The Spurs enter tonight's first round matchup off a 54-win season. Normally that would imply that the Spurs have had a successful season, however there have been so many ups and downs, a roller coaster would be envious.
Since game 1, the Spurs were without Manu Ginobili, and then lost Tony Parker shortly after. Today they walk into the AT&T Center with Manu Ginobili in a suit on the sidelines, and Tim Duncan still recovering from a knee injury. Age has definitely taken it's toll.
Aside from that, this Spurs team did not have the usual March run before the playoffs. It's usually been a time where chemistry, execution and defense are at their best. Instead they finished March one game over .500 and to this day, Pop still does not have a set rotation.
All that being sad, I couldn't be happier for the spurs to draw the Mavericks in the first round and renew this rivalry.
Dallas has a talented squad led by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Josh Howard. Jason Terry and Jose Barea are spark plugs off the bench.
But what Dallas doesn't have is going to cost them the series, and that's someone to stop Tony Parker.
As much as I like to say Manu Ginobili was created for the playoffs, Tony Parker must've been cut from the same cloth. He always raises his averages, most notably against Phoenix last year, when he scored more than 30 points and 10 assists multiple times while limiting Steve Nash to 12-14 points.
The Suns could not stop Tony Parker and the Cavs couldn't in the 2007 Finals sweep. If there's one thing I would bet money on, it's that TonyParker is going to run all over Jason Kidd. And even if Dallas comes back with Barea guarding Parker, Parker should still have his way. Barea has plenty of speed, but can he match Parker's speed and stay in front of him going backwards.
Simply put, Tony Parker has to take over this series to give the Spurs a chance to wrap it up and send the Mavs packing once again.
For the Mavs, they have several weapons that could prove to be too much for the Spurs to handle.
Foremost is Dirk Nowitzki, who can score from anywhere on the floor and get to the basket with his lateral quickness. In years past, Pop could rely on Bruce Bowen to shadow him, but with Bruce seemingly losing a step or five, I don't see a single Spurs that can lock Dirk up. Pop will have throw a few different matchups at him, but in the end I think Kurt Thomas is the Spurs best bet.
Terry and Barea will come off the bench with guns blazing, but I don't think he'll be as much of a threat if Pop plays George Hill.
And that brings me to my biggest issue with Pop. He said two weeks ago that Hill would be a spectator more than anything else. He also said Hill needed more ime before he would be ready for the playoffs.
Time, of course, that Pop was unwilling to give him towards the end of the regular season. I've been called out for "hyping" Hill before, but i truly believe that Hill could be an asset in this series.
His defense, long arms and athleticism could bother Terry and Barea. We saw him get under Barea's skin recently and even block Barea's shot when he managed to get past Hill. If Hill can provide anything on offense, which I think he can, that's just a bonus.
I've never been a fan of the Mason playing backup point experiment, and I think he could struggle trying to defend Barea when Tony goes to the bench. Aside from that, I'd be worried about the amount of minutes he is playing.
Pop needs to keep his legs fresh, and give Hill some run. I'd rather have Mason fresh at the end of a close game to hit the winning shot. After chasing around Barea all game, will he have enough in those legs to hit those shots?
My biggest worry is with the Spurs bench. Manu's injury was a huge shot to the bench. We don't have a go-to scorer off the bench and instead are stockpiled with bigs. Instead of having that one spark, we'll have to get offense by committee from Drew Gooden and Ime Udoka, if he steps up.
In the end though, I think the Spurs, especially Parker will be too much for the Mavs to handle. The Spurs big two have championship pedigree and know exactly what it takes to win a series not to mention multiple championships. The Mavs are still wet behind the ears in that area, and choked in their most recent finals trip. Having Pop in our corner also tips the scales in our favor. Spurs in six games.