In case you were living under a rock, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks 92-89 on Sunday. San Antonio leads the series 3-1 and can advance to the second round with a win over Dallas on Tuesday night.
Coming into the playoffs, the Mavericks were a hot pick to emerge out of the Western Conference and play for an NBA title. They had just acquired two impact players from the Wizards (Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood) and had arguably more depth than any team in the “Association.” So what exactly is the problem here? Why are the Mavs giving such a sub par performance? I’ll tell you why:
Problem # 1: Boneheaded coaching
When I say Rick Carlisle has had an awful postseason coaching his squad, my opinion is that of a curious onlooker, not a diehard fan overreacting when his team is down.
The Mavericks have five players that should always eclipse 25 minutes per game: Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, and Dirk Nowitzki. Unfortunately, coach Carlisle never got that memo.
In game three of the series, Caron Butler played 15 minutes. Shawn Marion was only on the floor for 17 . Erick Dampier logged nine more minutes than Brendan Haywood, and J.J. Barea played for 32, as much as Butler and Marion combined.
And it’s not like Barea produced out-of-this world numbers in those starter minutes. He finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists, while his backcourt enemies (Tony Parker, George Hill, and Manu Ginobili) went off for 23, 17, and 15 points respectively.
Coach Carlisle wanted to play small ball and keep the aging Spurs on their toes, but he’s got the depth to try that strategy differently. Why not send out a lineup featuring Kidd, Terry, Butler, Marion, and Nowitzki? The Mavs could spread the floor with shooters and slashers, plus shore up their shoddy defense against the Spurs backcourt.
In the playoffs, you need good defense and an up tempo offense. J.J. Barea can give you some flashes on the offensive end, but he’s a major liability on the defensive side. For some reason, Carlisle hasn’t figured that out yet.
Game four was more of the same. Despite a great first half, Shawn Marion was in-and-mostly-out of the lineup in the fourth quarter. Dallas desperately needed his tenacious defense and aggressive rebounding down the stretch.
Going forward, Dallas can’t keep toying with the lineup. Keep Kidd, Terry, Butler, Marion, and Nowitzki on the court for as long as possible, and give the nod to Haywood over Dampier at the center spot. Instead of Barea, give DeShawn Stevenson 10 minutes of action. He plays great perimeter defense, something sorely needed against George Hill (5-6 on three-pointers in game four).
Problem # 2: Matchup issues in the frontcourt
Even after the Mavericks made their blockbuster deal at the trade deadline to bring in Brendan Haywood, they still lacked a big man with finesse who could guard an athletic four or five effectively. This finally caught up with them versus the Spurs.
At 34 years old, Tim Duncan is still one of the best players in basketball. He constantly demands double-teams, and discounting his awful game four performance, Timmy has been the number one scoring option for San Antonio.He moves around the paint, working Dallas defenders with his lethal array of post-up moves and mid-range shots.
And Dallas has no one to guard him. Dirk Nowitzki has long been known as a below-average defender, and can’t match up with Duncan at all. Dampier is a bruising big man better suited for interior battles against guys like Dwight Howard, not versatile offensive players like Duncan. Haywood is a longer, lankier center, but he too isn’t coordinated enough to keep up. That leaves Shawn Marion and Eduardo Najera. Marion is too short, and Najera is only good for picking up a few quick fouls. Basically, there’s no answer for Tim. As crazy as it sounds, Kris Humphries would be the best fit defensively against the San Antonio bigs.
Problem # 3: Offensive inconsistency
In game one, Dirk Nowitzki scored 36 points. He was a man on a mission and simply couldn’t be stopped. The rest of the team played well offensively too, with the lone exception being Jason Terry. Since then, that offense has fallen off the map.
Dallas averaged over 100 points per game in the regular season, yet hasn’t touched that mark in three games. Heck, they haven’t eclipsed 90 points in three games. If Terry is playing well, Butler is struggling, and vice-versa. Marion hasn’t performed up to par, with the exception being game four. And if Dirk Nowitzki shoots under 40 percent like he did in games two and four, Dallas literally has no chance.
The Mavericks need three consistent scorers every night, and that doesn’t just mean putting up lots of points. Obviously, the more they score the better, but when Dirk threw up 24 attempts and made just nine, Dallas lost by 16. A trio out of Butler, Marion, Nowitzki, Terry, or even Kidd/Haywood needs to shoot a combined 50 percent for the game and spread the Spurs defense around so its not just a “double-team whoever is on fire gameplan.” Only then will the Mavericks win again.
And, of course, there is one more idea to consider when viewing the Spurs/Mavs series.
This is no No. 2 seed vs. No. 7 seed matchup
Usually, entering a No. 2 vs. No. 7 playoff series, the higher seed finished the regular season over 10 games ahead of their opponent. This year, no playoff team from the West finished with fewer than 50 wins. In fact, there was only a five game difference between Dallas and San Antonio, so perhaps it should be no surprise that the Spurs have played so well. This is no David vs. Goliath battle; it’s more like a 4/5 seed from a competitive standpoint.
This, of course, had no real bearing on the Mavericks’ attitude entering the series. They knew the Spurs were a great team. For fans that have only given each team a passing glance during the regular season though, a closer look would show that the results thus far are anything but shocking.
Going forward, Dallas needs to correct the three main problems listed above if they want to creep back into the series. A 3-1 deficit is tough to recover from, but not impossible. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Mavs respond in game five.