble” on him for the coming season, and how the Wizards stack up with Howard’s former teams in terms of talent (via HoopsHype): “[The Wizards] see a natural-born leader. They got a guy that loves to win games, loves to play, has a total enjoyment for the game… I appreciate that they gave me the chance and I will take advantage of it...Oh, talent-wise the sky is the limit for this team. It’s a young team. Blatche, McGee, Nick Young, No. 1 pick John Wall and a host of other guys. These guys have tremendous upside. If we stay focused and stay dedicated to the game, the sky is the limit for them. I think that’s one other reason they brought me in here – to be a leader. I think I can take those guys on the right path.”
- Mike Prada of Bullets Forever takes a look forward at what’s in store for Howard over the coming season.
- Here, you can cast your vote for the top Mavs of all time at each traditional position, but the race has long been decided: Steve Nash, Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Dirk Nowitzki, and Roy Tarpley should win-out easily. There are other good candidates — Michael Finley, Derek Harper, and Jason Kidd among them, but those five were clear favorites from the tip. (EDIT: I stand corrected. Finley has surged to take the lead at SG. I love Fin, and I’m still shocked.)
- For a journey down the other path, Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider, a fellow contributor at Hardwood Paroxysm, and one of the invaluable minds at HoopData, has identified the five worst statistical tenures for players of each and every team. Dallas’ bottom five: Devean George (’07-’09), Scott Lloyd (’81-’83), Darrell Armstrong (’05-’06), Bill Wennington (’86-’90), and Elston Turner (’82-’84). My initial reaction: isn’t there any way we could come up with a harsher distinction than “worst Maverick ever” for George? My secondary reaction: Armstrong doesn’t deserve to be on this list at all, if for no other reason than the role he played in the Mavs’ comeback, overtime win against the Toronto Raptors in February of 2006.
- Haberstroh also continued his fine series exploring the statistical implications of position on HP, and it’s worth your time.
- According to a report by Sport97, Jessie Begarin, a Guadaloupean and participant in Rodrigue Beaubois’ camp, was invited to tryout with the Texas Legends and his since been invited to Mavericks training camp. If this report is indeed true, you could be looking at a future Legend (capital L, y’all). (via DOH at Mavs Moneyball) EDIT: According to Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com, the Mavs/Legends don’t have any plans for Begarin after all.
- Akis Yerocostas conducted an interesting exercise at his blog, Pick and Scroll, in which he launched a hypothetical expansion draft. I was consulted as an unofficial representative of the Mavs, in order to choose which players to “protect” for the purposes of the draft. See who I selected and who he ended up drafting here.
- Tim Thomas, on his wife’s health (via Earl K. Sneed): “She’s healthy, she’s getting better. I don’t want people to think that she’s on her deathbed. I just want everybody to know we’re doing fine. She’s doing better. Who knows, if she gets better then maybe I’ll give it another try.”
- This commercial for NBA 2k11 has nothing to do with the Mavs whatsoever, but is glorious nonetheless. Plus, the 2k series makes a mean game, to boot.
- Rodrigue Beaubois goes shopping…at the MavGear headquarters.
- Former Maverick Malik Allen will go to training camp with the Orlando Magic this season.
Maverick fans are fervent in their defense of Dirk Nowitzki, typically merciless in their examinations of Jason Terry’s weaknesses, and frequently enraged at the idea that J.J. Barea could take even a minute of playing time away from Rodrigue Beaubois. There are charged responses abound regarding a number of Dallas players, and yet no Maverick — not even Nowitzki — could trump the emotional pull of Josh Howard. Josh simply had a hold of the Dallas fan base in ways that are difficult to describe or fully understand, and from Draft day, 2003 to his eventual exile, Howard took the Maverick faithful on a hell of a ride. It wasn’t just to the NBA Finals and back; a portrait of Josh Howard the Mav would be properly painted in shades of gray, the same shades he wore so well through every stellar game, every off-court incident, and every questionable decision.
He didn’t need hijinks to be polarizing. Howard did that all on his own.
Zac Crain did a terrific job of capturing what it was that made Josh Howard Josh Howard over on FreeDarko last week, and that piece, like so many other thoughts and views of Howard, has been doing laps inside my skull. The fact that Crain used Mike Finley as a mechanism with which to view and understand Howard is even more confounding to me, as I’ve long considered Finley to be one of the more deeply flawed yet still sympathetic figures in Mavericks lore.
