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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NBA WCF: Mavs-Suns

Sun down

With both teams coming off inspiring Game 7 victories, look for the 2006 Western Conference Finals to be more intense than “Jaws”. The stakes are high with both teams looking to dispel the thoughts that they aren’t built for the playoffs and make an entrance to the NBA finals, facing the winner of the Detroit-Miami series.

The Mavericks just finished off the reigning NBA Champions with a 119-111 overtime victory were Dirk Nowitzki proved critics wrong with his tough 37 points and 15 rebounds. Despite being up 3-1 then losing two heart-wrenching games in a row, the Mavericks pulled through in emphatic style partly due to the 27 points from returning boxer, Jason Terry. The Suns, on the other hand, cruised to victory in Game 7 with 20 points to spare. Lead by a combined 59 points from Marion and Nash (30 & 29 respectively) the Suns smashed the longtime playoff virgins, the Clippers.

Returning Western Conference Finals competitors, Phoenix Suns, face a tough task when they arrive in the American Airlines Center on Wednesday for Game 1. The Mavericks have the momentum of a running bull, thanks to the defeat of the Spurs recently, they are the hottest team in the league, and all eyes will be placed upon the blue and white boys of Fort Worth.

Avery Johnson out-coached mentor Gregg Poppovich, but what gameplan lies ahead against the team that eliminated Dallas last year? Well, the Suns can be defeated, and Avery just needs to press the right buttons and the Mavericks will be too hot for the Suns.

Dirk Nowitzki needs to attack the basket relentlessly, he averaged 27/13 against the Spurs thanks to his attacking mindset. He shot over the quicker Michael Finley, the Mavs legend for 8 years, and drove against the defensive Tim Duncan. He faces another task against rebounding machine Shawn Marion where not only does Marion have quickness and agility working for him, but he has an amazing array of defensive moves – partly thanks to his long arms. Nowitzki needs to be “our MVP” (as Harris describes him) and step up, to erase last year’s embarrassing early playoff exit.

The X factor for Dallas will be sophomore Devin Harris, whose importance in swinging the series in Dallas’ favour is understated. He averaged 20.6 PPG between game 2 and game 5, but then did a Houdini and disappeared when during the “clutch”. Dallas needs him to step up big and prove to be a slashing machine, to make do for the post defense the Suns don’t have. The Suns have let Elton Brand dominate them, the same way Dallas let Tim Duncan dominate them, but I will choose to ignore that section history. Devin Harris, if on his game, has the chance to embarrass two time MVP Steve Nash. Nash struggled with fatigue during the Second Round, and against a speedster like Devin, Nash’ legs could fall off. The game were Harris bullied Nash into 10 turnovers will forever be etched into my mind.

The Mavericks also have to deny the Phoenix Suns their 3 ball, they made a record 15 3 pointer’s in Game 7. Dallas need to put their arms in the face of every 3 point shot that Phoenix takes, challenge all attempts and the hustle will be paid off. The Suns live by the 3, and Dallas’ goal will to make them die by it as well. However, Dallas still needs to be able to hit the bucket consistently to mix up their offense. In comparison, Dallas made 29 3 pointers in their 2nd round, compared to Phoenix’ 77 makes.

Dallas can not be burnt by the other Suns, namely Boris Diaw. His versatility proves to be an imminent threat to Dallas, whoever matches up on him is faced with a difficult task, to stop the consistent rebounding and playmaking that Diaw brings to Phoenix. The Mavs need to counter with their “forgotten stars”, like Stackhouse, Dampier (whose post defense will anchor the series) and even DJ MBenga, who has 2 career starts à both against Phoenix

The upcoming series will undoubtedly be a defining moment in Dallas Mavericks history, they lost last season in 6 games to former Dallas All-Star Steve Nash and his Valley boys – but the team has another Avery Johnson buckle on their belt and their defense has risen. They need to control the pace of the game and not get sucked into the Suns run’n’gun system, they run it to a tee, matching up with the Showtime Lakers. I hope the precedent of a great 2nd round will not be forgotten and I assure you that it will have more twists than “Saw” and Grant Hills ankle combined, it will certainly get the heart racing.

“As a franchise and as a team we have definitely taken a step in the right direction, but we are not done yet” promised Jason Terry

I almost forgot, Mavs fans, Dirk (I) implore you to boo Steve Nash until your throat is sore. Not because he bolted for less money, but because it’d be unjust to Finley.

