NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Dallas Mavericks: 49-33 (8 seed)
San Antonio Spurs: 62-20 (1 seed)

KEY INJURIES

None. Which is saying something for the Spurs as they have had injuries (plus the Gregg Popovich preventative rest program) messing with their lineups all season long.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Dallas Mavericks: Offense 109 (3rd in NBA), Defense 105.9 (22nd in NBA)

San Antonio Spurs: 108.1 (7th in NBA), Defense 100.1 (4th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Can Dallas even slow the San Antonio offense? This is really the issue, and history says the answer is no. San Antonio has won the last nine meetings between these teams, sweeping this season series by an average of 11.3 points a game. San Antonio averaged 115 points per 100 possessions against Dallas this season, almost 7 per 100 better than their season average. The Spurs make the extra pass every time and that has led to Danny Green destroying the Mavericks from three shooting 12-of-20 from beyond the arc in the meetings this season. Look for Green to put up big numbers in this series. Rick Carlisle is a good coach who will throw a lot of different match ups out there hoping something works, but the reality is on the defensive end he’s playing chess with a handful of pawns while Gregg Popovich has a full arsenal of knights, bishops and other pieces to attack with.

2) Tony Parker. He has just abused Jose Calderon this season — 10-of-18 shooting when their were matched up, driving into the lane 13 times in less than 17 minutes and scoring 24 points on those drives (stats via NBA.com’s player tracking SportsVU cameras). The Dallas defense isn’t that good and when a gifted playmaker and scorer like Parker gets into the lane it’s all over. Look for Dallas to try some Devin Harris on him (they did that this season, as well as some Wayne Ellington) but they make that switch the Dallas offense takes a hit. Somehow Dallas has to find a way to contain Parker to have a chance in this series.

3) Dirk Nowitzki. He’s still one of the games great scorers. He’s still going to get his. The Spurs threw Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw at him during the regular season and he shot 50 percent against both. San Antonio can mix it up taking Kawhi Leonard off Monta Ellis for a while and throw him ad Nowitzki, too, but it will only help so much. For Dallas to win a game in this series, let alone dream of an upset, Nowitzki is going to have to be dominant. Ellis will have to be great also, the Mavs will need to find some kind of defensive answer, but it all comes back to Dirk — he has to be his peak self for Dallas to even have a chance.

PREDICTION

Spurs in five. Monta Ellis to his credit has had a resurgent season and meshed very well with Nowitzki, but he is going to have Kawhi Leonard draped on him all series and that will slow his effectiveness. With Leonard and the Diaw/Splitter combination on the Mavs’ stars the Spurs don’t have to double off Dallas’ shooters much, which limits the Dallas offense. Meanwhile Dallas has no good answers to limit the San Antonio offense. I’ll give Dallas one home game because Dirk goes off, but that’s the best they can hope for.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.