All of this is to say that Josh Howard throws me for a bit of a loop. I’m not entirely sure how to make sense of his time in Dallas (his inclusion on lists of the all-time Mavericks seems so wrong and about right), but I’m glad that Crain can.
- Kevin Arnovitz on the ongoing Clipper coaching interviews, which haven’t wrapped as quickly as anticipated: “[Dwane] Casey was thought to be the initial favorite, but a strong performance by Del Negro in the interview process tightened the horse race. According to sources, Del Negro surprised the Clippers with the blueprint he presented to management, specifically his level of organization and his plans for player development. Casey, who has long been on the Clippers’ radar, delivered precisely what the brass expected from a sharp, serious tactician. Despite his best efforts, Casey’s firm grasp of the game and his strong schematic vision for the Clippers weren’t enough to separate him from Del Negro.”
- From the fine creator of “The ‘Bron ‘Bron Song (C’mon LeBron)”, Ben Rogers, comes a new chart-topping number: “DFW Digs Dirk.” If you dig DFW digging Dirk, be sure to let him know @benandskin.
- Omar Samhan dispenses some Twitter wisdom.
- A flimsy suggestion that the Mavs’ pre and post-game shows on TXA21 could change for next season.
- Though Joe Johnson was seriously weighing offers from the Knicks and the Bulls before accepting a max deal with the Hawks, he apparently didn’t give the Mavs serious consideration. Even if Joe wasn’t your personal choice for an off-season score, this is not a good thing.
- Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston grades Michael Finley’s short season with the Celtics.
- Mike Miller has been thrown around as a potential MLE target, but such a signing would be very ill-advised. Though Dallas does need to clean up the shooting guard position in a general sense, signing Miller to a sizable deal makes very little sense at this point in his career. Not necessarily because he’s aging, but simply because Mike has elected to take his most beneficial skill, douse it in gasoline, and set it on fire. Tom Ziller explains: “For the first eight seasons of his NBA career, he was a great scorer, able to fill the bucket from range consistently. If you had a guard taking 10 or 15 shots a night, you wanted it to be someone as deadly efficient as Miller. But that was, essentially, Miller’s only elite skill. He was an average rebounder, an efforted but often overmatched defender and an only slightly effective passer. He shot, and well, and that’s all you really wanted. Everything changed when Miller was traded to Minnesota in 2008. He went from a deadly gunner to a … wannabe Scottie Pippen? A performance artist protesting the commodization of his pure stroke? I just don’t know.”
I’m a guy who believes in success based in merit. Call it a bit of sweeping Americanism in me; if you work hard and deserve something, you’re bound to get it. It’s the reason I’m sickened every time a former NBA player is handed a coaching or managing job he doesn’t deserve, or every time a player is given a roster spot or a role based on name and not on play.
But in this case, I can hardly afford to be so reasonable, and if you’ve been a fan of the Mavs for more than a decade, you should probably feel the same way.
Michael Finley, through some bizarre overestimation of his basketball value at his advanced age, asked to be released from the Spurs and was granted his wish. I’m not precisely sure what Fin thinks he can offer a team considering his career-lows in almost every, single category based on every, single standard, but Mike is on the hunt for a contending teams looking for his services. The Celtics are rumored to be interested in signing Finley for the rest of the season, and I’m sure that Fin will draw at least cursory interest elsewhere.
But should the other contending teams take a look and pass on Finley, the Mavs should do an old friend a favor.
There would be no reason for him to play, and in that regard I’m sure Mike would be disappointed. The whole point of this endeavor into free agency was to find an opportunity to contribute to a team, not just ride coattails. I’m just not sure that Fin’s capable of that anymore, and unless a team desperate for wing depth sincerely thinks otherwise, it’s entirely possible that Mike will only have playoff also-rans to choose from.
Finley deserves better. And should he come into that position, Donnie Nelson should sincerely rethink his stance on standing pat with his current roster. It has less to do with “mess[ing] with what [the Mavs] have,” or giving Finley actual minutes. But if Michael is faced with the reality of settling for a fringe playoff team that could use a veteran or free agent limbo, what’s the harm in using the final roster spot to bring Finley along for the ride? Nelson has already made it clear that he has no interest in signing D-League standout Dwayne Jones, or Timberwolves castoff Mark Blount. That’s fine, provided Nelson believes this team honestly has enough depth at center. But if the last roster spot is to remain open going into the playoffs, picking up Fin could be a nice gesture toward a franchise savior.
