Mavs make playoff push, should hope for Spurs in first round.
By: Dustin Dietz
The abbreviated NBA season comes to an end next week, and the Dallas Mavericks are fighting for their playoffs lives. The defending champions have had to endure a season of major roster turnover, injuries, and the Lamar Odom situation. Currently, Dallas is one and a half games up on the ninth place Houston Rockets with four games left in the lockout shortened 2011-12 NBA regular season.
The Mavericks just concluded a 2-2 road trip which ended with two overtime losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. In a span of 32 hours, the Mavericks played four combined overtimes and 116 minutes of basketball. The defending champs like their playoff chances if they are rested, but having to play four overtimes on a back-to-back to conclude a road trip does not usually bode well for older teams such as the Mavs.
The Mavs next two games at home against Houston and Golden State are crucial. If Dallas were to lose one of the two games at home, the playoffs then become precarious because the season concludes with road games at potent Eastern Conference playoff teams Chicago and Atlanta.
As of this moment, Dallas is locked into the seventh seed in the Western Conference and would play Oklahoma City in the first round due to the Thunder being percentage points behind San Antonio for first place in the West. The Mavs having home court advantage in the first round is now out of the question, and with Memphis having six games left against awful teams, the Mavs have little chance of moving up to the fifth seed as the Grizzlies are up two games on them.
Assuming Dallas even makes the playoffs, they will have to open on the road against one of the three Western Conference powers (Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or the Los Angeles Lakers). Both the Mavs overall road record of 13-18, including 0-6 against the Thunder, Spurs, and Lakers, is rather ominous. However, in 1995, the Houston Rockets went into the playoffs as the 6th seed in the West, and were able to successfully defend their NBA championship. As former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said after Houston won the NBA Finals in 1995, “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.”
The Mavericks have as good of a chance of winning as any team in the tournament due to their playoff experience. If the Mavericks are to have success in the playoffs, they have to rebound and attack the basket with more regularity. As of this writing, Dallas is 28th in the NBA in opponent’s rebounds per game, and 25th in the league in attempted free-throws.
The Mavericks must get better rebound production from center Brendan Haywood, as Haywood is averaging 6.2 rebounds per game. To put the 6.2 rebounds per game into perspective, former Mavericks center Tyson Chandler is averaging 10 rebounds a game this season with the New York Knicks.
Dallas also needs Dirk to morph back into the player he was in the 2011 NBA playoffs by charging at the rim to get to the free-throw line more often. Nowitzki is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game in the regular season, his lowest number since 2003-04. Dirk displayed tenacious aggression in the 2011 NBA Finals run as he averaged 8.8 free-throw attempts per game and made 94% of his free-throws in the playoffs. Dallas hopes Dirk is preserving his body this regular season to be fresh for the playoffs, and the low free-throw attempts per game is an aberration. Dirk’s twelve free-throw attempts in Utah Monday night is certainly encouraging.
Who do Mavs want to see in playoffs?
As previously mentioned, if the Mavericks do indeed make the playoffs, they will open on the road against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, or the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks overall record is 3-9 against these formidable Western giants. Allow me to rank the possible playoff match-ups for our little Mavericks.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
After sweeping the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs last year, culminating with the Mother’s Day Massacre in Dallas, the Mavericks went 0-4 against the Lakers during the regular season
The Mavericks played the Lakers close in the first two meetings, losing by a combined total of eight points. The first game was back in January, an ugly game in which the Lakers won 73-70 as Derek Fisher (now with the Thunder) swished the Lakers first three in the final seconds to defeat the Mavs.
In the two most recent games, the Lakers out rebounded the Mavericks by 27 as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum abused the Mavs on the glass. The Lakers shot a combined 52.5 % in the two games, and Kobe Bryant did not even suit up for the game this past Sunday between the teams.
The Lakers are on a bit of a roll heading into the playoffs as they are 8-2 in their last ten games. Acquiring Ramon Sessions has been a shot in the arm for them as he has given their offense a jolt. I just do not envision the Mavericks being able to handle the Lakers size and athleticism. If the Mavs open with the Lakers, I would expect a quick playoff exit for Dallas.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Mavericks defeated the young Thunder in five games in last year’s Western Conference Finals. The Thunder are 3-1 against Dallas this season, but have needed late game heroics in the final moments in two of the three wins.