Dallas in 6. Book it.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

NBA WC Semi Finals: Mavs-Spurs

Imagine a desolate street, windows creaking due to the incessant wind, townspeople peeping through the cracks for a glimpse and two Texans fighting over a salacious girl in the centre of the town throwing out clichés like “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”. They face each other and draw their guns, the quickest “competitor” defeats his opponent with reflexes and aim, and he wins over the girl and rides off into the sunset – soon to inevitably face another problem.

Adapt this scenario from a cheesy Western film to the highlife, glitzed-out lifestyles of the NBA players in the playoffs and you get a scene eerily similar to the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Two Texas teams battle it out, where reflexes and aim will be two big factors in deciding who advances for a date in the Western Conference Finals.

Enough with my lame metaphor riddled comparisons, the Mavericks will have their hands full with the reigning NBA champs when the series starts on Sunday at midday.

"Dallas has probably been off longer than Avery wants them to be," said Poppovich. "We will be more tired than we want to be."

The series will be a clash of matchups; Coach of the Year Avery Johnson against mentor Gregg Poppovich (Johnson won a ring in ’99 with the Spurs). Amnesty day victim Michael Finley playing against the team where he played 9 seasons. Dirk Nowitzki clashing heads with Tim Duncan à two of the premier players in the league. Dallas needs to remember their Nellie roots and capitalize on mismatches, because, obviously with Dirk the oppositions defense is going to be muddled and the perimeter match ups will vary from (for example): Duncan to Howard or Oberto to Daniels. Dallas needs to take advantage of this and these players need to score on the perimeter, dragging them out further and further from their comfort zone. They need to make them stick out like when Van Horn went to the Million Man March.

So what does Dallas have to do to win the series? Well, where to begin…

The Mavericks need to play their own game plan, not get sucked into the Spurs slow style – which means exposing a (rare) flaw in the Spurs system by running and gunning (and they’re good at that as well).

There’s yet to be a game where these two teams have been healthy, and the looming series hopes to provide that (knock on wood), both teams are extremely deep and Dallas needs to be able to rest their players and still compete, the bench production needs to be big, Mengke Bateer big.

Although, Dallas’ defense is more improved than Boris, they still need to focus on boxing out to stop them from dominating the offensive boards as they have done in prior matchups – guys like Oberto, Duncan and Mohammed made the frontline look the Mavericks where Shawn Bradley and Juwan Howard manned the paint. Subsequently, the offensive rebounds lead to second chance points and because of the potent offensive daggers San Antonio has, it’s always a threat to be stabbed.

Dallas matches up well with San Antonio defensively, playoff rookie DeSagana Diop plays Tim Duncan quite well with his athleticism and timing on shot blocking, Griffin and Howard will hassle whomever they guard and most importantly with Devin Harris becoming healthy, Dallas will have someone to run with Tony Parker and challenge him. If Parker should get through, the Mavericks need to rotate on defense and have someone step in front of him to not give him an easy lay-up, which was something they did quite well recently. Dallas’ weakness still lies here though, they have struggled with perimeter defense (and it is obvious), they are thrown out by fakes and have weak 3 point defense. Tim Duncan is not the player he used to be, he averaged 18/9 against a soft Brad Miller and Kenny Thomas – but he is still capable of All-NBA level play by anchoring the post and scoring in the paint.. He’s just not that good.

One of the biggest factors in this series will be not physical, but mental. Dallas has shown they can come into the Spurs house, take off their shoes and make themselves at home, they love the hate given to them by the Spurs fans. Momentum will play a huge part of the games, when a team has momentum they can will their shots in and they break into another gear, a gear they rarely use. Momentum mixed with intensity will take San Antonio by storm and show them a new Dallas they’ve never encountered.

With that said, I am predicting Dallas wins in 7 games. The Spurs may have playoff experience, but I am feeling it for Dallas, who are the only team to have swept their opening round match up.

It is better to be rusty for 2 quarters than unhealthy for a series.

So as the first matchup draws closer and closer, the Mavericks need Dirk Nowitzki to be their Clint Eastwood by overcoming the deadly and dirty villain of Bruce Bowen.

I’ll leave with a fitting Manu Ginobili quote. It's going to be like the conference finals”.