It would be filling out the roster by way of relatively useless spending, but this is Michael Finley. He helped to rescue the Mavericks from the dredges of the league and push them into the playoffs. He was an integral part of some of the most important Mavs teams of all time, and dropped countless memories along the way. He was a true professional, and though stepping aside to allow Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash take more prominent roles was never easy for him, his attitude was never the problem.
Mark Cuban cut Finley loose as a way of saving money with the one-time, Allan Houston exception. He went to the surest team to win a title, which at the time was the San Antonio Spurs. Since then, he’s hit shots, been booed in Dallas, been punched in the groin, won a ring, and now, has been cut loose to hopefully get the chance to win another. Should another opportunity present itself, that chance should come with the Mavs. Not because of an obligation or foolish notion that Finley can still produce on an NBA-level, but as a nod to one of the greatest stars this franchise has ever seen.
The ESPNDallas crew put together a list of the top 10 Mavericks of the decade, and here are their rankings:
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Steve Nash
- Michael Finley
- Jason Terry
- Josh Howard
- Nick Van Exel
- Jason Kidd
- Devin Harris
- Jerry Stackhouse
- Erick Dampier
I’m a bit lost as to the criteria used, though. If it’s the out-and-out best players (talent and production-wise) to play for the Mavs in the 2000s, Jason Kidd seems slighted. If it’s based on production in a Maverick uniform this decade, Jason Terry may not be getting the respect he deserves. And if it’s based on…well, whatever metric puts Nick Van Exel (who make no mistake is one of my personal favorites in team history) ahead of Jason Kidd, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier, then that explains that. This just seems like an exercise where you need to take talent, production, and Maverick tenure all into account, and with that in mind the order seems a bit scrambled.
It’s not an easy list to compile. We can all agree that Dirk stands at the top of the list, with Steve Nash a perfectly acceptable second fiddle. But where do you go from there? Michael Finley is the best scorer of the bunch, Jason Terry kept the Mavs afloat sans Nash and has a Finals appearance under his belt, and Jason Kidd is probably the best of the remaining crop despite his short tenure. After that, you’ve got some combination of Josh Howard, Devin Harris, and Erick Dampier, three Mavs that were absolutely instrumental to the team’s success during the most successful stretch this decade, and each contributing in unique ways that only sometimes show up on the stat sheet (scoring balance, change-of-pace potential, interior defense). Only then do I get to Jerry Stackhouse and Nick Van Exel, but with DeSagana Diop, Antawn Jamison, and MARQUIS DANIELS getting some consideration.
Sound off in the comments, because I’m curious to hear everyone’s take on this. What’s the best way to go about ranking the decade’s Mavs? And given those criteria, who’veyagot?
“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time.”
-Arnold H. Glasgow
Regardless of how you dress yesterday’s game up with requiems for the Spurs, tie-ins for near-Spurs Jason Kidd and Josh Howard, or woeful depictions of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan as isolated heroes, one singular fact reigns supreme over all else: the Mavs are 3-1 against the Spurs. Oh, happy day.
Tony Parker (43 points 18-29 FG) and Tim Duncan (25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) were nothing short of spectacular, and for once, it wasn’t enough. Throughout the regular season, the Mavs seemed to lack the firepower to stay competitive without big nights from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry. But in this game and in this series, Dallas has done just that. A complete performance from a supporting cast rumored to be limited…the Mavs may no longer be the Spurs by design, but this type of balanced performance has Spurs written all over it.
Due to my, shall we say, unique viewing experience, it’s probably best to defer to the wise words of others.
“The Spurs led the Western Conference in 3-point precision this season, but in a playoff game in which point guard Tony Parker and power forward Tim Duncan needed some help at the offensive end, the team’s ordinarily accurate long-range shooters came up short, long and sideways. The Spurs made only 6 of 23 3-pointers Saturday. Parker made two, and George Hill went 2 for 2. Matt Bonner, who finished eighth in 3-point accuracy at 44 percent, missed all three shots from beyond the arc. Roger Mason Jr., 15th in regular-season accuracy at 42.1 percent, missed both of his. Ime Udoka launched two and missed both. Michael Finley, who shot 41.1 in the regular season, missed four of five. His final long-range attempt, with the Spurs trailing by seven with 36.5 seconds left, got wedged between the basket and the backboard, a fitting, frozen moment that epitomized the long-distance frustration. ‘Me, personally, they all felt good and looked good,’ said Bonner, scoreless for the second time in four games of the series. ‘I felt they were all going in, but they all rattled out.’”
