The Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs are two of the best teams in the NBA this season.
Both teams have impressive records, in part achieved with their deep rosters. The amount of All-Stars and former All-Stars on these two teams is impressive, along with the contributions from role players.
Much of the attention in the NBA these days is focused on bigger markets, such as Chicago, Miami, Boston, New York and Los Angeles.
However, there is a strong possibility that the last team standing in June may be from Texas.
As part of Bleacher Report’s NBA Debate Series, this article features a discussion regarding the Mavericks and Spurs between basketball featured columnists Joseph Fafinski and Ethan S.
We welcome your feedback and comments. Feel free to let us know which team you think is better.
It would be easy to write about how the Spurs are the best team in the NBA. After all, San Antonio has the best record and is on pace to finish the season with one of the highest win totals in NBA history.
The Spurs have veteran experience, coupled with one of the greatest coaches the NBA has ever seen in Gregg Popovich.
However, one could make a serious case for the Dallas Mavericks being the better team.
Records can be misleading and often have little correlation to the teams that peak late in the season or in the playoffs (e.g. the 2010 Boston Celtics team that “only” won 50 games but toppled all of its Eastern Conference opponents in the playoffs).
But let’s consider the records for a moment. Currently, the Spurs have 13 losses and the Mavericks have 20. However, Dallas suffered earlier in the season when Dirk Nowitzki was out injured in late December and early January.
Of the nine games he sat out during that stretch, Dallas lost seven. The team further lost the first two games after Nowitzki returned. These last two losses might be a product of the Mavericks' attempt to reincorporate him into the offensive schemes while Nowitzki was trying to get back into basketball shape.
So taking away that 11-game stretch when the team lost nine games gives Dallas a record of 45-11, which equals an .804 winning percentage. At 54-13, the Spurs' winning percentage is practically identical at .806.
The Spurs have been relatively healthy all season, but Dallas has had to endure without Nowitzki during that span of games, and the Mavericks had Caron Butler out for much of the season. Even without factoring Butler into the equation right now, a healthy Dallas squad seems to perform about as well as a healthy Spurs team.
While San Antonio revolves around Tim Duncan and fellow All-Stars Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Dallas has its own premier forward in Nowitzki to anchor the team.
From top to bottom, it’s possible that Dallas may be the most talented team in the league. The team boasts former All-Stars in Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion. Caron Butler has also made a couple of All-Star teams in recent years and recent reports indicate he could return to action this season after the playoffs start.
Granted, Kidd, Stojakovic and Marion are not in the primes of their careers. However, they are clearly talented players and smart veterans who know how to win in the NBA.
I haven’t even mentioned Jason Terry, another All-Star-caliber player who may be the best sixth man in the NBA. Along with Nowitzki, Terry gives Dallas another go-to player in close, fourth-quarter situations, as he often excels at hitting big shots.
Anchoring the middle are talented centers in Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler, who anchor the team’s defensive schemes.
Throw in premier outside marksman DeShawn Stevenson and solid backup guards in Jose Juan Barea and Rodrigue Beaubois, and Dallas may have the best 11-man rotation in the NBA.
While the Dallas Mavericks have been known to be one of the best offensive teams in the NBA over the past decade, its struggles on the defensive end of the court have spelled trouble during postseason runs.
Everyone remembers how Dallas—as a No. 1 seed—got beaten by the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, primarily because Dallas could not slow down Golden State’s high-scoring offense.
But this season is different, as Dallas now plays defense!
The team currently ranks 11th in opponent’s field-goal percentage and 10th in points allowed. Overall, the Mavericks have a 106.1 defensive rating, which ranks 13th in the league.
This should be of little surprise, as players like Kidd, Chandler, Marion and Butler are known for their excellent defense.
The combination of tough defense, explosive offense and Jason Kidd’s legendary leadership and playmaking make the Dallas Mavericks a better team than the San Antonio Spurs.
The Dallas Mavericks are in the midst of a fantastic season, and no one can deny this.
However, the Spurs, chugging along 274 miles south of the Mavs, are having a memorable campaign, and at 54-13, sport the league's best record.
I'm going to tell you why ultimately the Spurs are the better of the two, and why they'll find better success come April and beyond.
Veteran Leadership and Experience in the NBA Finals
Nothing helps a playoff run more than a veteran whose presence and leadership is never absent in the clutch.
While I cannot deny that the Mavericks have a king of their own in Dirk Nowitzki, at the same time, the Spurs have three. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all carry the qualities deemed necessary in a veteran, and each of them has proven he can lead a team in a positive way.
Let's consider what the Spurs have in these players.
