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.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
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.
Photo by Dustin Chapman.
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.
Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.
Box Score — Play-By-Play — Shot Chart — GameFlow
“We live in the present, we dream of the future and we learn eternal truths from the past.”
-Madame Chiang Kai-Shek
It wasn’t a blow-out, but that was some kind of victory. Err, at least I think it was.
Again, my duties as a full-time blogger and part-time intramural basketballer came into direct conflict, and the final IM game of the season prevented me from watching the second half. By now, you guys know the drill: fill in the blanks. What did the Mavs do to lockdown Roger Mason in the 2nd? It looks like Dampier played some swell defense on Duncan, but does the box score deceive me? What on earth got into Josh Howard?
Here are my thoughts from the footage of the game that I did actually see:
It wouldn’t be right if I started with anyone but Josh Howard (29 points, 10-15 FG, 4-5 3FG, 7 rebounds). He was grimacing notably in the first half as he trotted up and down the court, but his bum ankle didn’t prevent him from being assertive with his moves or consistent with his shooting stroke. Just the fact that he played sent a message, and going off for 12 straight Maverick points in the first quarter blared that message through a megaphone. The new-old Josh isn’t having a ‘coming-out party,’ (he’s been playing active, focused basketball for a few games now), but it’s good to reap the benefits of a flashback Josh performance against our old friends the Spurs.
Erick Dampier (9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks) really does a great job of playing Tim Duncan (19 points, 7-21 FG, -10 [+/-]) on a regular basis. A team as thin up front as the Mavs is never going to come close to shackling Duncan, but going back to 2006 Damp’s efforts have been admirable. Sometimes it looks like he’s not aggressive, but in truth, Damp employs a combination of solid fundamental defense, brute strength, and a conscious desire to avoid putting Duncan on the foul line. Dampier finished with 4 blocks for the night, and though the defense didn’t pick up until after the first quarter, it was a great effort…from my understanding.
Roger Mason. My goodness. There was a point in the first half where I wasn’t worried about Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, but how on earth the Mavs were going to stop the pick-and-pop with Kurt Thomas and Roger Mason. I wish I were kidding. Dirk, Brandon Bass, and Jason Terry were all doing a miserable job on that front defensively, and Mason and Thomas just would not miss their midrange looks. Credit to Rick Carlisle; the defensive execution improved dramatically out of seemingly every timeout. The rotations improved, screens were hedged, and all seemed right with the world. That said, I’d like to see a better defensive effort from Jason Terry. The way Roger Mason used and abused him in the first 2 quarters is inexcusable, and if that’s the way he’s going to play Manu Ginobili, we wouldn’t stand a chance.
Thank you, Jason Kidd. We all know that you’re not going to stop Tony Parker, and you probably won’t even come close. But if you can produce like you did last night against the better point guards of the league (17 points, 6-10 FG, 3-5 3FG, 9 assists, 7 rebounds), the effects of your counterpart’s production are softened. Parker did score 37 points, but that 37 points is less meaningful than if Kidd had another 6-4-5 night.
GOLD STAR OF THE NIGHT: The Gold Star of the Night goes to…Dirk Nowitzki? Erick Dampier? Jason Kidd? Josh Howard? Rick Carlisle? Aww hell, this one goes to everyone. A great team effort to pull out a close win against a good Spurs team, and a great momentum-builder going into New Orleans tonight.
The San Antonio Spurs visit the Dallas Mavericks
Well, hello again, Spurs.
The Mavs have gotten plenty of second chances, and deserved about a quarter of them. Tonight they’ll get another, when they get crack at the Spurs and attempt to save some face after their latest embarassment. Cuban is pissed, Carlisle is pissed, and I sure hope that each player is taking it personally.
It’s definitely a good thing that Duncan, Ginobili, and co. are closer to full-strength. We’ve learned not to take any win for granted (see Oklahoma City Thunder sans Durant and Green). My one singular hope for this game is that if Timmy and Manu are thrown into the mix, the Mavs will show. Maaaaaaavericks, come out to plaaaaaaaay. Something like that.
I don’t think a win is enough. A good thrashing would be welcome, or at the very least a solid victory backed by consistent effort. No more taking halves off, or quarters off, or defensive sequences off. There’s been enough procrastinating this season, and it’s time for the Mavs to buckle down if they plan to amount for anything. Mark Cuban insists that this team has the talent to win in the playoffs, and if that’s true they need to show it. Or maybe just show that they can take a very important game against a division rival seriously. Is that so much to ask?
Semi-related: I’ve been exchanging emails with Chip Crain from 3 Shades of Blue over this post that I linked to yesterday, and one of the topics of discussion has been the Mavs’ blueprint for success. It’s no secret that the Mavs were a team constructed with the sole purpose of beating the Spurs. Based on the success San Antonio has enjoyed, I don’t think that’s a crazy proposition; as recently as last season (and possibly even this season), the “road to the championship went through San Antonio.” But when Pau Gasol was traded to L.A., all of that changed. Phoenix and Dallas both freaked out, and as a result the Suns went ‘big’ in terms of style of play and salary commitments, and Dallas went ‘big’ in terms of reputation and supposed impact. You don’t need me to remind you what we gave up so Kidd could get his kicks on I-75, but along with Harris we surrendered our tunnel vision on the Spurs. The Lakers became the new team to beat, and the new barometer for success. These match-ups with SanAn are where we feel Harris’ absence more than ever, and that ghost will haunt the Mavs until they find a true replacement to give Tony Parker nightmares. Just something to keep in mind as Parker inevitably blows by Kidd to the basket about a dozen times.
The Dallas Mavericks visit the San Antonio Spurs
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?
The moment we’ve all been waiting for, in which Dirk Nowitzki is denied yet another shot to start in February’s All-Star Game. For the longest time it was Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, but now the story has completely changed: the last known poll results placed Dirk at 5th behind Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Ron Artest. Yikes. I’ve got no qualms with Duncan making the game (other than the fact that, y’know, the Spurs are the antithesis of all that is good in the world), and Anthony has had a stellar season for a good Nuggets team. But seeing Dirk trailing Stoudemire’s self-promoted voting campaign that oozed arrogance while missing out on the charm of the similar campaign a year ago by Chris Bosh…it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Artest plays for the Rockets, so that’s that.
(Addendum: Word is that Stoudemire’s got it. Oh, but nevermind the fact that he’s been relaxing and putting his feet up on D and somehow actually looks disinterested on offense. Besides those things, he’s been awesome.)
But at least two prominent voices in the internet basketball world gave Dirk his due; J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas of The Basketball Jones both chose Dirk for one of the two starting forward positions, and Skeets even selected Jason Terry as a reserve. Respect.
The moral of the story is: don’t hold your breath for tonight’s announcement. I’m not saying Dirk doesn’t deserve it (hell, I’d pick him), but ze German hardly wins any popularity contests.