-Mike Monroe, San Antonio Express-News
“I was very disappointed with [the Spurs'] shot selection during the closing stretch. After Michael Finley made a technical free throw with 4:20 left on the clock, the Spurs were down 92-87. After Tony Parker missed 2 free throws with 3:47 left on the clock (and still down by 5), the Spurs took 8 field goal attempts. All 8 were 3-point attempts. Only 1 was made. It was completely unnecessary for the Spurs to begin heaving up outside shots. [The Spurs] needed stops on the defensive end and penetration on the offensive end. [They] produced neither.”
-Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell
“Dirk Nowitzki is nearly 10 points below his season scoring average in the playoffs – and the Dallas Mavericks are still on the verge of easily advancing. ‘People may say Dirk’s not scoring enough, but Dirk is playing the game the right way. Playing patient, not taking any bad shots,’ Dallas guard Jason Kidd said. ‘I don’t think he has to score 30 for us to try to win. You can see that in this series.’ Or even 20.”
“Tony was unstoppable for most of this game, on offense. He was 18-29 for 43 points, and had 4 steals. And that’s what went right for him. As the game went on, however, Tony became something of a liability. He had 31 points and 3 assists at the half. He finished the game with 43 points and 3 assists – that’s right, ZERO assists in the second half. What’s more, he started to turn the ball over. This is not to say it was all Tony’s fault, though. He set up Ime, Findog, Mason and Bonner multiple times, but they couldn’t hit the 3. If those guys are making shots, Tony probably gets a double-double and doesn’t have to wear himself out trying to win the game on his own. Also, in the second half, he wasn’t even trying to get a hand in Kidd’s face on 3-point attempts. Kidd was 3-7 on those tonight, and at least two of his makes(by my count) were in that second half with Tony just standing there and watching.”
-rikkido, Pounding the Rock
“But it wasn’t just The Others who created a situation that puts the Mavs up 3-1 in this best-of-seven series (with a Tuesday road chance to close this out and advance to Round 2 for the first time since the 2006 Finals). It was The Everybodies. Josh Howard drew plaudits from both locker rooms for his assertive path to 28 points. He made seven of his 14 shots and three of his six 3’s. But the proof of his style in is his other path, the one to the free-throw line. Howard plowed his way to the basket with enough frequency that he earned 13 visits there. And he made 11 of those. ‘Josh was great,’ Jason Kidd said.”
-Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com
“Jason Kidd was superb. I have said it before and I will say it again. There are two ways to look at trades, and one is ‘the future’. But the other, ‘the present’ should not be completely ignored. And in the present, there is no question in my head that he has made this a better Mavericks team. I know that won’t help you feel better about 2011, but Jason Kidd has provided such a higher basketball IQ for the squad it is not even funny. He is a basketball genius from the way he thinks the game. He defends with his head, he takes the ball away, he sees passes you don’t see, and I have really found it shocking how he well he shoots the wide-open shots. In this sports age where we only see what a guy doesn’t do, I would like to speak up for Jason Kidd and appreciate what he does do. I swear I have not seen a smarter player in a Mavericks uniform. He just doesn’t ever hurt you with his decisions. And when you have him, all of the sudden, some of your other players who may be less than brilliant between the ears do seem to get smarter.”
-Bob Sturm, Inside Corner
“Popovich had started Bruce Bowen in place of Roger Mason in an effort to counteract the spark J.J. Barea has given Dallas as a starter. Now Popovich is running out of games and options. The Spurs have to hope Parker and Duncan can carry them. ‘It’s obvious that’s what we need to do,’ Popovich said. ‘Those guys have to have the ball as much as possible to score. Sure, we hope that other people step up and make shots and make plays. It didn’t happen enough tonight, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.’”
-Brad Townsend, Dallas Morning News
“Ryan Hollins guarding Tim Duncan. For 19 minutes. I know Mavs followers liked the idea, and we’ve reported that Jet liked it so much he begged Carlisle to give it a shot before the start of the series. But for Carlisle to give him 19 minutes? Against Duncan? Brass ones. ‘Was I surprised?’ Duncan said, repeating a postgame question and then noting that Hollins ‘is a young buck and he is very athletic and he was all over the place.’ So. … ‘No, I was not surprised.’”
-Mike Fisher, DallasBasketball.com
Game one is in the books, and unfortunately we’re left with more questions than answers. The glass rests on the table, but whether it’s half-empty or half-full is anybody’s guess.
The Mavs were able to overcome subpar efforts from both Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry to get a win on the road. I’ve asked for little more from this team all season long, and it’s huge in terms of development and adjustment. Still, you have to be worried about what the Spurs did to JET and Dirk defensively.