In Duncan, they have a truly magical player who everyone knows is the greatest power forward of all time, and even though his decline is evident in his stats, he is still a great defensive player and someone that can push a team in the right direction whenever needed.
In Manu Ginobili, they have one of the top 10 international players of all time and someone who, although not liked by many fans (such as myself), is a main reason why San Antonio is crushing the win column.
In Tony Parker, the third warrior, they have a man who, while being mired in personal controversy in 2011, is still perhaps a top-six or top-seven point guard in the NBA.
In all honesty, Duncan is the only one past his prime, but there are several players on Dallas' roster who have already seen their best days.
Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry are all over 30, and even though they are all solid players, their ultimate decline has settled in.
Imagine if Dallas had these players six or seven seasons ago. The championships would pour in.
For now, Dallas is sitting here, left wondering why San Antonio's only franchise has picked up championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
The former's trophy case? Let's just say that I have won as many NBA Finals as the Dallas Mavericks.
The Roster Doesn't Lie
My partner makes note of the player matchups between the two ballclubs. However, when you look at it closely enough, Tim Duncan matches up perfectly with Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki doesn't play a whole lot of defense, so Duncan might find himself surprisingly efficient on the offensive side of things. Duncan is still one of the best at his position in the defensive department, and fans seem to forget it.
When it comes to point guards, the contrasting styles might startle and frighten the Spurs.
Jason Kidd, one of the game's greatest point guards in history, has leadership skills that are, on a whole, different level from Nowitzki's. While No. 41 might appear as the leader, it is obvious that the former California Golden Bear is the real leader.
The biggest difference is the hidden youth among the Spurs. Gary Neal, the young playmaker, is just 26. George Hill is only 24. DeJuan Blair, at 21, will be just barely old enough to legally taste the champagne the Spurs will taste once they claim their 17th division title.
Better Coaching and Record
While no one will doubt that Rick Carlisle is a premier coach, they just doesn't get any better than Gregg Popovich.
"Pop" is the best coach in the league not named Phil Jackson. His four titles are four more than the entire Dallas Mavericks franchise has.
You can bet that the 62-year-old legend will know exactly what to do come playoff time because, let's face it—he's been there before. He's one of the game's best in-game adjusters—as Ethan pointed out—and he'll know when to put in his playmakers and when to sit his legends.
Now that Jerry Sloan has discovered retirement, Pop is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA and has won more titles than any current coach outside of Jackson.
The Spurs' current clip of 54-13 is five games above the league's next best, the Chicago Bulls, and 6.5 above their Texas counterpart.
One thing that goes strongly unnoticed among NBA pundits is the record that they possess in the City of the Alamo. At 31 wins at just three losses, the Spurs possess the NBA's best record at home. That is pretty remarkable for a team that was supposed to finish behind the likes of the LA Lakers and Mavs in the West this season.
Another factor that should be noted is the Mavericks' divisional record of just six wins and seven losses. The Spurs' number of 9-4 is much superior to that of Dallas'.
The Spurs may end up winning the NBA title this season, but don’t be surprised if the Dallas Mavericks make it farther in the playoffs than their Texas counterparts.
The Spurs may have one of the NBA’s best coaches at making in-game adjustments in Popovich, but Rick Carlisle is no slouch.
Carlisle boasts an impressive winning percentage of .599, despite coaching for some inferior teams compared to the stable and talented Spurs over the past decade.
But where the Mavericks may have some of the biggest advantages is in regards to the player matchups.
There is no question that Tim Duncan has slowed down this season and has failed to register double digits in points 16 times thus far.
Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki is having one of his finest seasons and is one of the top candidates for MVP consideration. The difference between his team’s record when he has suited up for games versus when he has been out further shows the impact Nowitzki has.
A frontcourt that features sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic, the versatile Shawn Marion and the center combination of Haywood and Chandler gives Dallas a substantial advantage up front over the Spurs front-line.
While the Spurs may have an advantage in the backcourt, none of San Antonio’s guards have as much knowledge of the game as Jason Kidd. In addition, Kidd can guard both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to help slow them down, and all of the Spurs guards will have to contend with Jason Terry.
With these advantages and considerations, Dallas has a very good chance of winning a potential series between the two teams.
Before these teams would get a chance to play each other, Dallas will likely have to knock off the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs will have to beat Oklahoma City. No doubt, these two matchups will prove extremely difficult for both Texas teams.
Perhaps no team is playing better than the Lakers right now, who should have home-court advantage over the Mavericks if recent trends continue.
Similarly, the Oklahoma City Thunder may be the kryptonite needed to take down the Spurs.
The Thunder play tough defense and have a major advantage in athleticism over San Antonio. The recent addition of Kendrick Perkins at center will only make it tougher for Tim Duncan to dominate in the low post.
