Friday, April 17, 2009

Sturm Picks Mavs, Water is Wet, and Ice is Cold

You know it is playoff time, because this morning I find myself obsessed with reading the San Antonio papers (Buck Harvey, a Spurs cheerleader without the cleavage), and getting all obsessed with match-ups on the eve of taking on the hated Spurs in Game 1 on Saturday night in the Alamo City. Those myopic Spurs fans will be packed tightly into an arena where together they will once again agree that NBA refs are paid top dollar to cheat their Spurs.

I love this.

Yes, I realize this may all be over by May 1. Yes, I realize that pulling for the Mavs against the Spurs is sort of like pulling for Texas Tech to win the Big 12 South or the Rangers to win the pennant. But, I cannot help it. It sounds stupid to claim to be a MFFL when you grew up rooting for Sidney Moncrief and Don Nelson’s fish-tie, but I won’t pretend to be unbiased. I moved to town 4 weeks after the Mavericks traded for Dirk on draft day, and 18 months before Mark Cuban bought this team. I attended games at Reunion Arena that had roughly 3,000 people in the arena. I was there on March 29, 1999, and saw Mavs Man blow his ACL on a trampoline stunt in front of a small crowd as the Mavs lost to Seattle on the very night UConn won the 1999 NCAA Tournament with Rip Hamilton.

I do love the Mavericks.

And, as such, I have picked the Mavericks to win pretty much every series they have been in since last time these two teams met in the Playoffs.

Did I pick them to beat Miami? Yes.

Did I pick them to beat Golden State? Heck, Yes.

Did I pick them to beat New Orleans? Yes, again.

In other words, why do you care that I like the Mavs in 6? You don’t expect me to learn my lesson now, do you?

The Mavs cannot guard Tony Parker (32 points, 10 assists will be his normal line in this series) and also cannot guard Tim. Tim is not done. Don’t fall for it.

But, I like the way the Mavs are playing.

And I am a sucker.

Make no mistake. I know the Title Dream is over. I know this team needs to be over-hauled. But, I am loyal to a fault. And 900+ games into Dirk's career, I am not going to turn my back now.

Mavs in 6. Please. Pretty Please. Then, your season can unravel in Round 2 and we can call for the dismantling of the entire franchise. Just give us 2 weeks of fun.

And now, some reading for you:

The San Antonio Paper offers 5 moments to remember from battles of the past
Hero to goat

When: Game 7, 2006 Western Conference finals
What happened: Manu Ginobili nails a 3-pointer with 32.2 seconds left, giving the Spurs their first and only lead, only to come back and foul Dirk Nowitzki while trying to block his layup, forcing overtime.
The result: The Mavericks win 119-111 in overtime before they fall to Miami in six games in the NBA Finals.

Privacy rules

When: Game 5, 2006 Western Conference finals
What happened: Jason Terry and Michael Finley are struggling for a loose ball late in the game when Terry sneaks in a punch to Finley’s groin area.
The result: The Spurs hang on for a 98-97 victory and Terry is suspended for Game 6, a 91-86 Spurs victory.

‘Ugly thing’

When: 2006 Western Conference finals
What happened: Mavs owner Mark Cuban blogs about Spurs fans, calling them the NBA’s “rudest” and claiming they “verbally abused” his wife. He earlier called Tim Duncan a “crybaby” and said the River Walk is an “ugly-ass, muddy-watered thing.”
The result: Spurs fans still probably despise Cuban, and the river still is drained and cleaned each year.

Dirk goes down

When: Game 3, 2003 Western Conference finals
What happened: After the Mavs had stolen the home-court edge, Manu Ginobili steps in — right in Dirk Nowitzki’s way. Nowitzki lands awkwardly and the series turns in the Spurs’ favor.
The result: The Spurs go on to win 96-83, Nowitzki is out with a sprained left knee and the Spurs win in six games before beating New Jersey for the title.

Howard’s hard foul

When: Game 1, 2001 Western Conference semifinals
What happened: Late in the first half, Spurs guard Derek Anderson is cut down by a wicked Juwan Howard cross, sending Anderson out of the series with a shoulder separation. Howard is assessed a flagrant type-2 foul and ejected.
The result: The Spurs go on to win 94-78, Howard apologizes and his Mavs are ousted in five games.

Buck Harvey on Finley’s place in this world
That Finley is still doing such things might surprise some billionaires. The Mavericks waived him in the summer of 2005 partly because they sought luxury-tax savings, and partly because they thought his career was winding down.

Besides, they had another veteran shooter, Jerry Stackhouse.

But Stackhouse is the one who has gotten creaky. Finley won a title in 2007 while still on Cuban's payroll (in fact, according to the contract details, Cuban is still paying him). And Finley lost considerable weight, coming back this season looking as fit as he ever had.