On the bright side, neither player was woefully inefficient. They weren’t hoisting up prayers or hunting for looks. But Terry in particular was completely blanketed by Bruce Bowen and friends, and only attempted 8 shots in total. When was the last time Terry had less than 10 attempts? If you disregard the February 7th and March 1st games, in which Terry’s minutes were significantly limited due to injury, you have to go all the way back to November 3rd. The JET tends to get his looks one way or another, but on Saturday night he was practically handcuffed. J.J. Barea’s success could potentially have a huge impact on JET’s production, depending on Pop’s defensive adjustments. If Bowen ends up seeing time on Barea rather than Terry, it could provide JET with plenty of opportunities against the less stingy Michael Finley, Tony Parker, and Roger Mason. But, if Pop decides that Terry, the far worthier threat, deserves the Spurs’ undivided attention, the JET may have to work extra hard, look to draw fouls, or simply be content with hoisting up fewer attempts.
My thought is this: put Terry on the floor in situations where Popovich must make difficult strategic decisions. If JET, Josh Howard, and Dirk are all on the floor at the same time, who does Bruce Bowen guard? That of course depends on the rest of the Spurs’ lineup, but it would almost certainly force an inferior defender (or two) to concede points to one of the Mavs’ big scorers. It doesn’t quite afford Dirk or Josh the rest they need or ease their scoring burden, but it just might be necessary to keep the Mavs’ offense in fifth gear.
Dirk I’m not worried about. He can get shots off at any time he wants against any defender the Spurs throw at him, and was more limited by foul trouble than anything. He’ll be there when we need him most.
J.J. gives the Mavs a much-needed extra dimension in their defense against Tony Parker, but it’ll be interesting to see how a game’s worth of film changes that. Parker is a smart player and Pop is a brilliant coach; the Spurs will surely have new ways to take advantage of Barea’s height and a variety of avenues to increase Parker’s access to the lane.
What’s interesting is that the Mavs weren’t locking down on the Spurs’ shooters, as is their custom. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker typically go to work, while defenders stick with Finley, Bonner, Mason and the other shooters on the outside. It’s absolutely crucial in negating the impact of those back-breaking corner threes, and it’s something that the Mavs didn’t do very effectively in the first half of Saturday’s game. The defense focused on the corners in the second half, and Barea dug up a new way to limit San Antonio’s shooters: stifle Parker’s penetration. Drive and kick offenses rely on deep penetration to set up open shots, and Parker clearly wasn’t used to being kept up with. Barea moved his feet and got in TP’s way enough to not only limit Parker’s scoring, but also his ability to dish to the Spurs set up on the perimeter. That was the real reason why San Antonio’s offense was hindered in the second half of Saturday’s game, but to predict that Barea can repeat his performance with the same success is to ignore Popovich’s genius entirely.
I will say this: for as creative and intelligent as Gregg Poppovich is, J.J. Barea is just as relentless and tenacious. He’s never had a reputation as a defender, but the guy loves to compete. You simply don’t make it into the league at 6’0” (in heels) unless you’ve got a little Napoleon in you.
It’s also worth noting that the Spurs shot about as well as they will in this series (11-14 from deep…that’s 78.6%), including 5-5 from three for Michael Finley and 4-7 from three for Roger Mason. Both are good shooters, but to expect them to continue at that pace would be a tad ridiculous.
So should the Mavs be happy that Terry’s shots that he took went down, or disappointed that he couldn’t get many off to begin with? Should Dallas be pleased with Barea’s defense on Parker, or concerned about what will happen when Tony figures things out, as great players are wont to do?
I’ll tell you around 10 tonight.
The Official Two Man Game Official Dallas Mavericks Versus San Antonio Spurs Official Playoff Preview for the Official 2008-2009 Official Post-Season
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: I think the Mavs will win this series in six games.
Now that you know the ending, let’s see how we got there.
It’s almost frightening how little we actually have to go on for this series. The Mavs have been without Josh Howard for most of the season, and the decisive hammer of Manu Ginobili’s prolonged absence didn’t fall until late in the season. That restricts this version of the Mavs to just one single regular season contest against these Spurs. It seemed pretty meaningful around March, but does that one game really set the precedent for a series of complex strategies, extremely specific approaches, and series-long adjustments?
We shouldn’t throw out the one piece of evidence that we have on these grounds, but just don’t expect an instant replay every time out. Unless you expect Tony Parker to go for 35+, because that’s something we’re going to have to get used to.
