Previewing the past: The Spurs and Mavs meet again

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THE PRESENT — It’s strange to think about the emotional arc of the last twelve months: The soaring heights, the seemingly bottomless depths. This team tossed me around like a rag doll, while all along, without us knowing it, history was set on loop.

The San Antonio Spurs will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The basketball gods, in an act of esoteric vengeance, have charted a path to redemption that includes dinner and drinks with our demons.

Few people think the Mavs will handle the Spurs in the same tidy manner as they did last year, despite the fact that, at least according to the simplest statistic– winning percentage –the Mavericks are better than in ‘08-09 and the Spurs are worse.

The most glaring difference between last year and this year is the presence of Manu Ginobili. It would be a Herculean task to articulate why he is a game-changer for the Spurs. If you tried to draw a line around what he does well and the intensity with which he does it, You’d end up drawing an infinity sign.

And yet, as is always the case, Ginobili is not the point from which the team’s success will emanate. Just because Jupiter’s having a good day doesn’t make it the center of the solar system. If the Spurs are going to win this series, Tim Duncan needs to be a beast out there.

And that’s why I’m optimistic about the Spurs chances this series. I believe that, despite the slide in his level of play since All-Star break, Duncan will make it do what it do. He’s not going to be winning any fiddle contests with the devil, but his most underrated attribute is his indomitable spirit. When the Spurs lost last year, he was furious. I think he’s gonna let some of that fury out of the box.

Need I remind you that Duncan’s contributions during the ‘08-09 season took a similar turn around all-star break and, nonetheless, he played excellently during our brief trip to the postseason. Part of me wonders why I even need to make this point. All the doubters in the world don’t change the fact that he’s Tim Duncan.

Alright, let’s put the strained allusions and creeping deism aside and get down to the nitty gritty. There’s a lot of reasons why the Spurs are better prepared to counter the Mavericks’ style and talent than they were last season.

Throughout last year’s series our woefully shallow bench was exposed by the likes of J.J. Barea and Ryan Hollins.  With the continued maturation of George Hill and the deus ex machina that is DeJuan Blair, I’m confident our depth can now match, if not surpass, theirs.

There are some lingering questions as to who exactly will make up our second unit, the most prominent of which is who will start, Hill or Parker? Originally the combination of Parker’s rust and a concern for offensive consistency relegated him to the bench, but when Hill aggravated his strained right tendon on Wednesday, that approach required reconsideration.

Personally, if Hill is healthy, I’d rather him start. I like the idea of allowing Parker to come in with the second unit, where his ball-dominant tendencies can  flourish. But if Barea proves to be the annoyance he was last year, I could envision Pop coupling Hill’s minutes more closely with his. Either way, the most important thing to know is, unlike last year, we’ve got options.

The Mavericks also have options. A lot of options. I’d argue that Dallas possesses the most versatile lineup in the NBA.

When the Mavericks traded for Caron Butler, like mostly everyone, I considered the move to be aggressive yet savvy. Against nearly every team in the league it makes the Mavs more competitive. Except the Spurs. I say that because Josh Howard caused San Antonio all kinds of problems, while our defensive schemes are more naturally tailored to counter Butler’s offensive skills.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about the impact of Shawn Marion than I am Caron Butler. Marion is the x-factor. He is one of the most versatile defenders in the league and could be seen covering anyone from Manu Ginobili to Richard Jefferson to Antonio McDyess to Tim Duncan. Although he is hardly the most important player on the floor, the success of Marion’s defensive efforts could be one of the most accurate barometers of this series.

A less accurate barometer will be the play of Dirk Nowitzki. Win or lose, Dirk is going to play well. His scoring ability is transcendent. And yet, many people overestimate his effectiveness against the Spurs. If you remember correctly, the Spurs successfully harassed Nowitzki into a comparatively mediocre series last year. By throwing everyone from Tim Duncan to Matt Bonner to Bruce Bowen to George Hill at him, Pop never allowed Dirk to find a rhythm.

