Mavs/Spurs Series Preview
The most slept-on First Round series?
by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport
OK, SLAM fam, it’s time for the NBA Playoffs and for me, that excitement I get as the post-season begins is the equivalent of that feeling one must get as he gets the wave from the security guard at the front gate of the Playboy Mansion to enter the grounds.
Cue the Kool Moe Dee because this year’s Western Conference Playoffs will be The Wild Wild West. I can’t remember the last time all of the eight teams in contention had 50+ wins. I think all you need in the East to make the dance is 23 wins and a secret decoder ring.
First up is the intriguing matchup between The Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs, who are the No. 2 and No. 7 seed respectively, but are only five games apart in the win column. Dallas leads the season series 3-1, but who are we kidding, that doesn’t amount to a hill a beans come post-season.
No one is surprised the Mavs are in the Playoffs after nabbing their 55th win of the season, which is the most they’ve racked up since ‘07 and will be the sixth most in franchise history. With perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki ballin’ like the ghost of Larry Bird, Mark Cuban’s soldiers made believers out of a lot of fans, including yours truly. And the addition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood was genius. Those two will be the X-Factor for this matchup. Butler is like a kid who just slapped down a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly and is running around the board like he has hotels on every property. Haywood has always been getting it done quietly in the nation’s capital, but in D-Town, his defensive exploits are finally getting some shine and his energy will be a problem for the “seasoned” Tim Duncan to contain. Jason Terry is back hoisting threes from the parking lot and Shawn Marion continues to be that glue guy the Mavs have been missing for years. And I don’t know if Jason Kidd found that fountain of youth from Cocoon or what, but he has reinvented himself to perfection and is leading this team like no one would have been able to fathom since he came over in exchange for Devin Harris.
The San Antonio Spurs weren’t themselves at the beginning of the season, going 9-9 in their first 18 games. Like most analysts, I’d written them off as former champions who had finally started to show chinks in the armor. But I spoke too soon. Timmy & Co. rallied the troops and pulled out another 50-win season, extending their streak of 50-win seasons to 11, which is the second longest streak in league history behind the Lake Show. But even with all the Ws under their belt, the Spurs have remained little fun to watch. And this year, they’ve gotten even more boring with the injuries and slowed play. Duncan has had some scares with his knee trouble, but Pop knows how to manipulate the pieces when it comes to lineups. I’m always reminded of Training Day when I see this guy on the sidelines. Pop knows this shit is chess, it ain’t checkers. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli also suffered health concerns, but these guys are known for coming back from injuries to compete, so as the post-season begins, I’m pretty certain they’ll bring the pain. The injuries have allowed George Hill and DeJaun Blair to get some burn and we all know now these neophytes are gamers. I can’t say the same for Richard Jefferson. At this point, I think he needs to be tested for performance de-hancing drugs. He’s been the biggest disappointment to me considering how shrewd the Spurs’ acquisition of him in the offseason seemed at the time.
Rick Carlise has the Mavs’ offense clicking and Kidd has become intuitive with it. Butler and Haywood have become acclimated to the system relatively quick and are flourishing. Look for Dallas to fight and claw it’s way past everyone’s expectations this post-season.
Pop’s bunch knows the system, but it’s going to come down to health and durability. The Spurs have three of the last ten championships, so they know what it takes to win, but they are missing the key X-Factor from those teams: Bruce Bowen. Call him dirty, call him a low down MF-er, but Bowen did what he had to do for the W. The Spurs don’t have a new jack Bowen on this current squad and that will end up making a huge difference.
POINT GUARD: JASON KIDD VS. TONY PARKER
The Breakdown: J Kidd is the facilitator and Parker is the scorer: 10.3 ppg vs. 16.8 ppg and 9.1 apg vs. 5.7 apg, respectively. Parker is slower than he once was, but will still have no problem getting by Kidd most times. But Kidd has finally earned the right to add the J to ason with his improved outside shot, especially from behind the arc.
Advantage: Mavs. I say this because the series will not be decided from the point guard spot. The series depends on Dirk, Tim, Butler and Manu, so point guard facilitation will be key and this is where Kidd shines. He had really reinvented himself and is the major cog in the Mavs machine.
SHOOTING GUARD: CARON BUTLER VS. MANU GINOBILLI
The Breakdown: These two cancel each other out with their scoring with Butler averaging 16.3 and Ginobilli averaging 16.5. Both are energy guys and both really give their team and offensive lift. I like Manu better coming off the bench because of his ability to change the game upon entry, so with him starting, it’s pretty even at this position.
Advantage: It’s really close here, but I’m going with the Mavs. Butler’s rebounding ability (6.2 per contest) gives him the edge.
SMALL FORWARD: SHAWN MARION VS. RICHARD JEFFERSON
The Breakdown: On paper, both of these players seem to be evenly matched at 12 points per game and athletically with both having the ability to finish above the rim. But anyone who has paid attention to the two this season knows Jefferson has underachieved and Marion simply is playing within the system and doesn’t have to score as much. Marion has also been very active on the boards with 6.4 a game.
Advantage: No contest: Mavs. Jefferson is averaging five fewer points a game than his career average and his confidence is in the crapper as a result.
POWER FORWARD: DIRK NOWITZKI VS. TIM DUNCAN
The Breakdown: The great Tim Duncan has seen his number go down to 17.9 ppg and 10.1 rpg, but his greatness can’t be measured simply in the numbers. The big fundamental can take over a game and when he does, it’s a thing of beauty. Dirk has played like an MVP candidate this year. He’s knocking down shots from deep at 42 percent for the season and hitting 48 percent of his shots overall. Combine that with 91 percent accuracy from the charity stripe and it’s apparent Dirk has found his stride.
Advantage: Slight advantage to Mavs. Both players are central to their respective team’s success in the win column. But with Timmy’s knee problems, Nowitzki gets the nod because he is efficient and he’s flat out getting it done this year.
CENTER: ERICK DAMPIER VS. ANTONIO MCDYESS
The Breakdown: Damp and McDyess are the same player pretty much. McDyess is a better offensive player and Damp is a better defensive player, when he wants to be. Damp will clog up the middle but he’s basically a hood ornament until Haywood takes the floor.
Advantage: Spurs. Damp is unreliable and McDyess is still hungry for a ring. Look for him to really step it up in the post-season.
BENCH: MAVS VS. SPURS
The Breakdown: The Mavs have Jason Terry, JJ Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood. The Spurs have George Hill, Roger Mason and DeJuan Blair. We already know Terry is instant offense and Barea is FEARLESS. Haywood is the X-Factor off the bench and Stevenson is Jekyll and Hyde. Hill is playing extremely well with 12 points a game and Blair is adding 7.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game with only limited minutes.
Advantage: Cuban’s crew.
All of that being said, it’s prediction time. I think Tim will be Tim, Manu will twist and turn and flop his way to offensive abandon and TP will turn on the afterburners and cause a blur on many peoples’ HD screen. But this is the year of the Mavs and I think they continue to own the Spurs in the post-season. Dirk is on a mission and while the Spurs will definitely provide a challenge, Dallas gets by San Antonio in six.