Spurs/Mavs Series Preview
Everything is more consistent in Texas…
There is a great deal to be said about consistency. Showing up every day, every season and still performing up to the highest standards. It’s what made the Celtics great; it’s what made Jordan great. Regardless of how the outside world was fairing, you knew that those certain great entities were going to go about their business and put on a show. Sometimes consistency is overlooked and taken for granted because it becomes such a part of the every day existence that we don’t notice it until it’s gone.
Say what you want about the lopsided totals for NBA championship rings (4-0), but no two teams in the NBA have been more consistent since the turn of the millennium then these two Lone Star State giants. For the Spurs it’s been a decade of 50-win seasons with Dallas right behind them, making it nine in a row with their last win over Houston. The head to head matchups in the postseason have gone 2-1 in favor of Tim Duncan and Co., but give Dirk and the gang get double points for winning the seven game classic in the 2006 Conference Semis.
Now it’s round four, and though a first round series may lower the stakes a bit from the last time these two met, the story line isn’t any less appealing. The ailing Spurs without Manu Ginobli and a quickly aging Tim Duncan will try to hold court against the surging Mavericks who have won seven out of nine to leap into the six hole in the West.
Let’s go to the match ups and see how this one shakes out.
Tony Parker has put together his best season in the NBA. Forget about the fact that his scoring is at an all-time best 22 per and that he dished out nearly 7 apg. What really sticks out is the 50 percent field goal shooting on a career high in shot attempts; you can credit that to a still improving dribble drive game that has been down right mean this season. The Mavs know it all too well as Parker has scorched them for a 31.2 ppg average in four games this season, netting 37 in each of the last two. Roger Mason has proven to be offense for higher for the Spurs and has been and one of the best (and most overlooked) additions to any roster in the League this year. What’s the best complement to a super craft point guard who gets into the lane at will? A dead eye perimeter shooter which is exactly what Mason is. He isn’t the most talented player off the dribble, but he doesn’t have to be, doing most of his damage off screens and spot up situations.
Jason Kidd is nowhere close to the athlete that Parker is, but he is just crafty, if not more so. Kidd has saved his best basketball in Dallas for his second go around with the franchise and Wednesday’s triple-double is an indication that he is ready for the postseason. There’s no question the wily veteran will be able to create on the offensive end, but how much will he be able to provide defensively when it comes to checking Parker? Antoine Wright gets to start at the off-guard spot, but it’s clear who the real No. 2 is on this team (we’ll get to him later). Wright has never lived up to expectations on the offensive end and this season hasn’t done anything to shake those opinions, he does however bring athleticism and length to the defensive end of the floor. If nothing else, he’ll be a set of long arms to help lock down and contest shots on the perimeter.
This is where the injury questions start to pop up. Will Tim Duncan’s knee hold up? What’s the status of Josh Howard’s ankle? The latter of the listed body parts may be the key to the entire series, as a Dallas team minus Howard won’t be able to withstand the Spurs for an entire playoff series.
Duncan always manages to get his numbers and looked great in his regular season finale, so time will only tell how the old hinge joint will fair. Matt Bonner is a nice player to have offensively in that he is another big man who can stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting, but he is never going to show up on any awards lists for his defense. Luckily, the Spurs have a nice rotation going inside that has worked for them all season. The key player out of this trio though is going to be Michael Finley. Clearly Finley is a few years removed from the explosive scorer that made him a star in the League, but the veteran can still fill things up from the outside, connecting on over 41 percent of his shot attempts from beyond the arc this year.
The Mavericks bring a wrecking ball of a frontcourt to the table. Dirk Nowitzki (talk about underappreciated consistency) had another fantastic regular season to the tune of 25.9 ppg and 8.4 rpg. The former MVP went for 30+ twice against the Spurs this year and he will absolutely have to be on his game in order for Dallas to contend. Eric Dampier is essentially the antithesis to the man he’ll potentially be matched with in Matt Bonner. Dampier isn’t likely to do much damage with the ball in his hands, but his physical presence gets the job done on the glass and provides a solid middle man in the defense. That leaves Howard who for all intents and purposes is the X-factor to this entire series. Should his injured ankle hold up, Dallas is in really good shape to take this one from the Spurs, albeit in a hotly contested series. The Mavericks just play so much better when Howard is on the floor providing a spark, there really is no other way to say it other than that. He gives them a major weapon offensively and is such a good athlete as to arguably be their best defender as well.
This is where things start to separate between the two squads. The loss of Manu Ginobli, last year’s Sixth Man, leaves a once solid Spurs bench looking a bit more unappealing. Landing Drew Gooden gives them a good amount of depth inside along with Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto, but there isn’t a whole lot in the backcourt. Ime Udoka plays limited minutes and the aging Bruce Bowen is not the same player he was a few years ago. Rookie George Hill, who at one time was making major contributions, has seen his playing time practically fall off the table in the final weeks of the season.
Dallas on the other hand has a bench that is loaded with talent. Jason Terry should be the NBA’s Sixth Man this season after posting nearly 20 ppg coming off the bench. He has been a major spark plug all season, providing offensive support and by getting the crowd hyped as well. Jose Juan Barea and Brandon Bass have been giving quality minutes to the team as well, with Bass providing support on the glass and Barea showing that he can fill up the basket if need be as well.
Not to take anything away from Rick Carlisle, but Gregg Popovich may be the best postseason coach not named Red Auerbach. The Spurs are going for a fourth title in seven years and have done so with an ever changing support cast to the big three, give a lot of the credit to the man running things from the bench.
This is an interesting series to examine from this standpoint. In most cases the Spurs take the obvious edge, because well, it’s the Playoffs and it’s the Spurs. However, Dallas has been here before, three times in fact, and won in seven the last time these two met. Given that neither team has to travel far for road games and that the Mavericks are on a hot streak, they have to be feeling good right now. It also can’t be overstated enough, at this point, Dallas isn’t likely to be phased by San Antonio’s mystique.
Expect another classic between these two western goliaths. San Antonio may be hurting, but they have home court advantage and enough wiley veterans to give an absolute battle. The Dallas staff is saying that Josh Howard is good to go though and that Mav’s bench is looking pretty good for a playoff run. It’s going to be a nail bitter, but Dallas comes out on top in seven once again.