A similar strategy could work this time as well, although we need to couple that with a greater concern for the Mavericks perimeter shooting. The ferocity with which we focused on Dirk backfired at moments, as he was able to pass out of a packed interior, back into the arms of awaiting shooters such as the two Jasons. One could argue that last years series was lost outside the 3-point arc (at the time I certainly did).

It’s worth noting that harassing Dirk for three quarters won’t get the job done. There may be no one in the entire association whose ability to take over a game during crunch time scares me more than Dirk Nowitzki.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with the thoughts of my good friend and colleague Rob Mahoney, who, over the next couple of weeks, will be the opposing camp’s voice of reason:

This series is going to be excellent. I’m talking 2006 Western Conference semifinals excellent. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not this series is going to go the distance, but based on how Dallas and San Antonio match up, I’d honestly be shocked if there was a single blowout. We’re looking at at least six games of stellar, well-executed, well-coached, and entertaining basketball.

As for my prediction: Spurs in 7, which is basically the equivalent of me shrugging my shoulders and sayin’ “let’s give ‘em hell.”

  • lvmainman

    This game will be only the 2nd time in the last 14 matchups with the Mavericks that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker all played.

    Amazing!

    Go Spurs Go!

  • Greyberger

    I bet Tony starts and Manu comes in for him as Bonner comes in for Dice… Basically the same kind of lineup we’ve used forever. Hill has good legs and doesn’t tire and so if he’s healthy, he’s perfectly capable of picking up every single guard minute that Tony and Manu don’t get.

    I have no idea if Pop intends to use Blair in the rotation. If so it would be for Tim in the late 1st/early 2nd and late 3rd. When he’s done this recently it’s hard to say if it’s to rest Tim or because it’s effective. This lets Blair face the opposing bench alongside Manu Hill Bonner and RJ or Bogans.

    In some big games Pop doesn’t sit Tim at all until the 2nd quarter starts. When this happens we still get the Bonner Blair combo while he’s resting and typically don’t see Dice until Tim is back out too.

    Using Blair more these 15 or so min a night means pairing him with Duncan, which has had mixed results this season. Dice and Bonner are more likely to be combined with Tim even before considering the possible defensive matchups, which rarely favor the rookie from Pitt.

    Bogans is another mystery. He could end up only playing while RJ is resting (and RJ can play 40+ a night) or Pop could have big plans for him.

    As important as Tim and the guards are, remember that these guys only make up four out of the nine players we’ll be seeing from the Spurs. The filler group (RJ Bogans Dice Bonner and Blair) will make or break the team defensively. They could all combine for 20 points a game and I’d be happy if they defended well and beat the Mavs at rebounding.

  • NL

    How many minutes a game does Timmy play in the playoffs now? 36-40?

    I’m excited we have a deep bench, but we also get to see our best talent on the floor longer. This is what we’re built for…let’s get it done.

  • BlaseE

    I think Mahoney is way off, and we are more likely to see a few games dominated by a team and then vice versa than 7 close games. The Spurs will win at least one game by 15+. Count on it. I also could see the Spurs blowing a game by 12+. It’s just a part of the match-up, the same way I could see both teams winning on the road in this series.

    Spurs in 6.

  • BlaseE

    Oh, I think Pop is so focused on starting Manu and wanting Parker off the bench, Temple is more likely to start in Hill’s place than Parker. It’s about staggering the minutes of the guys who can create shots. It only makes sense to start Parker if you are going to start Mason alongside him.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Terry is the key. If he has a huge series, we’re toast. But we can throw Hill, Temple, and Tony at him. I think all those faces will keep him on his heels.

    Spurs in 6, just like Hollinger says.

