Thursday, April 16, 2009

Its Playoff Time

readyFabulous action once again at the American Airlines Center as the Dallas Mavericks handled the Houston Rockets in the 2nd half and bagged win #50. They have become the first team in the history of the NBA (I am told; there is no way I would do the amount of research it would take to confirm this) that a team has started 2-7 and still found their way to 50 wins by the end of the season. Absolutely remarkable work to finish your season on a 48-25 trend that suggests they belong in the conversation of potential sleepers in the Western Conference Playoffs.

With all sorts of playoff scenarios floating around Wednesday Night, the Mavericks clearly had no real agenda other than to end the season with that same level of confidence that they have built up in the last few weeks. Winning 7 of 9 to finish the regular season may have no impact whatsoever on what they do in the 2009 NBA Playoffs, but for the first time in a couple years, it appears confidence is not a big issue at the moment with this team. Without the Lakers in the discussion anymore, I get the feeling the Mavericks were not too worried who they played in Round 1. Not to say that they were preparing for an easy Round 1, because honestly, any opponent will be favored against them you would think. But, I truly believed the Mavs would fancy their chances whether it was Houston, Denver, or San Antonio in the playoffs.

And, so do I.

They seem to be “clicking”. The offense actually appears to make sense. Jason Terry and Josh Howard have done what we thought would be impossible just 4 weeks ago – help Dirk at crunch time with a legit 3-man attack. The defense is still what it always is (average) but you do see their ability to dictate a few things in the last few weeks (double teaming Dwyane Wade in the 4th Quarter to get the ball out of his hands; moving Wright to Chris Paul and Deron Williams to keep Kidd off the quick smaller PG’s; fronting Yao with Brandon Bass and virtually taking the giant out of the 2nd half). There was a time that if the Mavericks had to make a crazy defensive adjustment to save a game they really had no ideas beyond a 2-3 zone. Now it appears that they have a couple tricks up their sleeve that does not always include the “hope and pray” method.

So, now, it is off to begin that #3 vs #6 series, that features the Mavs old friends, those San Antonio Spurs.

Here is the Schedule for those who do not wish to search for it:
Game 1 - Sat April 18 Dallas at San Antonio 7:00PM ESPN/R
Game 2 - Mon April 20 Dallas at San Antonio 8:30PM TNT
Game 3 - Thu April 23 San Antonio at Dallas 7:30PM NBATV
Game 4 - Sat April 25 San Antonio at Dallas 3:00PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 28 Dallas at San Antonio TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 1 San Antonio at Dallas TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 3 Dallas at San Antonio TBD TBD

This morning, I took a second to review my “morning after the game” notes from May of 2006. If you want to re-live the series through my Mavs-colored glasses (and make no mistake, I can really be a Mavs homer during the playoffs) then you might enjoy the following links from the last time the Mavs played those evil Spurs – they should kill a good part of your workday:

Game 1: Spurs 87, Mavs 85
Game 2: Mavs 113, Spurs 91
Cuban Fined $200k
Game 3: Mavs 104, Spurs 103
Game 4: Mavs 123, Spurs 118 (OT)
Game 5: Spurs 98, Mavs 97
Game 6: Spurs 91, Mavs 86
Game 7: Mavs 119, Spurs 111 (OT)

Game 7 of that series was the "high water" mark for the Mavericks franchise - probably ever. The Mavs won a Game 7 in San Antonio, and while that win would not impress many fans of many franchises - any Dallas fan knows that win is tough to beat.

I mean, will you ever forget this picture?


I am pretty sure I won't.

And to think Spurs fans to this day will still tell you there was no foul on that play. Oh well.

Anyway, I promise a similar morning after notes column after each and every game of this upcoming series which begins on Saturday Night in San Antonio.

The Mavs still have no answer for Tony Parker’s quickness (But Wright seems like a good option for a while) and no answer for Tim Duncan’s awesomeness (although he seems to be in some level of disrepair presently). And with no Ginobili, the only other Spurs who average even 20 minutes a game are Roger Mason, Michael Finley, and Matt Bonner. All have the ability to hurt you on occasion – all are deadly from beyond the 3-point arc at +40%, but this hardly looks like a team that should be intimidating to compete against.

The Spurs are still the Spurs. And even without Manu, they have the heart of Champions and two of the best players in the NBA, but I don’t think they have much of an answer for Dirk, Jet, or even Josh if Josh is still going to be determined to get to the rim.

In the last 3 years (since the last time these teams faced each other in the playoffs, the Mavericks are 1-3 in Series. The Spurs, meanwhile are 6-1 since then (including that 2007 NBA title that they set next to their 1999, 2003, and 2005 NBA Titles). To make it sound even worse, the Mavs are 3-12 in their last 15 playoff games (good grief!). The Spurs are 25-12 in playoff games since Game 7 against the Mavs 35 months ago.

And yet, I feel a quiet confidence. This is not the confidence of winning an NBA Title. This is a confidence of trying to win a series in the NBA Playoffs against a respected, quality opponent. There is a pretty big difference, but we must take baby steps.

The ghosts of Golden State and New Orleans still linger, but I feel like the worm is threatening to turn. Let me ponder the match-ups today before making any picks, but this series is going to be riveting stuff.

It’s Playoff Time.

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