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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.


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