Blog Entry

Road to the Finals: Dallas Mavericks

Posted on: March 16, 2011 7:53 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 4:20 pm
The Dallas Mavericks are struggling through March but will that mean anything come playoff time? Posted by Ben Golliver. dirk-cheer

The Dallas Mavericks have the consistency thing down pat: 2010-2011 will mark the team's 11th straight 50+ win season and 11th consecutive trip to the playoffs. Being "consistently above average but not great" can be uniquely frustrating as Mavericks fans know all too well, as Dallas has enjoyed just one playoff series victory in the last four seasons. The question this season is whether enough has changed to push Dallas over the top that might lead to a deep playoff run.

Minus a stretch without star forward Dirk Nowitzki, this season has been as promising as any in recent memory. This is a tested, cohesive group: Nowitzki has fought through knee pain to emerge as an MVP candidate, Jason Terry becomes even more Jason Terry by the day and the old guard of Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion continue to find ways to get it done. As Tom Haberstroh of noted Wednesday, the Mavericks' 47-19 record sells their performance short, as it includes a 2-7 stretch that Dallas played without Nowitzki, when their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers couldn't have been more different than what they have posted when Nowitzki had laced them up. 

There have been some speedbumps recently. In the last 10 days, Dallas has dropped games to four Western Conference playoff teams: the Memphis Grizzlies, the New Orleans Hornets (who played without all-star point guard Chris Paul), the Los Angeles Lakers (who watched Kobe Bryant go down to an ankle sprain) and the Portland Trail Blazers (who are still working Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby back into the rotation after arthroscopic knee surgeries). None of the losses were due to off nights from Nowitzki. Indeed, Nowitzki tallied at or above his average of 23 points per game in each game and he even shot above 50% from the field in all four defeats.  

Instead, the struggles trace back to the old bugaboos: interior defense and rebounding. Andrew Bynum dominated the Mavericks, notching 22 and 15, while Pau Gasol went along for the ride with 18 points and 5 rebounds. David West got 16 and 10 while Carl Landry, off the bench, tacked on 15 points and four rebounds. For Memphis, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 43 points and 19 rebounds, shooting an uber-efficient 16-22. And, on Tuesday, LaMarcus Aldridge exploded on the Mavericks for the third time this season, finishing with a game-high 30 points and adding eight rebounds, muscling around and through Dallas's defenders seemingly at will.

About this time of year, analysts start looking to forecast first round upset specials and Dallas has started to find itself as a hot button team in this discussion. These losses have raised some eyebrows; are the Mavericks suddenly vulnerable?

Truth be told, I like the Mavericks over all three of their most likely first round playoff opponents. On the season, the Mavericks are 12th in defensive efficiency and 13th in overall rebound rate, so recent results against top competition aren't totally representative of their overall resume. To knock Dallas out of the playoffs, then, you must play above average or better defense to counter their experience and cohesion, and either have multiple interior options that can exploit Dallas's questions in the middle or execute your own offensive system so well that you can win both a shootout or a slow-down execution battle, depending on the circumstances. Memphis, Portland and New Orleans just don't fit that formula.

Road To The Finals
The Grizzlies, should they hang around, will enter the playoffs facing all the obvious questions about how they'll do when push comes to shove, how well they'll be able to play as a team and how well they'll execute when things matter. Most likely, their offense, when tested, will become a lot of one-on-one play, which, in a seven-game series, isn't going to allow you to keep pace with the Mavericks. On paper, Memphis is fairly well equipped defensively to match Dallas piece-for-piece, but will their team defense stand up to Dallas' ability to execute late in games? Will their focus remain intact when Nowitzki and Terry go on one of their back-breaking second half tears? Without having seen this group do it before, it's difficult to envision. Also, Jason Kidd: 121 career playoff games. Mike Conley: 0 career playoff games.

The Hornets, though, have both the defensive chops -- 6th in the NBA in efficiency -- and the playoff experience to stand toe-to-toe with the Mavericks. The question for New Orleans will be who, if anyone, will emerge as consistent offensive options outside of Paul and West. While Dallas isn't excellent defensively, they are above average, and they'll do a reasonable job of forcing your auxiliary options to make plays. Newsflash: Trevor Ariza still can't hit from deep, the Hornets' bench is still a hot mess and Emeka Okafor doesn't have Bynum's ability to become a true second interior threat to take some of the burden off of West. Short of a transformative series from Paul, something he's entirely capable of, New Orleans has all the makings of a relatively quick out, especially because they've hovered around .500 ball since a red hot start to the season. 

