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.
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 Miller: 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.