Friday, April 18, 2014

West Round 1 Preview: (1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks

Manu Ginobili's health is a key for San Antonio's success this postseason. He's seen here discussing his health with his doctor.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

By the Numbers:

San Antonio:
62-20 (32-9 Home, 30-11 Road)
PPG: 105.4 (6th); PPG Allowed: 97.6 (6th)
+7.7 Average Scoring Margin (1st)
Off Rating: 108.2 (6th); Def Rating: 100.1 (4th)
+8.1 Net Efficiency Rating (1st)

49-33 (26-15 Home; 23-18 Road)
PPG: 104.8 (8th); PPG Allowed: 102.4 (20th)
+2.4 Average Scoring Margin (12th)
Off Rating: 109.0 (3rd); Def Rating: 105.9 (22nd)
+3.1 Net Efficiency Rating (11th)

Season Series: San Antonio 4-0
San Antonio 116, Dallas 107 (December 26)
San Antonio 112, Dallas 90 (January 8)
San Antonio 112, Dallas 106 (March 2)
San Antonio 109, Dallas 100 (April 10)

Players to Watch

Manu Ginobili

For the third straight year, Ginobili has actually played less than half the game - he averaged just 22.8 minutes per game this season, his lowest since his rookie season. Like Dwyane Wade, the Spurs are over-cautious with Ginobili during the regular season because they know they can afford to be. But if the Spurs want to get back to the postseason, they'll need Ginobili in tip-top shape.

Last season, Ginobili's minutes didn't ramp up significantly in the playoffs - they went from 23.2 per game in the regular season to 26.7 in the playoffs. But even still, Ginobili didn't seem to have his fastball - he shot just 39.9 percent, his worst showing in a decade.

Ginobili's 2014 regular season was better than his 2013; he was healthier and more productive. Their first-round series last year was a cake-walk from the beginning, there was no chance the Lakers were going to figure it all out without Kobe and upset the Spurs. No game finished within a 10-point margin, so Ginobili got even more rest - he averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game. And he *still* struggled through the rest of the playoffs. This year's Round 1 matchup won't be shooting fish in a barrel, so how Ginobili looks in this series will be a good indicator of the type of postseason he'll have.

Dirk Nowitzki

It seems that as players age, we tend to rush to say how much we'll miss them when they're inevitably gone. After the Mavericks won the 2011 title, everyone seemed happy that Dirk was able to win a title before he retired, the implication being that he'd probably retire sooner rather than later.

Well, after a disappointing 2012 all around, and an injury-plagued 2013 that saw Dallas miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Dirk roared back this season with a campaign oddly reminiscent of his 2011 season. He shot 49.7 percent, the third-best mark of his career, and his effective field goal percentage of .549 was a career best. For the most part, rebounding is now optional for him, and his foul rate has dropped, but he's still as deadly offensively as he's ever been. Simply being on the court can render entire defensive philosophies obsolete (it's pretty tough to camp a big man in the paint on pick-and-rolls when the rolling big man is a 7-footer who can shoot from 25 feet). It will be interesting to see whether or not the Spurs elect to go small and defend him with Kawhi Leonard or bite the bullet and let their bigs chase him around the perimeter on flare screens.

The Case for San Antonio

They're the best team in the league.

When a team has home-court advantage and won the regular season series, they've won 46 of the last 50 Round 1 matchups.

They're the best team in the league (I know I said it already but it bears repeating).

Best-Case Scenario: Dirk is just Average Dirk instead of Spectacular Dirk, and Dallas' general inability to get stops or rebound turns the series into a track meet that the Mavs have no hope of winning. Ginobili finds a groove and he and Parker carve up the Dallas defense irreparably. The Spurs sweep and finish the season 8-0 against Dallas.

The Case for Dallas

They have the best player in the series in Dirk. They have a heady point guard in Jose Calderon who, while lacking much postseason experience, doesn't commit dumb mistakes and won't be bamboozled by the Spurs. Monta Ellis is a hit-or-miss player at times, but enjoyed one of his most efficient seasons in recent years and seems to have his head on straight. If there's any coach in the league who can match wits with Gregg Popovich in a playoff series, it's Rick Carlisle. A team that can shoot threes as well as Dallas can is never out of a series.

Best-Case Scenario: Dirk avenges his 2007 demons and leads an 8th seed over a No. 1. He is totally unguardable from the opening tip to the end of the series regardless of who San Antonio throws at him. Calderon and Ellis play solid defense for the first and only six-game stretch of their careers and Ginobili and Parker never get on track. The Mavs steal Game 1 in San Antonio and sweep the rest of their home games and win in six.

The Pick

Spurs in 5

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