No Game Is an Island: The Long and Winding Road

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 24, 2009 under Previews | 7 Comments to Read

The Dallas Mavericks visit the San Antonio Spurs
7:30 CST

I’m not sure what to make of Mavs-Spurs anymore.

The 2006 playoff series remains my favorite that I have ever witnessed.  The history between these two teams over the last decade is undeniable, even if the Spurs have always acted like they have an older brother complex with the Mavs.  The games this year between the two have been incredibly entertaining.  But where are the sparks?

This could be an incredible case of imposing my own view of the “rivalry” onto the teams, but I just don’t pick up the same vibe.  The energy is there, but it’s on a completely different wavelength.  As the Spurs have aged slowly and now find themselves trying to sneak into the backdoor of championship contention, and as the Mavs have dropped off greatly from the 2006 days, has the matchup lost its mystique?

Tim Duncan used to be the enemy.  Now, while I still hate the palms-up “Who, ME?!” foul reactions, I respect him as the greatest power forward to ever play the game.  Tony Parker is still there, but for some reason I find him much less irritating.  Manu Ginobili is still there (although he’s injured for tonight’s game), is sometimes sickeningly good, and…yeah, I still hate him.

It could be any number of factors, really.  I’ve liked Roger Mason since last season and the dude has ice water in his veins.  His work ethic is amazing, and in classic “root for the underdog” fashion, I can appreciate how far he’s come to get to SanAn.  I would have preferred if Michael Finley hadn’t gone to our division rivals after the Mavs cut him loose, but I’ll never forget his work as a pillar of this franchise’s legitimacy.  George Hill is a likable rookie from a small-time school that’s actually two schools sharing one campus.  I would never say that I like the Spurs, but I’m just not sure that I hate them anymore.

With most of the headliners static and a few new faces, there is one name that is conspicuously absent from the Spurs’ success this season: Bruce Bowen.  The vicegrip that Bowen once had on the wings of the league has loosened considerably, as a function of his reduced role and reduced abilities.  He can still hit the corner three that makes your head sink into your hands and your shoulders slump, but his relative fall into irrelevance is both cause for the Spurs’ defensive fall-off and my growing indifference towards the franchise.

What was it that characterized the Spurs as the NBA’s evil and necessarily juxtaposed them opposite of the white knight Mavericks?  And, more importantly, why has the dynamic changed?  Is it the fall of a dynastic titan or the gradual disappearance of villanous basketball’s poster boy?