Dallas Mavericks lost a hard fought game against the Memphis Grizzlies 106-105 in overtime last Wednesday night. With the loss, the Mavs lost a chance to salvage a 50-win season and a seventh spot in the NBA’s Western Conference. The loss means Dallas will play their lone star state rival down I-35, the San Antonio Spurs, for the sixth time in playoff history.
It is long shot that Dallas does the impossible, beat the odds and upset championship favorites in the first round. I’m looking at this matchup and there is no evidence that this is going to be a good series for the Mavs. If I eliminate all my rooting interests and the things that I believe in (Dirk, Rick Carlisle), I cannot see this series going well. When was the last time the Mavs played Spurs in the past few seasons and you thought that this was a good matchup? This used to be a hell of a series. Spurs won some, Mavs won some. Dirk’s dominance in the 2006 Conference SemiFinals comes to mind. But that was a long time ago. But whenever I see the Mavs play Spurs in the last two seasons, I have not looked forward to it, I have not enjoyed it. Spurs have beaten the Mavs in nine consecutive games.
But I’m not going to eliminate my rooting interest. I’m a fan and a Mavs homer. I believe in Dirk, I believe in Rick Carlisle. My belief in them and the players have paid off for me in the past. So, I’m just not going to give up hope and think it is a lost cause. So from a homer perspective, here is how you win against the Spurs.
Dallas does not have individual players who are good defenders. Their best defender is Marion who is 35 years old. He is going to spend his time on the court defending and alternating between Parker, Leonard and Green. Dallas needs to defend as a team, they have no margin for error, they have to finish possessions, they have to rebound. Dalembert is a huge factor in this game. He needs to stay out of early foul trouble. He needs to be active. Because giving up an offensive rebound and letting the Spurs hit open 3’s is a huge momentum swing. The team has to scramble on defense, run them off the 3 point line. I have seen them do it in the third quarter the last time they met each other for a period of eight minutes to get back into the game. So, can Carlisle get the players to do that for half of the game, maybe 40 minutes? This is going to be the difference in this game. The spurs don’t take bad shots even during late shot clock situations, they pass up a good shot for a great shot and they always make the right pass. Dallas needs to be relentless and hustle on defense for 48 minutes.
Playoff Dirk Nowitzki
According to basketball-reference.com, Nowitzki, in 128 playoff appearances, averages 25.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. He shoots 46.3% from the floor and 38% from beyond the arc. Mavs need Dirk Nowitzki to play close to that level if they want to upset the odds.
Monta Have It All
Monta Ellis has to be aggressive from tipoff. Carlisle, I’m sure, will give the keys to Monta to do his thing on offense. Spurs struggle with speed. Monta Ellis can get to the basket at will. He leads the league in drives to the basket at 827. Spurs know that Monta is the key for the Mavs. They will try to limit him but Monta needs to stay aggressive from the start on the game. If he gets to the rim from the beginning, help defense will crash the paint and Mavs will have open shooters from beyond the arc.
I have been extremely impressed by Ellis’s toughness and mental strength in these last 15 games. I have been impressed with how he has taken over games in the fourth quarter. In the last 15 games, he averages a total of 7.9 points in the fourth quarter. He is only behind MVP favorite Kevin Durant, who averages 9.5 points. Monta Ellis reminds me of a Jason Terry/Nick Van Exel combo. He doesn’t shoot as well as the other two but he can get to the rim better than the other two. He has the same fearless demeanor and I expect him to bring that to the game on sunday.
Besides, this is also Monta Ellis’s chance to shine on national TV. People have questioned his style over the years, rightly so, but he has a chance to prove people wrong on the national stage playing with Dirk and coach he trusts in.
Mavs bench is second best in the league only behind San Antonio. Carlisle will rely on the bench more than ever in this series. Harris will end up playing more minutes than Calderon based on how he guards Parker. Wright and Carter combo has to be their best in this series. Carter will be wildcard for the Mavs. If he can be the third best scorer behind Dirk and Ellis, Mavs will have a chance. Wright’s athleticism will also be huge in this game. He might not play when Duncan is on the court but Wright needs to take advantage of the match up when he is on the court.
If all these factors comes together I’d give mavs a 10 percent chance of beating the favorites in the first round. Dallas has to keep things simple, avoid turnovers in bunches, play with a high basketball IQ. I think they will win one game in San Antonio this week, but by the end of the series they will find out that they are too outmatched and a long way to go to beat a team with Spurs’ calibre in a seven game series.
Prediction: Spurs in 6 (just because I’m a homer)