Let me put this out there first so there won’t be any misunderstanding or confusion regarding my stance.
The Mavs will win the first-round playoff series against the Spurs.
Yes. The eighth seed will shock the No. 1 seed.
But I wouldn’t call it an upset.
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This will not be Denver over Seattle in 1994 when Dikembo Mutombo seemingly held the ball forever after the miraculous and legendary eighth-seed upset.
Think more Golden State over the Mavs in 2007 when Dallas was a flawed No. 1 seed.
Certainly, it’s a long series and a lot is left to be decided starting Saturday at the American Airlines Center.
The Spurs are the best road team in the NBA by a mile. They have won five more road games than any other team in the NBA.
The Spurs will put up effort that befits their championship pedigree.
And if you have been paying attention, the Mavs had the worst home record of any team in the playoffs at 26-15 in the regular season. That includes a 5-5 record over the past 10 games.
It’s little wonder Mavs star forward Dirk Nowitzki said going home with the series tied 1-1 made him a little nervous.
But let’s put all that aside, much as we’ve already put aside the notion that the Mavericks had no chance in the series because of the Spurs’ dominance against them the past two years.
A nine-game winning streak turned to 10 with a 90-85 victory in Game 1 of the series. Of course, all of that was erased with the 113-92 beatdown the Mavs put on the Spurs in Game 2 Wednesday.
There is a school of thought that Wednesday’s victory was fool’s gold and the lessons of the regular season, when the Spurs were by far the best team in the NBA, will rule the day.
To that, I have one question. Did you watch the first two games?
The Mavs were not only the better team for the majority of both games in San Antonio, but they were so in dominating fashion.
The crime is that the Mavs should actually have a 2-0 lead in the series. Remember, the Mavs led 81-71 in the fourth quarter of Game 1 when they suddenly went cold and the Spurs finished the game on a 19-4 run.
Take out those final seven-plus minutes from that game and the Mavs have outscored the Spurs 194-163 in the two games combined, and that includes early deficits of 21-9 and 13-6 in Games 1 and 2.
Along the way, the Mavericks have gone from thinking they could win the series to truly believing they can beat the Spurs.
And why not?
Ball don’t lie.
The Mavs‘ stars have been better in both games and Nowitzki, in particular, hasn’t had a big game yet.
Their starting five has been better in both games.
Their bench has been far superior, as well as their defense
And let’s not overlook this: Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has outclassed Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in both games.
“Look, we’re mixing things up a lot,” a still focused Carlisle said in the Game 2 postgame news conference. “And we’re doing a lot of things that, frankly, we don’t want to do, but we have to because they’re such a potent team and they have such great players.
“And they’ve got the coach of the year. It’s a monumental task. But we’re in this thing to win. We’re not in it to just get a split and feel happy. We cannot do that. We cannot let up.”
That coach of the year comment came unprompted and can be qualified as a little shade being thrown by Carlisle.
So the Spurs go from the NBA Finals a year ago, when they would have won the title if not for poor coaching decisions by Pop, to the No. 1 seed this year with the same cast of characters and he wins NBA coach of the year honors.
Carlisle takes a team that was not in the playoffs a year ago, put together in piecemeal fashion with obvious deficiencies and liabilities, to a 49-33 record, which would have been good enough for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
He has them sharing the ball, scrambling on defense and playing an egoless brand of basketball that should be duplicated on all levels.
And he gets nothing?
Yes, there is motivation all around for the Mavs as they prepare for Game 3 at home.
But it’s no longer just about beating the Spurs.
If you look around at the Western Conference playoff picture where Oklahoma City is losing to the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland is handling the Houston Rockets, opportunity for a playoff run is at hand.
As Carlisle said, Dallas can’t let up against the Spurs. They are in it to win it.
They thought they could before. Now they believe they can.
Is he just talking about a first-round playoff series or much more?