  • Jim Henderson

    Despite my reservations about this team (2009-10 Spurs), we do have a decent chance in this series, because despite the length of the Mav’s “bigs”, they aren’t particularly quick or agile. We can use this to our advantage. It will be really interesting to get a look at Pop’s rotations. If Blair is having a second wind, playing him in the right situations could present a match-up advantage for us on the offensive end, particularly if people like Bonner are hitting their three’s. I’d also be open to throwing Mahinmi at them for about 8-10 minutes in some games, mainly for offensive purposes in the low block, and to help get their bigs in foul trouble. Obviously, overall team defense is key: all shots contested for 48 minutes of hell! Should be interesting!

  • Gary

    TIME FOR REVENGE !

  • SpursfanSteve

    Spurs in 5.

  • TradeTp

    I think Marion is the Key as well. If Bonner plays, and I hope he doesnt, Marion will eat him alive.

    Would love to see Blair and Ian get some quality minutes and some quality fouls on Brendan, Marion. We all know McD and BONER wont do anything but play em like D leaguers (TORRO)

  • Sam

    i agree with Gary. time for revenge baby!!! i cant wait to see the look on mark cuban and dirk’s face if we win…priceless. I think this is not only time for Ginobili to show that hes back (even though we all know he is) but for George Hill to show what he’s got. in his limited minutes last year he was really killing the mavs so now i think he’s going to do a really good job.
    GO SPURS GO!!! LETS DO DIS!!!!

  • lvmainman

    Referees already giving the Spurs the shaft!

    4 team fouls in the 1st 2:51 of the game!

  • VP of Common Sense

    Someone needs to tell TP that Kidd can hit open 3’s…

  • TradeTP

    Down after 1 QTR.

    Tim, Bonner, Parker all looking bad

  • Trade Tp

    This is a great instance of why I hate Bonner and what the plus minus or any person on here fails to understand.

    Three defensive plays in a row 2nd qtr:

    1. Bonner lets Dirk get oreb they score
    2. Bonner fails to provide backside help on fronted post 3pt play
    3. Bonner tick tack foul

    That all happened in probably a 1:30 span

    Why 40% three point shooting is muted.

  • NY Spurs Fan

    I genuinely believe this series will be decided by Pop. Blair needs to get more burn than Bonner and Bogans no more than 5 – 10. I think it’s that simple.

  • lvmainman

    Down 5, 11 turnovers, 3 to 13 on the FT line.

    But, as I said previously, expect NOTHING from Bogans, Bonner, or Mason offensively the entire playoffs. Maybe an occasional home game.

    Bogans missed layup, Bonner missed uncontested 3 pt shot, and Bonner missed 2 ft baby hook shot.

    NO Hill. NO Jefferson.

    Can the Spurs win with only 5 players scoring? I doubt it.

  • Gary

    @Ivmainman

    Your pretty right, if they wanna win this, they have to get Jefferson or George going on…

    But why don’t they play Blair more ?!?!?

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  • lvmainman

    Referees shafting the Spurs. 5 fouls on the Spurs in the 1st 7:01! Kidd trips over Duncan, foul. Butler drives baseline and gets the shot blocked, foul. Butler dribbles into Ginobili’s chest as Ginobili cuts off the baseline, foul on Ginobili! What is going on!

    We can’t win 5 on 8! It’s impossible!

  • Trade Tp

    pop is a retard

  • Colin

    With the end of the 3rd quarter Mavs run, where are McDyess (anything but a D-leaguer) and Ginobili? These two have been instrumental thus far at both ends of the court. Please no more Bonner on Nowitzki!!!

  • Gary

    errr no Blair, but let’s play Mason and use Bonner to the bones… these are key parts to our Spurs team I guess

  • Trade Tp

    It doesnt matter about the refs. The problem is we arent playing the right players. Same problem the whole season.

  • lvmainman

    Why is Roger Mason on the floor to start the 4th qtr instead of Garrett Temple??

    Clearly, Hill is too injured to do anything. But, why Mason?? Why?? Why?? WHY??
    Temple is ten times better than Mason. Why play this bum?