Manu Ginobili’s injury is going to hurt the Spurs, and it’s going to hurt them a lot. But this is the playoffs, and Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Gregg Popovich are going to bring their A+ game. That’s just the way the Spurs roll. So I fully expect TP and Timmy to step up their games and almost fully compensate for Manu’s lost production. The problem lies in the fact that in doing so, they’ll have to completely force the issue, dominate the offense, and probably tire themselves out. For two teams that have a history of taking games to the wire and potentially beyond, that’s gonna be a wee bit important.
For everybody that’s hoping for Tim Duncan’s ever-so-slightly injured knee to suddenly explode, think again. I know he doesn’t have that much playoff experience under his belt, but that young man’s going to be pretty darn good some day. And you know what? Odds are he is going to blitz Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass, and whoever else is unlucky enough to guard him. That’s just how he do. The key with Duncan is to make his work as difficult as possible. Dampier isn’t an ideal match for Duncan defensively, but he’s the best we’ve got. He has to bother TD enough to sandbag that field goal percentage, put a hand in his face, and make Duncan really go to work. He’ll get his, but it won’t be easy.
With Parker, I don’t even know where to begin. Antoine Wright, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Josh Howard, and J.J. Barea will likely all get their shot, and I don’t think any will have much success. The best strategy is to try to give Parker space, and force him to make jumper after jumper. But giving a player like Parker that kind of space is pretty counterproductive. He’ll simply rear back and charge full speed ahead into the lane, using that extra space to generate the momentum to get right to the cup. Parker is a helluva finisher, and on top of that he’s a master of theatrics. It’s practically a lost cause. But what is there the Mavs can do, really? Hopefully the length of Howard and Wright can bother Parker for stretches, but I’m not counting on it. The key is to find a way to endure the onslaught, and strike back with some vigor on the offensive end. Duncan and Parker can’t do everything, and they will make mistakes. The Mavs just need to force a few extra mistakes, pressure as much as possible, and limit the contributions of the rest of the bunch. That and pray that Parker doesn’t go into God-mode.
When you look at this series, it’s easy to focus on the 2006 pieces; it’s Dirk, Josh, and JET vs. Parker and Duncan. But save a big of your attention for Jason Kidd, who just so happens to be an incredible point guard. I doubt that Kidd will have another big scoring night against the Spurs. Most of his points figure to come off of spot-up threes. But what Kidd does is open the floodgates for the Mavs that aren’t always creating for themselves. Erick Dampier is suddenly throwing down oops. J.J. Barea is getting wide open looks at threes. Brandon Bass is fed in just the right place in the post. James Singleton catches a bullet pass right under the basket. These are things often overlooked, but none of it happens without Kidd. The volume scoring is going to come from the brightest of stars, but Kidd is chipping in 6 points here and 8 points there by setting up the ‘other’ Mavs with easy buckets. Huge.
On an individual basis, let’s look at what the Spurs have defensively. Roger Mason Jr. is likely guarding Terry, Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen will take turns with Howard, and Matt Bonner/whoever else Pop digs up will draw the short straw with Dirk. How is any of that beneficial for San Antonio? Each of those three Mavs is fully capable of eclipsing their counterparts and more, and seems poised to do so based on each Spur’s defensive inadequacies. Mason is a nice player and a great shooter, but lacks the discipline to effectively hound the JET. Bowen has lost a step since he’s lost a step, and even then Howard gave him trouble. Michael Finley is Michael Finley, and try as he might, those legs are spry no longer.
The Spurs Dilemma in 2006 was this: Bruce Bowen couldn’t guard both Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard at once, and whoever was free of Bowen’s shadowing went off. Howard knew just how to attack the Spurs inside with his array of post-ups and runners, and when Bowen was switched on him, the Mavs went straight to Dirk at the elbow. This year’s model shares that in common with the Spurs of old, but with one notable exception: Bruce Bowen just isn’t the lockdown defender he used to be. If Bowen can’t significantly limit the production of one of the two, and another Spur doesn’t have unexpected defensive success, how exactly does San Antonio hope to stop the Maverick attack?
I will say this: to his credit, Matt Bonner has played Dirk unusually well. He’s big but not too strong, not particularly quick or athletic, and doesn’t seem to have any specific attributes that fit the bill for the thorn in Dirk’s side. But he doesn’t give up ground, doesn’t fall for Dirk’s fakes, and holds his own. Unfortunately for Bonner and the Spurs, that’s not enough. Without Manu storming from the stables, the Spurs will need to completely clamp down on at least one of Dallas’ big scorers. Their best shot just so happens to be against one of the most deadly and resilient scorers in the league today, and one who isn’t going to go down quietly against San Antone.