He's not close to being the scorer he once was in Dallas, but on a given night he's provided the Spurs with some punch. After going scoreless against Golden State in the previous game, for example, he followed with 17 points against the Hornets.

He averaged more minutes this season than any in San Antonio, and here's an oddity for a franchise with its share of injuries: This past-his-prime player has averaged over 80 games in his four years here, and he led the Spurs in starts this past season.

He missed only one game this season, when Gregg Popovich held out his core against Denver. He's been a model of professionalism throughout, a reason he has been one of Popovich's favorites, and lately he's been something else.

Fish ponders the match-ups, and says expect plenty of Damp
Now, let’s not be “hopeful’’ with Duncan. (He’s old, his knees are betraying him, the window’s closing.) Let’s instead be “factual’’ with Duncan. (Did you see him in Game 82? Duncan finished with 20 points, 19 rebounds, six assists, four turnovers and a block in 33 minutes.) Waiting for this guy to fall apart is like waiting for sedimentary rocks to form.

After 12 years of doing this – and all 12 playoff years, right? – Tim Duncan has developed different gears for different road conditions. He plowed through the regular season and his team won 54. We just gave you his totals for Game 82, which represent another gear.

In the OT against the Hornets, He scored six points, had six rebounds, has two assists and blocked a Chris Paul layup.

Another gear.

And here comes yet another.

So how to combat all that?

It is tempting as a fan to ask for some Hollins here, to ask for some Singleton here. But Damp has a track record against Duncan. Consider that, and consider how coach Rick Carlisle has recently tried to find ways to keep Erick on the floor (assigned to guard NO’s David West and Utah’s Carlos Boozer, for instance).

We predict Damp gets a long leash.

One more thing that Dampier did in the March 4 meeting: He controlled the interior in such a way that SA devolved into becoming a “jump-shooting team’’ – the same cursed words so often used to describe Dallas’ offense.

But the Spurs rely on Finley and Bonner and Bowen and Hill and Mason and you know what? Like Dallas, a “jump-shooting team’’ is a big part of what they are. For better or worse.

Steiny-mo on what not to like about the Mavs
What I don't like: You could argue that the Mavs haven't entered a playoff series with as much confidence as they have right now since the Finals in 2006 after toppling the Spurs and Phoenix back-to-back. That kind of self-belief was clearly not there in the first round against Golden State in 2007 and again in 2008 when Dallas was ousted in the first round by New Orleans.

However ...

You can't ignore the issues that had Dallas near the No. 8 spot for the bulk of the season until the late push. Three biggies:

1. Josh Howard's uncertain health is the biggest worry. He's been a huge spark in April, playing with more energy and passion than the Mavs have seen since he made it to the All-Star Game in 2007. But it's also evident that he's bothered by the ankle injury, which Howard says will likely require offseason surgery. He'll be monitored on a day-to-day basis throughout the playoffs.

2. The Mavs' 32-9 home record -- 32-5 since starting out 0-4 at home this season -- is not as gaudy as it looks. Their play at home has been lackluster more often than not. And San Antonio is more capable than most teams of capitalizing, even without Ginobili.

3. How do we know? The Mavs' vulnerability was exposed in a road loss to the Spurs in February with both Duncan and Ginobili sidelined.

Gil considers matchups, too
Ginobili might be out, but the Spurs still have Tony Parker in the backcourt and all matchup problems attached therein.

Antoine Wright likely will be called upon to shadow, paw and otherwise impede Parker’s path to the basket. J.J. Barea, meanwhile, will get his turn to guard Parker, and we’ll see what a high-energy nuisance Barea has become.

With anything resembling a persistent defense against Parker, the Mavericks have a chance.
Since the two Texas teams last met in the postseason, nearly three years ago, Jason Kidd has replaced Devin Harris in the Mavericks’ lineup. History suggests that Popovich will try to focus on Kidd, trapping him and forcing him to relinquish the ball in uncomfortable spots.

The difference between this Kidd, however, and last April’s Kidd is Johnson. Kidd now runs the offense — most of it, at least. His experience adds a valuable component to Carlisle’s Mavericks — like having a coach on the floor.

Down the regular-season stretch, the Mavericks needed one. The other key component came from Josh Howard and his sudden fearlessness to drive to the basket.

The guess here is that Popovich and his staff have discovered that and will react accordingly. Howard is not exactly a secret to the Spurs. When the two teams last met in early March, a five-point Mavericks victory, Howard had 20 points in the game’s first 16 minutes.

The Spurs can’t both trap Kidd and double-team Nowitzki without Howard running free. Can they?
The strategy is obvious, all my Spurs-fan friends are saying. Let Dirk do his thing, they say. In the matchup between Spurs and Mavericks, rock versus paper, Duncan will always prevail over Dirk.

And then, this has nothing to do with the Series, but it is guys, Texas, and basketball…

Enjoy the Mavs run, no matter how short it turns out to be…

No comments: