by Lang Whitaker

Orlando beat Charlotte and San Antonio won in Dallas.

That’s all, thanks!

OK, that’s not quite it. I watched all that Dallas/San Antonio game and, not really caring who won, enjoyed seeing the Spurs click, at least for one night. I think Dallas has a better roster, but the Spurs might be a better TEAM. When they’re making shots, and sharing the ball, and helping on defense, there might not be a prettier brand of basketball to watch in the NBA. It takes a certain basketball nerd’s eye to appreciate Tim Duncan banking in one-handed runners in the post, but I admire the consistency of the Spurs, the way they always just do what they do.

As for Dallas, I kind of think of them like Orlando last season. The Magic weren’t the best team in the East during the regular season, but they got hot in the Playoffs, got to play Cleveland where the match-ups worked in their favor, and suddenly they were in the NBA Finals. If thinks break the right way for Dallas, I could totally see them getting on a roll and zipping right into the Finals. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they lost this series to the Spurs.

When I went on the road with the Hawks for that story earlier this season, I was with the Hawks when they played at Dallas, and I sat courtside and got to watch the Mavs up close. The Hawks had one of their better defensive nights that evening and managed to cling to a lead as the game came down the stretch.

As pretty much everyone does against Atlanta, the Mavs made every effort to force the Hawks to switch picks on defense and create mis-matches. And it worked. Twice in the last three minutes, the Mavs managed to get Mike Bibby guarding Dirk Nowitzki. Both times the Mavs recognized it, got Dirk the ball and cleared out that side of the court.

Now, Dirk is seven feet tall and 250 pounds. Bibby is about a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter. And both times Dallas got the ball to Dirk with the most favorable match-up possible, he shot fadeaway jumpers over Bibby.

It was disappointing to me, and I was rooting for the Hawks to win. Someone that big against someone that little? Back him down and go right over the top, right? Easy. But he didn’t. He bumped Bibby and then spun away from him and fired up fadeaway jumpers. And he missed both of them. Maybe ball don’t lie?

I am not here to fundamentally criticize Dirk Nowitzki as a basketball player. If any player in the NBA is good at shooting fadeaway jump shots, it’s Dirk Nowitzki. If I needed a player to make a fadeaway jumper, it would probably be Dirk, because he’s friggin’ seven feet tall and can shoot over basically anyone.

But those crunch-time possessions against the Hawks have stuck in my head for the last five months. The more I’ve thought about them, the more they’ve bothered me. In Dirk’s hands, the fadeaway may be a high-percentage shot. But if he lowers his shoulder and goes toward the rim, Bibby was waiting to give a foul and maybe give him a three-point play.

I’ve read way more into those two plays than should be read into them. I know people have debated ad nauseum whether or not Dirk is a player a franchise can actually build a championship team around. Can he come up big when it matters most?

Previously, I was just undecided.

But now, after thinking about those plays for the last five months, now I’m not so sure.