San Antonio vs. Dallas: NBA playoff preview

Grizzled veterans Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki meet once again in what could be their final playoff matchup

Grizzled veterans Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki meet once again in what could be their final playoff matchup

The time has finally come.  No more lineup scrambles or rest for the weary.  No more traveling back-to-backs or 8-game home stands.  82 games have come and gone, and now none of them matter in the slightest.  The playoffs are here, and there’s no better way to kick them off than with an in-state, Lone Star Showdown.

It’s hard to find a better rivalry in the NBA today than what the Mavericks and Spurs have built up over the years.  I’ve spent my entire life enthralled by this matchup, watching the living legends of Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan battling for Texas dominance.  Now that they are near the end of their storied careers, the basketball gods have graced us with what may be their last playoff matchup against one another.  No matter the outcome, it’s almost guaranteed that these two will put on one hell of a show.

The Breakdown:

Having cruised through most of the season at the top of the NBA, it’s no surprise that San Antonio came out on top in the West.  Even with 17 different starters throughout the year due to injury, rest, and lineup tinkering, the Spurs managed to come out with 62 wins, the best in the NBA.  Despite their tenured rivalry and some fan hatred on both sides, the Spurs managed to sweep the Mavericks in the regular season, adding four wins to their total.

Dallas came into the season with new faces and a new strategy.  With a revamped backcourt of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis, it was apparent early on that Dallas would be much focused much more on their offense than their defense.  Most critics counted the Mavericks out for most of the season, saying they didn’t have enough firepower to sneak into the playoffs in the West.  Having peaked at the right time and won when necessary, the Mavs were the first to clinch a playoff spot between the 3-team duel for the seventh and eighth seeds before finally locking in at number 8 after their loss to Memphis Wednesday night.

The Difference:

It’s no secret that San Antonio is the better team in this matchup.  They’re focused, dialed-in, and have the veteran leadership to make it all the way back to the Finals.  Dallas still has massive breakdowns defensively and are doomed offensively if Dirk and/or Monta are struggling on any given night.

Living in the DFW area, I watch about 90% of the the Mavs games.  They’re an amazingly fun team to watch when their shot is falling, but when it’s not, it’ like watching a car wreck.  The Spurs system has picked apart the Dallas defense in all four match-ups this season, exploiting the overall lack of athleticism that Dallas always rolls out on the court.

The motion, cutting, and screening of the Spurs offense allows any player on any given night to exploit the weaknesses that Dallas has, and you better believe that they will.  Expect some high-scoring nights from San Antonio’s guards due to Jose Calderon’s utter lack of defensive awareness and capability.

Prediction:

I honestly can’t fathom any scenario where Dallas wins more than two games, let alone the series.  I know these two teams better than I know any other team in the league combined, and there are just too many lapses in the Dallas system that should provide San Antonio with a fairly easy second round entrance.

Ultimately, I’ve got the Spurs winning in 5.  I think Dallas will have at least one game where their offense is just in too much of a rhythm for their defense to squander, but I can’t see them having much more of a chance than that.  Rick Carlisle is a fantastic coach that has proven to be one of the best playoff strategists in the game, but Popovich’s squad of leaders and selfless shooters should easily overpower the one-dimensional Mavs.

Catch Game 1 on Sunday at 1:00 pm ET on TNT

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