Mavs Playoff Preview
First, the good news: the Dallas Mavericks are returning to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, marking this the 13th time in 14 years Dirk and the Mavs have qualified for post season play. Now the bad news: after a loss to Memphis Wednesday, Dallas dropped to the eighth seed and now has to head to San Antonio to face the ageless dynasty that is the Spurs.
Both franchises are finding themselves in an unprecedented era of success. In fact, over the past 10 years, the Spurs and the Mavs are number one and two in overall NBA win percentage. This series will be the 6th post season meeting for the two franchises with San Antonio taking 3 of the last 5 (most recently in 2010).
Do the Mavericks have a chance to pull off the upset? No, almost certainly not. But then again, there weren’t a whole lot of Maverick believers at the beginning of the season and here we are. The playoffs write their own narrative and anything is possible. Since the NBA playoffs expanded in the early 80s, there have been four 8 over 1 seed upsets. The most recent two instances were in 2007 (Golden State over Dallas) and 2011 (Memphis over San Antonio). It can be done.
3 Quick Points:
-The Raptors loss Wednesday ensured that Dallas would finish the season with a better record than Toronto (49 wins opposed to 48). The fact that Dallas, the eighth seed in the West, finished with a better record than the 3-seed Raptors, tells you all you need to know about this year’s Eastern Conference. It also means that Dallas will ship off its draft pick to Oklahoma City and finally wash their hands of the Lamar Odom disaster.
Why Dallas will win:
Dirk Werner Nowitzki. It has often been said that the two attributes an NBA player never loses is height and shooting touch. People say it a lot because it’s true, and no one in the world benefits from this truth more than Dirk. The playoffs is where Dirk made a name for himself and you’re a fool if you think the 7-foot wunderkind from Wurzburg has run out of magic.
This wasn’t the team he was supposed to be surrounded with (it’s about one Deron Williams and one Dwight Howard short), but Dirk’s never had the luxury of superstar sidekicks in his 15-year tenure. He’s always won with players like Antawn Jamison, Jason Terry and Josh Howard. Heck, he even convinced the Timberwolves that J.J. Barea was worth a 4-years and $18 million. Nowitzki opens up the floor for his teammates and his improvements in the passing game over his career has allowed him to take full advantage of what the defense gives him. He makes everyone on the floor better (at least offensively).
The next biggest reason Dallas could pull off the upset is the misfit factor. I wrote at the beginning of the season that I believed in this Mavericks team because they were built with cast-off and unwanted parts. I think there’s some real poetry in that. Monta Ellis has discredited his critics by posting his most efficient season since he helped Don Nelson’s 2007 Golden State squad upset the number one seeded Dallas Mavericks. He’s proven he can take over games, knocking down a cold-blooded game winner in Portland early on and ranking 2nd in league in 4th quarter scoring over the final two weeks of the season (behind only Kevin Durant). Vince Carter has transformed himself into a highly effective 6th man, and Shawn Marion has found a way to make his unorthodox game even weirder by hoisting an innumerable amount of arching floaters from all over the floor while still continuing to guard all five positions. Devin Harris has returned to Dallas (and from an off season foot injury) to provide speed, veteran leadership, and the closest thing the Mavs have to a perimeter defender (not named Shawn Marion). Orchestrating this whole freak show is Rick Carlisle, a mad genius that somehow fails to get the credit he’s due for his ability to mix and match lineups that put players in the best position to succeed.
Oh, and the Mavericks can shoot. Teams that can shoot always have a chance to heat up and make a run (see last year’s Golden State team).
Why San Antonio will win:
If the Spurs have any real weaknesses, it’s speed and athleticism. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do Dallas any favors. The only real speed Dallas has comes in the form of Monta Ellis and Devin Harris. But Monta has struggled against San Antonio this season. Why? Because slashers like Ellis make plays by getting to the basket and causing a break down in the defense. The Spurs are too disciplined for that to work. They also have the ability to counter a team’s ability to drive to the basket with outstanding wing defenders like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs also rotate better than any defense in the league, making it hard to get many (if any) open looks from three.
The Spurs will also have a big advantage on the boards, an area where Dallas has struggled all season. Dallas ranks 26th in rebounds allowed per game and 23rd in total rebound differential (-1.9 per game). Things get even worse when starting center Samuel Dalembert gets into foul trouble like he did against Memphis Wednesday night (Dallas gave up 20 offensive rebounds).
Offensively, San Antonio is just about as balanced as they come. Jose Calderon will struggle mightily to keep Tony Parker from getting to the basket. The Spurs have dead eyes like Danny Green and Patty Mills who could heat up from behind the arc, and few players in the history of the league operate with the surgical precision Tim Duncan displays under the basket. They even found a way to punish Dallas in the transition game in their last match-up a week ago. This is all bad news for a Dallas team that allows 102.4 points a game.
The playoffs are all about confidence and San Antonio may have the slight edge here too. The last time Dallas beat the Spurs was on Saint Patrick’s Day…2012. Jason Kidd had a double-double. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Gregg Popovich. He’s pretty good.
Dallas surprises everyone and manages to steal two games away from San Antonio before losing game six on their home court. Spurs win 4-2 and advance to the next round.
Things you didn’t know about Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich:
*He is part owner of the Oregon based A to Z Wineworks and has a 3,000 wine bottle collection in his home cellar
*He was the best man in SMU basketball coach Larry Brown’s wedding.
*He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1970 with a degree in Soviet Studies and briefly served as a US intelligence officer in Eastern Turkey.
*He speaks fluent Serbian.