The Dallas Mavericks go into their first-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs knowing ball protection will be a major key in determining who will win this series.
The Spurs pounce on an opponent’s turnovers and turn them into easy-opportunity baskets, which could mean the difference between winning and losing a game.
“Each possession is going to be meaningful,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “And we’ve got to go into this thing guns blazing and really tied together. If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
The Mavericks are fifth in the NBA in fewest turnovers committed with an average of 13.2 per game. The Spurs are tied for 15th with 14.1 per contest.
Here are five things to look for in the best-of-seven, first-round series that begins Sunday afternoon at AT&T Center in San Antonio:
1Will Dirk continue his playoff dominance?
Only four players in the history of the NBA have averaged at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in their playoff careers. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and Tim Duncan are not on the list. The four players are Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dirk Nowitzki. With his feathery jump shot, Nowitzki has a career playoff average of 25.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. The Mavericks are going to need all of that, and then some, if they’re going to upset the Spurs. Then again, Nowitzki is a gamer who plays big in big games.
2Can Danny Green shoot lights-out again?
Last year Spurs guard Danny Green set an NBA Finals record when he made 27 3-point shots. That includes converting 5 of 5 in Game 2 against the Miami Heat and 7 of 9 in Game 3. Overall, Green missed just 22 of his 3-point attempts and shot a sizzling 55.1 percent from behind the arc. Green finished 13th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy this season at 41.5 percent. The Spurs lean on Green so much from the perimeter that he’s made at least five 3-pointers in 10 games this season. That includes going 5 of 5 against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 26 and 5 of 9 against the Mavericks on April 10.
3Can the Mavs protect home court and steal a road game?
The simple way to beat the Spurs in a best-of-seven series is to hold serve on your three home games and find a way — any way — to steal one of the four road games in San Antonio. Now that the simple stuff is out of the way, do the Mavericks have the personnel to upset the Spurs? The Mavericks had a better road record than any team in the East. And the only West teams with a better road mark than the Mavericks were San Antonio (30-11), Oklahoma City (25-16) and Golden State (24-17). The Mavericks were 23-18 on the road, which is pretty stout. Unfortunately, the Mavericks were a troublesome 26-15 at home; San Antonio was 32-9.
4Is there an answer for guard Tony Parker?
He will turn 32 years old on May 17, but Spurs point guard Tony Parker seems to get better with age. Parker runs the Spurs’ offense as if he’s gliding through the air. Parker is so efficient, so fast and so flawless than he’s every defender’s worst nightmare. As the Spurs compiled the NBA’s best record this season, Parker continued to show why he should have been given league MVP recognition for the regular season. He averaged 16.7 points and 5.7 assists and shot 49.9 percent from the field. He also averaged only 29.4 minutes per game, his lowest average since his rookie season, when his average was also 29.4 minutes per contest.
5Which coach will make the best in-game adjustments?
It’s no secret that San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers are widely regarded as the game’s best coaches. After all, they’ve combined to win seven of the past 11 NBA titles. But what separates these four from most of the other coaches is their uncanny ability to make in-game adjustments on the fly, and their team’s ability to execute coming out of a timeout. They also know how to motivate their players. Popovich goes even further by scolding superstars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on TV. That sends a strong message to the rest of his team.