Hence, there could be a good chance that neither team makes it past the second round of the playoffs. But in the event that they both do, I have to like Dallas’ chances.
These two teams are both great, and without a doubt are destined to make deep playoff runs. The Spurs will most likely be matched up with the Nuggets or Grizzlies, while the Mavericks might need to take on a superior team.
If the two face each other in the semifinals or even the Western Conference Finals, it will mark the third year in a row that they have squared off in the postseason.
In April of 2010, the Spurs took care of the Mavericks in six games, and in time they have proved that they can beat Dallas whenever they absolutely need to. They beat them in all three contests played in the friendly confines of the AT&T Center in San Antonio during the series.
People talk about how much Tim Duncan and the Spurs are aging, but it's not like J-Kidd and the Mavs are getting any younger.
Their current starting lineup's average age is well over 30, and people forget that Tony Parker himself is just 28. DeJuan Blair is 21.
Conversely, the only sub-30 starter on the Mavs' "fab five" is Tyson Chandler, and he himself is a decade into his career at 28 years of age. Age is one of the reasons that teams go far in the playoffs after all, so you never know.
The Lone Star State has the best talent in the NBA as a whole, and it might even produce an in-state Western Conference Finals. How exciting would that be?
All in all, it is because of the Spurs' home-court advantage and the fact that they seemingly own the Mavericks that they will advance farther in the 2011 playoffs.
But you never know in this great league—teams like the Thunder or the Lakers might rise up and win the West.
Then again, we've been taught that the Spurs rarely crumble under pressure.
Unfortunately for Texas fans, the success enjoyed by the Mavericks and Spurs over the past decade may be coming to an end soon.
There is no doubt that the dynamics of these teams will change once Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki retire.
In addition to Duncan’s pending departure, Manu Ginobili is 33 years old and probably only has a few more seasons left before he also retires. Even if the talented Tony Parker stays with the team, the Spurs will be in rebuilding mode for at least a few years.
Regarding Dallas—Shawn Marion, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd are all getting closer to retirement as well. Even if Dallas can retain Caron Butler, Rodrigue Beaubois and Jose Juan Barea, the team will also likely have to rebuild itself into a contender.
Within a few seasons, many Texans will be enjoying their steaks and barbecue more than watching their NBA teams compete. With that said, they should enjoy the few seasons left that the Mavericks and Spurs remain contenders.
In Texas, the focal point of basketball almost always relies on the recent success of the Spurs and the Mavericks.
However, that much-loved success might be dwindling into its final stages, and within a few years, the teams will both be rebuilding.
The Spurs will need to re-sign Tony Parker and Tim Duncan within a year if they intend to keep their legends. When it comes to younger players, George Hill and DeJuan Blair are signed for another three seasons.
The flying tomato of the NBA, Matt Bonner, might surprisingly be a key player in the upcoming years. Although he is almost 31, his outside shooting of almost unmatched quality might be a catalyst for the Spurs in the upcoming years.
How the team will fare over the next five years will depend largely on these next few drafts, and free-agent signings will be key for San Antonio.
When it comes to the Mavericks, youth is lacking. If they can grab a hold of Jose Juan Barea, Rodrigue Beaubois and the recently acquired Corey Brewer, their roles will ultimately be greater as the years go on, and soon they will become the veterans.
A large portion of the Mavs' success may hinge on the future of Dirk Nowitzki. I'm not necessarily speaking about his future with the team, per say, but rather how much longer he can play at his MVP-like level.
I'd be a fool if I told you the San Antonio Spurs have a deeper bench than the Dallas Mavericks, but in all honesty, they really aren't that far off the pace.
The Mavs have Jose Juan Barea; the Spurs have George Hill.
The Mavs have Jason Terry; the Spurs have Gary Neal.
The Mavs' players might be a little more recognizable, but in all honesty, the Spurs bench is almost as deep as that of their rivals from North Texas.
One thing that may change this is foul trouble. The Spurs have some solid role players on the bench, but in no way are they as experienced as Dallas' crew.
If the Spurs can shy away from the personals, they can go deeper into games with their best players. The Mavericks have a plethora of experienced vets on the bench and will be willing to place them into the rotation whenever. San Antonio differs a bit in that aspect.
Once the Mavs recover fully from injuries, this will be a totally different slide.
This is a no-brainer! Everyone should recognize that the Dallas Mavericks bench is deeper than that of the Spurs.
Consider the rotations of the two teams.
The Mavericks bench features Jason Terry (perhaps on track to win his second Sixth Man of the Year Award in three years), Shawn Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois, Jose Juan Barea and Brendan Haywood. If Caron Butler manages to return to the lineup, either he or Peja Stojakovic will only add to this impressive bench unit.