The bench play will need to be enormous if Dallas wants to take the series. J.J. has shown flashes of Devin Harris in him, exactly the kind of quick, penetrating point guard that has given the Spurs trouble in the past. Brandon Bass has the midrange shot and the quickness in the post to give Tim Duncan a headache, not to mention enough strength to bully a bit. James Singleton and Ryan Hollins will have their turn, and whatever they can offer could make for advantage – Mavs. I doubt very much that you’ll walk away saying that Brandon Bass won or lost this series, but that doesn’t make his contributions any less important. These two teams have such incredible players at the top that they’ll trade blow for blow all series long. Establishing and reaping the benefits of the players farther down the chain of command is where the series could very well be decided. Of course that could very well work against the Mavs, if the Spurs can get their peripherals in a groove and negate the impact of the Mavs’ reserves. In J.J. and Bass we trust.
The Mavs have to hope that home court advantage doesn’t come into effect. Take care of business at home, and steal some momentum on the road. A potential game seven would be where everything favors the Spurs: an army of clutch performers, one of the best strategists and motivators in the game, and a roaring home crowd. I’m not sure the Mavs would be able to overcome. But if all goes according to plan, it hopefully won’t have to come to that.
Pop’s impact cannot be denied. I’ve got nothing for respect for the Spurs’ ringleader, and am sincerely jealous of his beard-growing abilities. But for just one second, let’s show Rick Carlisle some love. Carlisle has shown exactly the kind of creativity and adaptability that every team should want of its coach, and what he’s lacked in motivational polish he’s made up for in his willingness to try anything and everything to get the Mavs a win. He’s not Popovich. His ring-less fingers make that painfully apparent. But Carlisle is no scrub. He knows what he’s doing, he’s been here before, and he draws one mean out-of-bounds play. The coaching advantage undoubtedly goes San Antonio’s way, but the margin may be slight enough to have its impact discounted.
Carlisle (and the rest of the Mavs staff, notably Darrell Armstrong) will have quite a task in managing Josh Howard’s…situation. Howard hasn’t shown any signs of reverting to his jumpshot-happy self, but Carlisle needs to ensure that it stays that way. Howard’s understanding of his role in the offense will be absolutely paramount if the Mavs are going to make it out of this series alive, and that requires Josh and the coaching staff to be fully in sync, from head to ankle. Health is only a subplot. Howard is going to be slightly limited, and that’s something the Mavs will have to deal with. Off-days in between games will nurse tender joints, and there’s nothing an ice pack, a band-aid, and some good ol’ fashioned aspirin can’t fix, right?
Making playoff picks is tough because there are so many internal forces at work. But for once, my job seems easy. My gut, my heart, and my head are all telling me Mavs in six. The series is close enough to be a toss-up, but every force in this universe tells me the Mavs are going to pull it out. File these thoughts away as the delusions of a Mavs fan if you’d like, but I’ve got a feeling. And a thought. And an instinct. All together that has to amount for something.
Once a Mav, always a Mav, apparently. When I was finally able to check in on the box score of the San Antonio-New Orleans game, the Spurs were down five points with just 47 seconds left. Sigh. So I pushed my laptop away a bit, only to check in a few minutes later to find the Spurs, with possession, down just three. Mavs-Rockets was still too competitive to flip away from, so I was left hanging on a refreshing box score window.
Then, all of a sudden, I heard my phone vibrate. And I knew.
The Spurs had done it.
I changed channels to see the replay, a smooth Finley three off of a well designed play by Popovich. It seems like a lifetime since Michael Finley has been a Maverick, but with that shot, he gave a lot of Mavs fans exactly what they wanted: a first round date with the San Antonio Spurs, for better or worse. Thanks for everything, Fin.
- Please. Please. Please. Put Gerald Green in the 2010 dunk contest.
- Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell has some love for Michael Finley after last night’s game, and he better, after that flashback of a performance: “No discussion of this evening’s game would be complete without a brief mention of Michael Finley, who nailed three straight 3-pointers in the 4th to put the game solidly out of reach. Finley may not be the scorer he once was, but he plays with an air of grizzled malice that I continue to appreciate. He remains a fearless contributor, and although his fearlessness is just as likely to produce misguided fadeaways as it is dagger 3s, I do love the stern sense of pride he emits when his shot is dropping (I’m going to ignore the fact that, if you take away Finley’s 4 3-pointers on 4 attempts, the Spurs were 2 of 16 from beyond the arc).”