The Blazers, finally, might be the basketball fan's dream match-up for the Mavericks. Just as Dallas has become a trendy upset special pick, Portland has become a trendy underdog, with NBATV's Chris Webber predicting this week the Blazers will upset whomever they face in the first road. Back-and-forth the Blazers and Mavericks went on Tuesday night, until the game's final seconds, when Nowitzki's potential game-tying three-pointer rimmed out, sending Portland home winners. Who wouldn't watch that series? No one, that's who.

But while Aldridge is a clear and continuous problem that the Mavericks haven't been able to solve this season, the Blazers are not a consistently good defensive team -- merely average -- and they're also not yet a finished product due to injuries and a trade deadline move for Gerald Wallace. While the New York Times smartly noted the flexibility that is now at coach Nate McMillan's disposal, the flipside of flexibility is a lack of definition, something that has bitten the Blazers in recent playoff losses to the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns

Guard Brandon Roy's health also remains a big question mark as he continues to work his way back from dual arthroscopic knee surgeries. On Tuesday, his 21 points were the difference, but he made no future promises afterwards, stating that "the next game could be different." He then promptly sat out Portland's Wednesday practice with a sore back. His impact on Tuesday was unexpected and his struggles on defense were not exploited by Dallas as completely as they could be during a seven game series. It's unlikely Roy will perform to that level over the course of an entire series without Dallas being able to counter him more effectively than they did on Tuesday.

Portland's victory -- at home -- came not only with Roy playing his best ball of the season but also with guards Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews hitting from outside. A major factor in Portland's lineup juggling has been the team's incredibly inconsistent shooting, something that figures to be the team's Achilles heel come playoff time. Meanwhile, Kidd was a no-show from deep and Terry was solid but not spectacular. If you're Dallas, you watch the game tape thinking that if any one of those five players had played more like himself -- if just one of the Blazers had shot slightly worse or one of the Mavericks had been more impactful -- the game swings the other direction. Over a seven-game series, with a time to prepare for Portland's lineups, that would seem to favor Dallas in a big way.

Aside from the individual match-ups, Dallas is not only better at home than all three teams, they're also better on the road this season than all three teams. On top of that, Portland (16-19), New Orleans (16-20) and Memphis (14-21) are all well below .500 when playing on the road. Memphis, it should be noted, did win both games against the Mavericks in Dallas this year, while Portland and New Orleans were a combined 0-3.

Put it all together and I think any mid-March panic in Dallas is a bit premature, especially in relation to the first round. Past that, however, Dallas' questions will loom much larger.

Since: Mar 6, 2008
Posted on: April 6, 2011 10:47 pm

Road to the Finals: Dallas Mavericks

Say caowtman: Same Dallas team, many NBA experts had in conversation with The Lakers. Question did Kirk return to soon? Now some say Butler, will make Mav's stronger playoff contender. Bulletin, Dallas don't win first round, no mix with Spurs or Lakers!! Currently teams playing like Title Contenders: Nuggets, Blazers and Thunder. Lakers coasting or losing their edge, to defend their Title??? Memphis the Team flying under the Radar, or waiting to shock the Top dogs. As I posted many times The Playoff's, will be no cake walk, no matter what Laker homers believe.  3 peat is largest fantasy on these boards.Smile

Since: Oct 19, 2007
Posted on: March 18, 2011 6:05 pm

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

Portland is improved,and could give Dallas a little trouble.VERY LITTLE.Dallas in five.Absolutely no answers for Dirk,and the Mavs bench is just way to deep for the Blazers.I do believe though,Portland & OKC will be in the mix AK(After Kobe)along with DALLAS!!

Since: Sep 27, 2006
Posted on: March 18, 2011 4:08 pm

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

LOL at Stcharles.
"They may beat the Spurs but are not equipped to handle the Lakers."
Well I expect nothing less from an ignorant Lakers fan to predict Laker dominance in a Mavs-Lakers series, but how exactly do you think they "may" beat the Spurs? You do realize for them to even play the Spurs they would have to beat the Lakers, since the Spurs have the #1 seed on lock and the Lakers/Mavs will be 2-3. All you do is just contradict yourself.

Since: Mar 29, 2007
Posted on: March 18, 2011 3:21 pm

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

As a Maverick fan Ive watched the ups and downs of this team.  The factor that is always the same is when it comes to the playoffs Dirk is the only player that steps up.  Terry has a nack for fading away and that has been true all of this season as well.  Terry appears to be the great outside shooter when following Dirk, but when Dirk slows so does JET.  Terry can not and I repeat can not run a fast break, pass or defend.  If You want to stop Dallas's breaks then let Terry get the ball, He will either stop and shoot from the arc or make a bad pass into the knees of a 7 footer.  As for the rest of the team Roddy is still out as far as the up/down factor, Marion has stepped up and Chandler inproves each night.  I think Kidd has reached to find the 3 as of late but is the Tried and true superstar of old.  I think the biggest factor going into the playoffs is Caron Butler.  If Butler rejoins the team there will be an emotional lift that could propel them into the Late rounds.  If no Butler I think You will see Dallas playing with their Heads down and Us Maverick fans Know what that means.