The Spurs reserve unit includes George Hill, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner and Antonio McDyess.
Both teams’ reserves form strong rotations and fulfill their roles well. However, in the event of further injuries or foul trouble during the playoffs, the bench players of the Mavericks will give their team a great advantage.
Tim Duncan has one year left on his contract after this season. If an NBA lockout occurs this summer and next year’s season is cancelled, we could be seeing Duncan’s last games played in the NBA this year.
I just cannot see Duncan taking a year off from the game and working his way back into shape for a few seasons when he would likely be a role player.
Even if next year’s NBA season is not cancelled, Duncan will continue to slow down and put more wear and tear on his body.
By the time the 2012-2013 season hits the playoffs, Tim Duncan will be 37 years old. He will have completed 15 seasons in the NBA and four NCAA seasons at Wake Forest University.
That is a long career for anyone, and he likely won’t have much left in the gas tank.
But Spurs fans, have no fear. Duncan’s place in history is secure.
He is already widely considered to be the best power forward of all time, and most NBA pundits consider him to be one of the top 10 players in NBA history.
It goes without saying that Duncan’s career is already legendary.
As Ethan mentions in this slide, this may be the last year we see the legendary Tim Duncan.
Already 14 years (wow, I feel old now), two MVPs and four championships into his illustrious career, Duncan really has nothing to prove, as he is already the greatest player in the history of the NBA at his position. He no doubt will join the best in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but in recent seasons, his role as leader of the pack has been diminished.
The decline in his game has been anything but steady.
Last season, the Wake Forest product averaged an above-average 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. This season has been worlds apart for the 6'11" big, and he is putting up just 13 points and nine rebounds per game. Even his block numbers and shooting percentages have taken a hit.
This brings up an interesting question: How many seasons can he still perform at the NBA level, and what will these upcoming seasons do to his legacy?
Sure, legends end their careers with less-than-average seasons. Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform still seems like a violation of the first commandment in the basketball world.
As it stands, Duncan is probably a top 15 player. If he adds a few titles, he could be a top 10 player when all is said and done.
In all honesty, Dirk is a legend and when all is said and done, he will be the third Maverick to have his number retired for the franchise.
He and fellow legend Kevin Garnett have changed the landscape of the power forward position as a whole. Nowitzki's game is so nontraditional, but other NBA players—notably guys like Luis Scola for example—have followed suit.
He is the greatest player in Dallas' confusing history, but if he doesn't win a title, his name will be more of a Charles Barkley-like name than a Magic Johnson (or someone else who has changed the game).
At the same time, the Mavericks can kill two birds with one stone, as Jason Kidd's legendary career would be solidified with a title. It would also then be safe to move Kidd past Steve Nash on the all-time list because Nash lacks a title as well.
Teammates aside, Nowitzki needs this, but ultimately I believe there is too much talent amongst the league's best to place the odds on the Mavs.
Nowitzki could take a jump into the group of top five all-time power forwards with a NBA Finals victory, joining the likes of Elvin Hayes, Garnett, Barkley and Duncan himself.
To answer the question: Nowitzki's legacy in the league is incomplete without a title, but with the Dallas Mavericks, he will always be a hero, since the franchise has never won a championship.
Dirk Nowitzki is the best shooting big man of all time. As a seven-footer, he plays the game as if he was a guard and half a foot shorter.
While he has been considered one of the best players in the league throughout most of his career, there is no doubt that Nowitzki’s place in history has been hurt by his inability to lead his teams to postseason success and win even a single championship.
Right now, he is on pace to join the following group of NBA stars that failed to win a title: Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, John Stockton and Reggie Miller. Add Jason Kidd to the list too, if he fails to win a championship with Nowitzki in closing out his career.
But how important is winning championships to a legacy?
Let’s put it this way: If Karl Malone had won a couple of championships, many people would argue that he was the best power forward of all time, rather than Duncan. The championships are what have pushed Duncan over the top.
If Nowitzki can lead his team to a title, he could break into the group of top 20 all-time players. Without a championship, however, I cannot see him ranking any higher than the 30-to-40 tier.
Ethan lives near Seattle, WA and enjoys spending free time between work and family obligations by writing and engaging on Bleacher Report. He enjoys the articles of the many talented writers on the site, and appreciates the support he has received from community members.
Joseph is a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Missouri. He is hoping to be a sports journalist after graduating.
He enjoys the Bleacher Report platform, and is excited that his work gets so much exposure on the site. His favorite basketball team is the Minnesota Timberwolves, for whom he is a featured columnist on B/R.
Joseph's proudest sports-writing moment came when the Minnesota Post mentioned one of his articles on the front page.