- How exactly does a cast of Kurt Thomas, Matt Bonner, and Fabricio Oberto manage to handcuff one of the premier offensive talents in the league? Mike Fisher breaks it down: “I believe during the telecast Mark and Bob mentioned something about Dirk being ‘in a war,’ a compliment to SA’s rugged defense. And after the game, Dirk noted all the double-teams he faced. I’m sure they’re right, but I’ll tell you what I saw: A journeyman in Kurt Thomas squaring up with Dirk and surviving it. A complete stiff like Bonner (hehe, I said “stiff’’ and “bonner’’) playing ball denial and Nowitzki and the Mavs finding no solution for it. Fabio getting in his face, one-on-one, and Dirk not being able to spring free.”
- Thank you, David Moore, for allowing us all a sigh of relief. From the Dallas Morning News: “But when New York reached a buyout agreement with its petulant star Tuesday, the Mavericks never discussed adding him to the roster. The decision had nothing to do with reports that Marbury is destined to land in Boston. It had everything to do with the improved play of J.J. Barea. ‘We looked at it early in the season,’ owner Mark Cuban said of pursuing Marbury if he were released. ‘But J.J. is playing a whole lot better.’” With Barea’s play of late, he deserves it. He does tend to force the action on occasion, but his helter skelter, penetration-heavy style is a nice contrast to the passivity the rest of the team comes to embody from time to time.
- Rick Carlisle shares our displeasure with last night’s efforts. Via David Moore of the Dallas Morning News: ‘About 42 minutes of a [butt]-kicking…We threw about six, tough minutes at them in the second quarter. The rest of the time, they dominated the game with their disposition and how they played.’
- Mark Cuban refuses to let sleeping dogs lie, and decided to rip into SanAn’s premier attraction once again: “‘Now that they’re cleaning it up, my next project is to tell them they need to put up those little aluminum things to keep people from falling in,’ Cuban said before his team played the Spurs. ‘Maybe I’ll start a website, Ifellintheriverwalk.com to find out how many people have fallen in and what has happened to them. I just want to know. Send me your pictures to Ifellintheriverwalk.com.” For what it’s worth, he’s right. And for what it’s worth, the Mavs made sure that the Riverwalk wasn’t the only thing in San Antonio that was “ugly-ass” last night.
Dirk did an interview with Five Magazine. Here are some highlights from Part 1:
- On why he works so hard to improve his game every summer: “…That’s what makes it a challenge, playing away from your weaknesses or attacking those of your opponents. That’s what makes a team sport attractive. Finding a way to win despite your own weaknesses is important. But, sure it’s bitter sometimes when a teammate doesn’t invest the necessary time. The best example was Shawn Bradley. He would some times come to training camp and not had a ball in his hands for four months. But what can you do? There is no rule. Everyone needs to figure out for themselves how to stay fit.” (Emphasis mine.)
- On the possibility of missing the post-season: “Not even reaching the playoffs? I am too old for that now. And Mark Cuban and General Manager Donnie Nelson know that. I cannot imagine us making any moves which would cost us a spot in the playoffs. We still have a playoff-caliber team. And even if things absolutely do not work out with Kidd, I cannot imagine that we would drastically make the team younger as long as I’m in Dallas.”
- On the notion that he may never win a title: “I saw an interesting interview with Charles Barkely. He was talking about his career and said he can’t blame himself because he always gave 100 percent. That’s how I see it. I have given my all for the last 10 years in Dallas. And if that’s not enough, I can’t do anything else. Then at 35, 36 – however long I can go – I can retire and say: “In the summer and winter I gave everything I had for my team.” Unfortunately not everybody can win. But I hope that I can still fulfill my dream in the future.”
- On his basketball future: “Of course it would be more exciting to do it in Dallas and being the franchise player. The best thing would be me carrying the team to the title. But the other teams have gotten so strong, also through some unfair trades – Pau Gasol to Los Angeles and Kevin Garnett to Boston. Maybe I will see if it helps changing teams in like three years. Maybe it won’t be fun any more or I can’t keep up with the athleticism anymore. Maybe I will play in Europe again. I can imagine all of that. What Karl Malone did back then – heading to L.A. after all those years in Utah – yeah it was a little questionable. But when you want the championship so bad, then you can’t rule out a move like that.”