(3) MAVERICKS vs (6) TRAILBLAZERS
Season Series: 2-2
Ever since the Mavs let Steve Nash ‘walk’ back in the summer of 2004, the Mavs have been haunted by early round exits, the infamous Finals choke job against Miami and one of the biggest upsets in NBA history against #8 seed Golden State.
In the Nash era the Mavs were notoriously known as ‘overachievers’ that got the most out of their talent (Nash, Dirk, Finley and a bunch defenseless nobody’s) that NO team in the playoffs wanted to face based simply on their fearless style of play. This is a team that took eventual champ San Antonio in 2003 six games in the WCF WITHOUT Dirk, while starting guys like Shawn Bradley, Walt Williams and Raja Bell. This team played hard and was never an easy out.
Mark Cuban panicked after the first round exit to a talented Sacramento team in 2004 with all the media backlash stating the run and fun style would never work, and that you needed a traditional center – ala Erick Dampier – to guard the likes of Duncan, Vlade and Shaq in order to win a NBA Championship.
Quick Point to this ridiculous thought process: In the NBA you play to your strengths which is exactly what Don Nelson did with Nash, Finley and Dirk. However, in 2004 when you have Shawn Bradley, Antoine Walker and Antwan Jamison as the guys playing the glue, defense and rebounding roles around them, well that just simple does not work. Marquis Daniels (undrafted rookie) was the starting two guard next to Nash that last season. The Mavs team simply did not fit well. Don’t blame Nash for his lack of defense that deemed him expendable after the Sacramento exit—a team that went 7 games in WCF and should have beaten the Lakers. When you have Jamison, Walker and Dirk (along with Finley) behind you defensively, what do you expect??
(Does anyone remember that Don Nelson had the #1 defensive team in the 80’s while coaching the Milwaukee Bucks to 6 straight division titles while playing to the strength of his players- DEFENSE)
Post Nash Era: (Mavs are now known as the ultimate Underachievers)
In 2005 a resurgent Phoenix Suns team led by Steve Nash (MVP) knocked off the Mavs in the 2nd round, let by the infamous Nash 3 in game 6 that Terry did not defend and then ultimately PHX cruised through OT and finished off the Mavs.
In 2006 the basketball gods were aligned for the Mavs as Dirk and his eleven cronies were finally able to get the monkey off their back and beat the Spurs in arguably one of the best 7 game series of all time. PHX had no Amare Stoudemire in 2006 due to a knee injury, yet was still waiting for Dallas in the WCF and took Dallas six games with a starting lineup of Nash, Bell, Boris Diaw, Marion and Tim Thomas—really?
Then the infamous collapse vs Miami in the NBA Finals (Wade-Gate) signified the fact that Dirk just simply could not win the title alone. The Harris/Terry backcourt got exposed for what it was (too small and one dimensional) and Dampier/Diop were simply crushed down low vs dinosaur Alonzo Mourning and Haslem. Shaq never even made an impression on the series. The Mavs sorely missed a 2nd banana in the Championship series and that has since haunted the Dallas Mavericks Franchise ever since.
In 2007 Golden State simply was the better team with more talent. I was at game one and before it tipped off I told my friend that GS had the better team. How does that happen in a 1 vs 8 seed matchup?? Dirk simply has never had a 2nd guy to take the pressure off of him and that has never changed since the departure of Nash. Josh Howard? (where’s he now!), Devin Harris (fools gold- who wants him now?), Stackhouse? Really— where is the talent??
Sidenote: Nash reveals in Sports Illustrated that had he resigned with the Mavs they would have won one if not more NBA Championships…
In 2008 New Orleans made the ‘same’ Mavs team look old. Yes, Jason Kidd was new to the team and gives the Mavs some steady leadership in the backcourt and is a ‘gamer’ that helps make the team more versatile, but still- who’s the 2nd guy?
In 2009 the Mavs really peaked towards the end of the season and appeared primed to be a tough out. They upset SA in the first round (old SA team outside big 3) and played Denver valiantly before losing to a superior team in five games.
In 2010 the Mavs appeared poised to make their best run since the 2006 Finals season with the in-season trades for Haywood/Butler/Stevenson, but they ran up against a ‘game’ San Antonio team that was peaking at just the right time and lost in six games. This is the same SA team that ran away with the number one seed this year so just tough luck of the draw on this one.
In conversation with several Mavs Media Insiders they were easily projecting the Mavs in 5-6 games over San Antonio. I vehemently disagreed with this and had the Spurs in 7 games based solely on George Hill being the difference maker this time around (the big 3 finally had a 4th to help take the load off). Remember that most these Mavs Insiders are writers first and basketball/sports minded people second- if that. Most don’t see the game ‘real’ basketball people see it. Several ‘basketball’ people within the Mavs did state that George Hill was their biggest fear and that proved to be true.
So, with all this being said, what can we expect out of the Mavs vs Portland first round series that seems primed for a Portland upset by ALL the so-called experts. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard local and national media state how the Mavs have underachieved in the last five years (since Miami meltdown) which basically coincides with the release of Nash and the heart and soul of the team during their ‘overachieving years in the first half of the decade (00-04). Maybe the Mavs just don’t have that much talent to go with Dirk? Are they deep with above average talent? Yes. But, do they have someone that can help take pressure off Dirk in playoff basketball and deliver since Nash left? NO.