  • Colin

    Mason and Bogans……………too much run

  • Gary

    lol Tp looks slow, Tim goesnt get the call, Jefferson is not even playing at all,

    Manu is the only one working right

  • Trade Tp

    Is anyone pissed that Pop still refuses to play Blair?

    3 more games and hopefully pop will be gone.

  • idahospur

    Team playing lousy trying to hang in there. It’s playoff time and we can’t expect to win unless every player that gets on the court is playing to win.

  • Colin

    Yep, Blair needs to play more while Bonner and Mason need to play less……a lot less (unless Mason is hitting).

  • Gary

    But seriously Pop must know something we don’t… The one man doing 20ishpoint20ishrebounds would be the one man im sure to start and play 30+mins

  • Colin

    Its a shame George Hill obviously isn’t himself. He was one of the more viable pieces of the rotation during the Spurs run against the league’s best during the end of the season.

  • BALLHOG

    Fellas……It’s a wrap.

    Looks like this is the genious playoff rotation offered up by the Popster.

    If this is in fact the rotation that this man has chosen, we are done.

    Said it all season long. Cant win with these role players and cant win unless Jefferson shows up.

    Temple, Mahinmi, Hairston, and Blair….

    If they do not play, break out the brooms.

    Bring on Avery!

  • Mike Rodriguez

    Mavericks easily win game 1 and this series will take the it in 5 games. The stupid Hack a Damp strategy didnt work as Dampier goes 4 0f 6 from the line when it was employed.

  • Hobson13

    This was a pretty simple loss really.

    Evidence #1
    Mason: 7 min 0 pts
    RJ: 31 min 4 pts
    Bonner: 18 min 5 pts (all came in the last 9 min of 4th)
    Bogans: 11 min 0 pts

    Totals for all 4: 67 min, 9pts on 3-13 shooting.
    These bums either need to produce or hit the damned road.

    Evidence #2
    Big 3 plus McDyess: 81 of 94 pts. Or 4 players have 86% of total offense.
    Do I even need to explain this?

    Evidence #3
    Blair on 4/14: 37 min 27pts 23 rebs.
    Blair on 4/18: 8 min 4pts 2rebs
    Well, at least we had Bonner out there to space the floor, right? Ironically enough, Bonner did have the highest +- for the Spurs at +7. I’m beginning to believe the +- stat is the biggest BS in the entire game. It certainly doesn’t reflect the game I saw tonite.

    With that said, its not the end of the line for the Spurs. We’ll have a shot at grabbing game 2. We need to quit the turnovers and have someone like RJ earn maybe 1/10 of his paycheck.

  • ali

    BREAKING NBA NEWS: In the playoff a new rule will be enforced. If Dirk Nowitzki elbows you, you have committed a foul. If you put a body on Dirk Nowitzki, you have committed a foul. If you dare to do so much as to look at Nowitzki in the eye or to put a hand up while Nowitzki takes a shot you have committed a foul.

  • SAS

    o h man!!!!diiiiissssssapppppoint loss. we can’t win with this rotation. it looks like it repeat the same last year result???? i don’t know whats in POPs mind its clearly not a good way of rotating players and its clearly seeing the effect of not having a big man ?? we clearly missing theo to bobcats?? no brainer move by pop…. we’ll done hate to see the mavs win??? ???!@#$%^&*()

  • ali

    look nowitzki was prefect 2night and they ahd the refs, if those things change we have a chance

  • Colin

    Yeah, bring on Avery………..right……c’mon dude.

  • ribanez

    Bonner, Mason and Jefferson were as expected no shows! Hill, unfortunately, is injured and not capable right now. Pop’s defensive strategies against Nowitzki have never worked but give Pop credit he tries! Why is it that no one takes a hard foul on Nowitzki, nothing dirty, but hard ?. Jason Terry, as he has done many times before, despite not playing well throughout the game hit key shots down the stretch. After one game, its obvious the Mavericks have more weapons and are playing better defense than I have ever seen them play. Manu’ had too many turnovers. Parker played well but still is not the one man fastbreak he used to be. Again its only one game but there is trouble looming! I wonder if using Mahinmi with his lenght in combination with McDyess may be more effective against the Nowitzki.