Since: Jun 24, 2010
Posted on: March 18, 2011 1:19 pm

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

Ideal playoff matchups:
Blazers-Mavs: perfect matchups for each other really...Aldridge vs. Chandler, Wallace vs. Dirk, Terry vs. Rudy-Wes, aging Kidd vs. aging Miller)
Spurs-Hornets: see 2008...Hope Paul is vintage cauz then this could be great, both teams can really shoot and the Nawlins big men could cauz trouble for Duncan and co.
Lakers-Nuggets: defending champ, against shockingly impressive post-superstar bunch plus Affalo vs. Kobe would be soooo good (for those who don't know Affalo is killer on D) 
Thunder-Grizzlies: Memphis would not be phased by the defeaning OKC faithful, Tony Allen vs Westbrook or even Durant would be giddy plus Randolph could really test the Thunder's revamped frontcourt

April 16th...cant wait! GO BULLS!

Since: Apr 23, 2008
Posted on: March 18, 2011 11:58 am

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has no shot to get to the NBA Finals! They may beat the Spurs but they are not equipped to handle the Lakers! Bynum, Gasol and Odom could all average double doubles in a 7 game series against the Mavs! It will be another 1st round win then a 2nd round exit by the Mavs, HEY CUBAN GO GET YOURSELF SOME YOUNG TALENT, YOUR SUCH A D-BAG!

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: March 18, 2011 7:49 am

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

I have to agree with caowlman on this one...the Mavericks just need to get by round one and they will be in a good position against either the Lakers or the Spurs. They have the experience and have added some interesting pieces, one being Tyson Chandler. Even Shawn Marion has stepped up and played better lately. You are also forgetting the Mavs won 18-19 during one stretch just before their March swoon. Also, they are incorporating Roddy Beaubois back into the lineup and Peja Stojakovic has been injured over the past 6-10 games.

If the Mavericks are healthy and focused, I don't see the Trailblazers, Hornets or Grizzlies taking them out in the first round. Their improved defense and more scoring options besides Dirk, will make them tougher to beat than everyone thinks. Do people hate the Mavericks because they are owned by Mark Cuban?

Frankly, they made their biggest mistake by firing Avery Johnson. Johnson was fired because of Cuban's horrible mistake that brought Jason Kidd to the Mavs and sent Devon Harris on his way to the Nets...too bad you can't fire an owner.

Since: Mar 6, 2011
Posted on: March 18, 2011 2:39 am

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

Actually I think Memphis is the worst case scenario for dallas.  They have Randolph, who will muscle dallas inside.....they have gasol.....with great size....and they have some defense added with Battier....who makes them a much better team. Nobody mentions that trade, but it improved the Griz 100%.  If Conley can sustain the high level he has played at all year, and Mayo is hot at all off the bench, them Dallas really has no answers......the mavs are old and creaky at times.....efficient yes, sometimes, but OLD.

Since: Jan 13, 2011
Posted on: March 18, 2011 1:29 am

Road to the NBA Finals: Dallas Mavericks

The Blazers would be the worse possible match-up for the Mavericks. Of all the match-ups the Blazers could end up with, the Dallas match-up leans the most in their favor. It's just the match-ups, which the Blazers have just shown lean toward the Blazers.

Since: Dec 5, 2006
Posted on: March 18, 2011 1:26 am

Road to the 1st round: Dallas Mavericks

There is indeed plenty to build optimism for Dallas in this year's playoffs. However that was equally true last year when they faced a weakened San Antonio. Can the Mavericks overcome themselves? The momentum that both Memphis and Portland are building at season's end this year make one pause to consider these factors:

Portland has now integrated Gerald Wallace into the stating lineup while bringing Brandon Roy (who is rounding into All-Star form with reduced minutes) off the bench. The result? Two significant wins over Dallas and Cleveland (41 point win). The added firepower on both offense and defense on both units in Portland (adding Marcus Camby to the second unit) is looking good so far.

Memphis is also playing well with 15 wins our of their last 20. The play of the Memphis second unit has been solid in wins against San Antonio, Orlando and Denver. Zach Randolph has continued his scoring and rebounding but is also more team oriented this year with solid passing to open teammates. Memphis has also pulled the plug on Hasheem Thabeet trading for that veteran Shane Battier to support a playoff run.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or