Overview: Portland won the last two meetings of the season and their new versatility with the Gerald Wallace trade gives Portland a lot of matchup advantages that Dallas is going to have trouble countering. Portland is quicker, younger, faster and bigger on the perimeter and I think this is what will be the difference in the series.
Breakdown by Position:
PG: Jason Kidd vs Ander Miller: (EDGE- EVEN). At 38 Jason Kidd has led an amazing HOF career, but he is now resigned as a spot of 3pt shooter, yet an effective one and provides spurts of effective defense against the opponents top wing players when asked too. Kidd will need to be able to keep Miller out of the lane from getting easy baskets and make Miller a jump shooter. Kidd does provide intangible value, but again only in spurts and not consistently simply b/c of his age. Andre Miller had 50 just last year while Kidd was guarding him, so Miller still has the ability to take over games at times.
SG: Jason Terry vs Wes Matthews (Edge- Portland). I put Jason Terry in this slot based solely on the fact he will get the majority of minutes at this position even though the Mavs will start DeShawn Stevenson for a few minutes. Based on Terry’s playoff track record and the fact he is a one ‘trick’ pony I fear Portland will have a bigger edge at this position then most anticipate. Wes Matthews was a steal for Portland (FA from Utah) who in his 2nd season has blossomed into a very effective wing player that can shoot, drive-finish / create his own shot and plays solid defense and is an effective rebounder for his position. Think D-Will missed him in Utah?
SF: Shawn Marion vs Gerald Wallace (Edge- EVEN). Shawn Marion has arguably been the 2nd best Mavs player the second half of the season. He gives the Mavs athleticism and ability to get easy baskets within 10 feet that no one besides Dirk and Barea are able to get. Marion is going to need to have a HUGE series if the Mavs plan to advance. Marion is the Mavs best on-ball defender at the 3-4 positions. G. Wallace gives Portland the same type of player and their best lineup features Wallace at the four and Aldridge at the 5- expect to see a lot of this vs. the Mavs with Wallace on Dirk.
PF: Dirk vs LaMarcus Aldridge (Edge- slight edge to Dirk). Yes, Dirk is the best player in this series, but Aldridge played at a 24/10 level the 2nd half of the season and catapulted himself into the annual all-star conversation. Based on his recent play this could very easily be a wash unless Dirk raises his game another level—which will have to happen if the Mavs plan to advance. Dirk will be facing constant double and triple teams so it will be up to the rest of the team to produce to ease this pressure.
C: Tyson Chandler vs Marcus Camby (Edge- Mavs). Marcus Camby can still be a disruption in the lane and it will be up to Tyson Chandler to neutralize him and force his will to be the best interior player in the series. Expect to see a lot of Chandler matching up with Aldridge in this series. This will be a key matchup, as Chandler has to keep his feet on the ground with Aldridge pump fakes and keep him from getting to the rim. Give Aldridge the 14+ footers all day long- ala Duncan- and live by that.
Bench: Barea, Roddy, Peja, Brewer, Haywood & Deshawn vs Roy, Batum, Fernandez & Patty Mills (Edge- HEAVY to Portland). Portland’s versatility -or luxury- of being able to bring a 80% Roy (all star when healthy), defensive ace and 3 pt shooter in Batum, gamer in Fernandez and a lighting bug PG in Mills is going to give the Mavs fits throughout the series. All of the wing players are interchangeable and give Blazers a multitude of options to matchup with the Mavs. At this point JJ Barea is the only Mav off the bench that can make an impact on the game in a positive fashion. Yes, Peja, Roddy, Haywood and even Brewer have the talent to do some things, but none have done so consistently though out the year and thus, it’s hard to know what to expect.
Coaching: Carlisle vs McMillan (Edge- Even). I love Carlisle as an X&O coach and he does a very good job preparing his teams based on matchups, but McMillan is no slouch either and he seems to have a squad that fits his style of play. Should be interesting to see how he coach adjusts throughout the series.
Intangibles: Edge- Portland. Portland has all the momentum going into this series as they have been on a roll since the Gerald Wallace acquisition at the trade deadline. They are younger, more athletic, playing with confidence and have an all star in Aldridge to lean on. This team is on the rise and they know it so I believe they have the mental edge going into this series. (They have openly admitted they wanted to Dallas in the first round- sounds confident to me).
In Summary: Dallas is again fighting all the nay-sayers that they cannot get out of the first round and their recent end of the season fade is an example of a team that just simply does not have enough talent around Dirk to make them a legitimate threat. Everyone will be expecting the worse, which is not the ‘mental’ state you want your team and fans to have going into this series.
After Dirk, Portland arguably has the next best five players in Aldridge, Wallace, Miller, Matthews and Roy. Portland is too big, strong, athletic and quick on the perimeter for the Mavericks and will reduce Dallas to Dirk to a one man show unless someone from Dallas can set up and be the second banana that Dallas has so dearly missed since the departure of Steve Nash.
Prediction: Blazers in 6
Key Player of Series: Wes Matthews