Friday, April 17, 2009

Mavs, Spurs lock up in another Lone Star state showdown

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

These bitter in-state division rivals meet for the fourth time in the Playoffs since 2001. The Mavericks are the only team other than the Lakers to beat San Antonio in the postseason during that span, winning a classic seven-game series in 2006. The Spurs own postseason victories over Dallas in 2001 and '03.

"We're going down to the River Walk, a place we've been many times before," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. ".It's going to be an outstanding series, a big rival of ours and they're playing pretty good basketball. Tony Parker is not in the MVP talks, but he should be."


Tony Parker vs. Jason Kidd: Parker isn't in the MVP conversation, but Terry makes a salient point. The French speedster continues to expand his game, picking up the slack during Manu Ginobili's absences and as Tim Duncan struggles with knee issues. The Spurs wouldn't have had a chance to win the Southwest Division without 26-year-old Parker.

"I never take it for granted," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's his best year and he's carried us a lot with the injuries we've had. He's been a constant factor for us at both ends of the court. Thank heaven he's young. Let's hope he can handle it come playoffs."

Kidd doesn't have the quickness to keep up with Parker anymore, but he still has the guile. The Team USA Olympian and future Hall of Famer has played perhaps his best basketball in a Dallas uniform (second go-around) in the finishing kick that propelled the Mavs to sixth. He wrapped up the regular season with a triple-double.

Behind the numbers

50 percent: The Mavericks made more than half of their shots in three of the four games against San Antonio's vaunted defense, winning twice and losing the other in double OT. Dallas shot 48.1 percent against San Antonio this season -- the Lakers were the only Western Conference team to shoot better.

Five big questions

1. How close is Duncan to 100 percent?

Depends who you ask. Duncan is telling everyone his knees are feeling fine, and to prove it, he recently took off the two braces he was wearing. But his production has been down noticeably since the All-Star break, and he sat at one game in several back-to-backs down the stretch. Duncan's game was never built on explosiveness, but many tend to forget the quickness he once possessed around the basket.

2. Anyone remember Dirk Nowitzki?

The former MVP has manufactured another stellar season without much fanfare. Dallas' franchise stud remains a 7-foot matchup nightmare able to get his shot off at any time. Throw in his 3-point range and 90-percent marksmanship at the line, and San Antonio has quite a chore on its hands. Nowitzki can get pushed around, especially if he's not getting calls. Look for the Spurs to throws different looks at Nowitzki, from Duncan to Matt Bonner to Kurt Thomas to Bruce Bowen to Michael Finely.

3. Which side owns the stronger bench?

The Mavericks have to feel good about their second unit led by Terry, the probable Sixth Man of the Year. Lightning bug point guard J.J. Barea and athletic power forward Brandon Bass are no strangers to crunch time in what figures to be an eight-man rotation for Dallas coach Rick Carlisle.

The Spurs took a big hit, obviously, when Ginobili went down, even though the usual sixth man was starting again. Drew Gooden gives San Antonio its own lively reserve big man with a scoring punch. Thomas is a steady vet who's been through the Playoffs wars, while swingman Ime Udoka has seen his role expand with Ginobili's injury.

4. Which side has the most momentum going in?

San Antonio is flying high after its stunning comeback Wednesday that shook up the West playoff picture. Down five with less than a minute to go against New Orleans, the Spurs rallied to win in OT. Finley nailed a 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer, his second huge last-second shot of the week. San Antonio won its last four to steal the Southwest Division crown away from Houston and go from a possible fifth seed to No. 3.

"You always want to have momentum," Spurs guard Roger Mason Jr. said. "We won a few games here and we're playing better."

The Mavericks can say the same after enjoying a similar climb, going from the eighth seed and a certain first-round exit against the Lakers to sixth in the span of 10 days. The push began with a win over Phoenix before the Mavs knocked off three teams -- Utah, New Orleans and Houston -- ahead of them in the standings. Dallas has won seven of its last nine.

5. How much does the home-court mean?

A lot and not much. Both the AT&T Center and American Airlines Center house hardcore rowdies with a spirited dislike (hate?) for their opponents in this series. As intimidating as both buildings promise to be, it's nothing either side hasn't seen before. The Spurs and Mavs both own multiple Playoffs wins on the other's home court.

"We're a veteran ballclub and we understand how important it is in to win at home and we're confident at home," Kidd said. "We've got to find a way to win on the road in the playoffs."


Mavericks in 7

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