The Dallas Mavericks are a squad that the big guns at the top of the Western Conference don't want to see. The Mavs execute well on offense, they don't beat themselves and they have an all-time great in Dirk Nowitzki playing like he's in his prime. They would be a tough out for any contender.
Except for the San Antonio Spurs.
Dallas playing the Spurs in the first round is a death sentence. That's the team the Mavs simply can't beat, the one team Dallas' brand of basketball will not work against.
It seems strange that these two familiar foes would have such a lopsided matchup, but the Spurs are simply a better version of the Mavericks. Dallas has been able to use their elite coaching, efficient offense and veteran wile to put together wins against the rest of the Western Conference and stay in playoff contention.
But the Spurs are better at everything the Mavs do well. Every advantage Dirk and Co. would have against teams like Oklahoma City or Houston is rendered useless against San Antonio. The two teams play the same brand of basketball, but San Antonio does it better.
|Dallas||104.9 (8th in NBA)||.473 (5th)||.383 (3rd)||.525 (5th)|
|San Antonio||105.6 (6th in NBA)||.489 (2nd)||.401 (1st)||.541 (2nd)|
If that seems hard to believe, then simply look at the table below.
The Mavericks have one of the best offenses in the league, as seen by the chart. They shoot the lights out, pass extremely well and score efficiently.
But in every category where Dallas excels, San Antonio is a step above.
Both Dallas and San Antonio thrive on the same offensive principles. The offenses center on ball movement and shooting and neither team have a player taking more than 16 shots per game. The Spurs and Mavs play team offense in every sense of the word; only the Spurs are a tier above their divisional rival.
Granted in most categories of the table above, the advantages San Antonio have are small. In general both teams are in the top 10, but the Spurs are ranked three to four spots higher.
So maybe the difference between the teams isn't actually as large as it seems.
|Dallas||102.6 (21st)||.464 (T-24th)||.362 (T-17th)||-2.1 (24th)|
|San Antonio||97.4 (4th)||.442 (T-5th)||.353 (T-7th)||+1.1 (T-12th)|
Offensively that may be the case, but defensively the Spurs are miles ahead of Dallas.
The table above encompasses almost everything a good defense should do. It should be stingy with its points, force poor shooting, especially from deep and should rebound the basketball. The Spurs have a very good defense, with their one weakness being a slight rebounding problem.
The Mavs on the other hand are bad at just about everything.
And this is where the problem lies. Say both the offenses are a wash, that they are both equally talented at putting the ball in the basket. The Spurs still hold quite the substantial defensive advantage over Dallas.
San Antonio has the ability to slow down Dallas' offense. The Mavericks just have not demonstrated much promise on defense so far this season. And that's putting it kindly
The Spurs are just a bad matchup, and we've already seen that so far this season.
Dallas is 0-3 against San Antonio in 2013-14 with the final matchup looming on April 10. And if Tony Parker keeps playing like he did in the previous three, that April 10 game will almost surely be a fourth loss.
Parker is averaging 23.3 points per game against Dallas this season on 54.2 percent shooting. He has carved up the defense by getting into the lane to kick to shooters or simply finish himself. And the Mavericks have been seemingly helpless so far to stop him.
That helplessness begins with Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon.
Dallas knew that both of the new additions came with defensive problems, this was clear from the start. But Parker has torn them to shreds off the pick-and-roll thus far. Unless that changes, Dallas' only defense is to pray San Antonio misses their open threes.
In the end, even Head Coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged the Spurs are a tough test for Dallas. After the loss on March 2, Carlisle talked to Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News about where they came up short.
"This effort is good enough to beat a lot of teams, but not them the way they played,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I got to look at our team and where we are and where we’re trying to get to. I’m disappointed by the result, but not the effort. I thought the effort was good. We got one more shot at these guys at our place and we’ll be ready."
Carlisle seemed to be optimistic he could whip Dallas into shape, and there's some hope in those words. Carlisle is obviously a great coach, and you can't discount him when he says there will be improvement.
But as of now, the numbers just aren't on his side.
The Spurs are slightly better at everything Dallas does well on offense and in a different league defensively. They know Dallas' tendencies from over the years, and they won't be afraid to play them. Not to mention the Tony Parker problem. It's simply a horrible matchup.
Maybe Dirk Nowitzki summed it up best after that March 2 loss. He had one simple thing to say to the Dallas Morning News, but it was incredibly revealing.
It felt like we were kind of close, but we weren’t really close.
All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from Basketball-Reference.com.