Spurs vs. Mavs Preview: The countdown to the DeJuan Blair Revenge Game

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So it’s Spurs vs. Mavericks tonight, otherwise known as the ‘DeJuan Blair Revenge Game.’ Perhaps one day we will have the I-35 Rivalry back in full form so that we don’t have to drive anticipation of tonight by paying close attention to Blair’s thoughts on Popovich and his former team. But it is what it is, and frankly, that’s more exciting than the matchups we’ve seen between these two teams over the last two years.

I mean it’s whatever. Let’s take a look at some of the things to watch for tonight.

  • Dallas’ defense is pretty bad. It’s allowing nearly 105 points per 100 possessions, which is good enough for 23rd in the league. Teams are shooting 46.1 percent from the floor against the Mavs — including 36.6 percent from three, which is better than the Spurs are giving up — and are converting at a rate of better than 63 percent from inside the restricted area. They have very little rim protection, which is a problem that could be exacerbated by the fact that Samuel Dalembert and Brandan Wright each missed the team’s shootaround on Thursday morning due to illness. Theoretically, that means a lot of Mr. Blair.
  • DeJuan needed a change of scenery. Things soured a little between he and Gregg Popovich, and Blair’s feelings came to the forefront after the Mavs signed him during the offseason. He felt slighted by the lack of playing time he was afforded, especially during the NBA Finals. So far, the change of scenery seems to have been good for him. He’s averaging 8.3 points and seven boards in just more than 20 minutes a night, and Dallas doesn’t really fall off on offense or defense when he’s on the court. The Mavs are scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions with Blair on the floor (106.2 when he’s off) and allowing a rate of 104.3 points when he’s on-court. Here’s all you need to know about Dallas’ defense: They get better when Blair is on the court (104.3 as opposed to 105 points per 100 possessions). Unlike in San Antonio, where DeJuan legitimately had a negative impact on the team’s defense while he was on the floor, he’s maintaining consistency and being a positive contributor when he plays for the Mavericks. Then again, we’re talking about two different levels of defense here.
  • Then again, we’re THEORETICALLY talking about two different levels of defense, but you wouldn’t be able to tell at the moment. Since Nov. 30 (San Antonio’s first loss to the Rockets), the Spurs are allowing 104.8 points per 100 possessions, opponents are shooting nearly 46 percent from the floor and almost 40 percent from the 3-point line (!), and these are not good things at all. One of the problems is, the Spurs’ most impactful defensive player this season has been Tiago Splitter, and he can’t stay on the floor for more than 20 minutes a night against all these small-ball teams in the NBA because of issues with mobility between he and Tim Duncan around the perimeter. And the Mavericks are no exception. They run some wild lineups out on the floor. They’ll go traditionally big with Jose Calderon, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Dalembert; or they’ll go really small with weird combinations of Marion, Blair and Jae Crowder in the frontcourt and Vince Carter and Friends in the backcourt. And Dallas is directly behind the Spurs, a tenth of a point worse in offensive efficiency. This is something to watch, as the Spurs just haven’t played well against the good teams in the league. San Antonio would rather not get into a shootout against Dallas.
  • Oh yeah. Dirk Nowitzki is awesome again. Just one year after dealing with a super bothersome knee injury, the big German is back to his old game. He’s shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and he’s scoring at a rate closer to his prime days at 23.6 points per 36 minutes. At very similar ages, Nowitzki and Duncan continue to turn back the clock, and it’s still so damn fun watching these two play. The league is just a better place when Dirk is doing his thing.

I kid around about the Blair stuff, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. I enjoyed his time in San Antonio and was glad he found a good gig after leaving town. And all this build-up makes this game fun again. The Mavs have been in a state of flux since they won the title in 2011, so the rivalry just hasn’t been the same since. I’m expecting a fun game tonight, and I’m quite curious as to how the Spurs will respond to Popovich’s challenge last night.

Pop rarely calls out his team the way he did, and when he does it’s generally pretty effective. I’d expect a bit of an angry San Antonio squad in this one, and if that wakes them up they should be in good shape against Dallas. The Mavs can beat you, but the Spurs are a better team. Keep an eye out for any possible last-minute scratches from the active roster, though, given it’s the second night of a back-to-back for San Antonio.

Anyway, enjoy the game. Maybe go get some Whataburger in memory of Blair’s time in town.