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  • BigBalls

    Please wake me when the Matt Boner experiment is over.

  • BigBalls

    Timmy Duncan should rededicate his career or just retire. I vomit every time I see his slow, soft, flabby body out on the court just whoring around.

  • BigBalls

    Roger Mason should just quit! What a terrible ball player. No game, nothing to hang his hat on.

  • Jim Henderson

    Hobson13
    April 18th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Nice post, Hobson. Yeah, RJ is key. We’re going nowhere in this series if he doesn’t show up.

    I was also disappointed with Pop’s rotations tonight though. For example, in my mind there’s no reason for playing Mason. He had plenty of opportunities to play himself out of his funk during the last TWO MONTHS of the regular season, and yet failed miserably. Plus, he’s also a liability in most other areas of the game. He should not be playing unless absolutely necessary. I think Hairston has an ankle sprain (not sure how serious), but if not him, Temple should have been in that game before Mason.

    In addition, Blair needs to be in that game. I understand what Pop’s thinking, that in a game like this he’s going to be a defensive liability, but Blair could cause some issues for the Mavs on the offensive end, and since we were out-rebounded 13-8 on the offensive glass, he could have also helped out in that area. If Pop thought Blair was going to hurt us defensively, just put him on Dirk; no one was stopping him anyway.

    Thus, our main problems were:

    (1) RJ a no show
    (2) RMJ played in the game
    (3) Hill did not show
    (4) Temple did not play
    (5) Blair did not play enough
    (6) Too many turnovers
    (7) Poor rebounding
    (8) Poor 3 point shooting

    Clear these problems up, and we should have a good shot in game 2.

  • td4life

    not looking forward to another season of Richard Jefferson, my least favorite spur of all-time.

    In contrast: As expected, Marcus Camby has helped turn his team into a defensive force.

  • BALLHOG

    Makes no sense at all…

    We have seen it all year, yet coach apparently is still not convinced.

    +/- doesnt mean squat when it comes to winining. Players win, scrubs go fishing, period.

    Where are all the +/- experts now? Certainly quiet in here at the moment.

    Bonner, Bogans, and Mason. Cant win. Cannot be sucsessful in these playoffs with those particular players logging minutes. Mavs had zero respect for them on the floor.

    So, is the coach willing to blow the playoffs to prove his point? Do we continue to get beat on the glass and outrebounded and actually expect to win.

    Better cut the BS and get to the business of basketball. Put Parker back into starting lineup and play the youngsters immediately.
    Also, Mcdyess is loafing. He is not playing hard, not hustling, not being aggressive. He needs a wake up call now.

    Now fellas, this is the point that Ive been making all year. Coach is killing us. He refuses to realize that the young guys are simply better. That they give us a better chance of winning.

    If he trots that garbage out again in game 2, same result. Cant wait to see his Hall of Fame adjustments here for game 2. It will be monumental. I said that Butler and Terry would be the key. Terry had an off night, but Butler was the problem I thought he would be. Defensive assignments and rotations were terrible.

    I dream of what this team would look like right now if it had remained intact. If Pop would have played the young guys all year and got them ready for this stage.

    When I posted on it, all said the same thing…Pop knows best, he is the man, he can see things we cant, he knows talent, he knows how to win…

    Well, now we see the truth. Now he is in a position that demands his best coaching. Lets just see what he does. I cannot wait.

    He did say that he should be fired if he could not win with this roster.

    I would volunteer to help him pack!

  • TradeTp

    Ditto

  • Justin

    Everyone needs to stop blaming refs or the supposed bias by toward Dirk and see the main reason for this falling- No one on the roster outside of the Big 3 (and maybe McDyess) is contributing. This is the same thing that happened last year.

    I know Duncan, Parker, and Manu will carry their load, but they need some help. It is not reasonable to expect them to do it all on their own.

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