In the Mavs third game of the regular season on December 29th, Kevin Durant hit a three pointer at the buzzer to defeat the Mavs, and on March 5th the Mavericks went on a scoring drought in the final minutes as the Thunder came back to steal a win in Oklahoma City.
The Mavericks were unable to hold a rebounding advantage in any of the four games against the Thunder, tying OKC in rebounds in the first two games, and then losing the battle on the boards by a combined 20 rebounds in the final two meetings. Brendan Haywood missed the third game between the two teams, and hurt himself in the opening seconds of the Thunder’s most recent victory on March 5th. If the Mavs are to have a chance against the Thunder, Haywood has to contribute on the boards.
Oklahoma City star player Kevin Durant typically does not play well against Dallas, and has a hard time generating offense against Shawn Marion. Remember the block Marion had on Durant in the finals seconds of the Mavs’ epic comeback win in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals? Marion would draw the task of covering Durant in a playoff series, and would have to prevent Durant from taking the series over.
Oklahoma City is not a nightmarish match-up for Dallas. Dallas has beaten OKC, and could realistically beat them again. However, in two games this season in OKC, the Thunder went to the stripe 34 more times than the Mavs. With the Thunder having home court advantage in the playoff series, I would not like the Mavs’ antique bodies against an exuberant Thunder team which loves to penetrate into the lane.
San Antonio Spurs
The Mavericks and their instate rival despise one another. Since 2001, the Spurs and Mavs have played one another in the playoffs five times, with the Spurs holding a 3-2 advantage in playoff series victories. An interesting factoid is the lower seeded team has won the last three playoff series between the teams. When the Spurs and Mavericks play, one really can throw the records out the window.
The teams split the four games during the regular season, with the home team winning each game. Despite the Mavericks putrid opponents rebounds per game average, Dallas has actually out rebounded the Spurs in three of the four regular season games. However, the Spurs did own the boards in the most recent meeting on March 23rd 54-34 in an easy 104-87 San Antonio victory.
The Spurs shot 49% from beyond the arc against the Mavs this season, averaging twelve makes a game. Dallas ranks ninth in the NBA in opponent’s three point percentage in 2011-12. So, the Spurs success from deep against the Mavs could be considered an anomaly. San Antonio has shot the ninth most three pointers this season in the NBA. As Mavs fans are fully aware, teams which rely on the three so heavily do not last long in the playoffs. Just ask the Don Nelson led Maverick teams of the early 2000’s.
Both San Antonio and Dallas rank in the bottom third of the NBA in free-throw attempts. So, the Mavs inability to get to the free-throw line would be irrelevant because the Spurs are just as inefficient at getting to the line as the Mavs are.
The Spurs are now led by former Mr. Eva Longoria, Tony Parker. Parker is averaging 18 points a game, and is dishing out a career high 7.6 assists per game. Parker has also improved his once abysmal free-throw percentage to 80% this year.
Tim Duncan is no longer the indomitable double-double beast he once was, but he can still play, averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds a game this year. Manu Ginobili has only appeared in 29 games this season for San Antonio, but he is averaging a career high 50% field goal percentage in the small sample size of games.
The belief is the Spurs are an older team with numerous players getting ready for retirement, but the Spurs average age is 27, while the Mavs is 30. Incredibly, Tony Parker has still not had his 30th birthday. As paramount as playoff experience is in the NBA, energy is just as important and younger players tend to possess that.
The Spurs are the best first round playoff match-up for the Mavs as the familiarity with the Spurs would be extremely beneficial. The Mavs would have to rebound and guard the perimeter better than they did in the four regular season games. Do not allow the Spurs and Gregg Popovich to run their beloved half-court offense and force them into a kinetic transition game. I could see a long series between the two teams.
What if Mavs miss playoffs?
I do not believe this is likely, but if the Mavs do happen to miss the playoffs, it would not be a total disaster because the draft should be deep this year. The Mavs did trade a first round selection for Lamar Odom, but the pick is lottery protected.
If the Mavs were to enter the lottery and somehow able to obtain a high pick, the franchise could be set up for success many years into the future. This might be hard to fathom, but Dirk will not be around forever. Imagine if the Mavs are able to draft Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Harrison Barnes, and then sign Deron Williams in the off season. I hate to admit, but as a prudent man I believe missing the playoffs might be the best option.
The NBA Playoffs are always an entertaining time of year for the sports fan. Even if the Mavs are unable to have success this postseason, I encourage all DFW sports fanatics to watch for the nightly drama the NBA offers during the postseason. Enjoy.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18