The Western Conference’s top seeded San Antonio Spurs were just 5.2 seconds away from winning last season’s NBA Title. Streaking to a regular season record of 62-20, they made it very clear that they want revenge. With a roster that is constructed of familiar faces, it is also reloaded and set to prove that they once again have what it takes to get back to the Finals. In what has been rumored to be Tim Duncan’s final season of his first ballot Hall of Fame career, this may be their last chance to do so.
Lead by Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and of course, coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs reached the 60 win mark for the fourth time since the 2002-2003 season. In fact, the only time coach Popovich has ever had less than a 50 win season was in the 1998-1999 lockout shortened 50 game season in which they finished 37-13 and won their first title. Even in the lockout shortened 2011-2012 66 game season the Spurs still finished 50-16. Simply astonishing numbers.
But their first round opponent, in state rival Dallas Mavericks know all about success. The eighth seeded Mavs clawed their way back into the postseason with a 49-33 record after missing out on the playoffs last year for just the first time since the 1999-2000 season. Winners of the 2010-2011 Finals, they are hoping that their own future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki can have flashbacks to his Finals MVP brilliance.
However, the Mavericks have become a team full of new faces since then. Lead by first year Mavs Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and old friend Devin Harris, the Mavericks are back to their winning ways. The trio of guards have been exactly what Dallas needed alongside veterans Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Mark Cuban, after failing to land a big free-agent the past two years, quietly had one of the best offseasons in the league with his under the radar signing of a new and improved Monta Ellis.
The two teams squared off four times during the regular season with a lopsided 4-0 San Antonio edge. However, a rejuvenated Dirk Nowitzki is riding out a great comeback year after a bit of a championship hangover. Dirk, in his 16th season, averaged 21.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists and is fully capable of taking over an entire series, as he has done in the past.
Although, the case for Dirk taking over a series would be much more persuasive if they were not playing the Spurs. Popovich’s team has no fear, and from night to night nobody knows who is going to be the star. That’s the San Antonio Spurs way – unpredictably predictable. They did not win 62 games because of just one player, they proved that they could win with any lineup on the court. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and the everly emerging Kawhi Leonard all missed a significant amount of consecutive time. But when called upon, players like Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli rose to the occasion, making for a very scary and extremely deep Spurs roster.
Coaching will be an intriguing facet of this series. There is nothing that Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich have not seen. They will both come into this series with every trick up their sleeve, but in the end, that Spurs depth and plethora of offensive weapons will just be too much for an older Mavericks roster to handle. While the core of the Spurs is old, the depth is young. That cannot necessarily be said for Mark Cuban’s makeshift Dallas roster.
San Antonio ranked sixth in the entire NBA in opponents points per game (97.6) and first in point differential (+7.8). They also held opponents to just 44 percent field goal shooting, ranking eighth in the league. The Mavs, on the other hand, ranked just 19th in opponents points per game (102.4) and 12th in point differential (+2.4). Their opponents field goal percentage was a whopping 46 percent, which ranked 22nd in the league. Defense wins championships.
In the 29 times that the Lone Star State rivals have met in the playoffs, the Spurs lead the series 16-13 with a 3-2 series advantage. They most recently met in the 2010 postseason in which San Antonio knocked off Dallas 4-2. Expect similar results this year, with the Spurs winning the series in five.
Commentary by Rich Peters
Guardian Liberty Voice NBA Writer