Marion rushes home for baby's birth

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
SAN ANTONIO -- This will be one of the most memorable nights of Shawn Marion's life.

His massive contributions to the Dallas Mavericks' first playoff win since they popped champagne bottles in Miami a few years ago were a mere footnote.

Marion wasn't available to the media after the Mavs evened the series with a 113-92 rout of the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, but he had a really good reason for bolting out of the AT&T Center visitor's locker room after the win. He rushed to the airport to hop on a private jet to get to his hometown of Chicago for the birth of his first child, a source confirmed to with the approval of the proud new father.

The 15-year veteran forward, one of the most versatile players in the history of the league, stuffed the box score with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting, five rebounds, three steals and two assists in 35 minutes during Game 2. He did an outstanding the job as the primary defender on All-Star point guard Tony Parker, who had only 12 points and three assists in the blowout.

The performance by the man known as "Matrix" could speak for itself.

However, his coach and teammates were happy to speak about Marion as he rushed to the airport.

"I thought Marion played a phenomenal game all-around -- defense, offense, he hit one or two 3s, he was rebounding," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "He was terrific."

That's the kind of performance the Mavs need from a 35-year-old who joins Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett as the only players in NBA history to record at least 17,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 1,500 steals and 1,000 blocks in their careers.

The list of players capable of doing a solid defensive job on every player from Parker to Tim Duncan might be even shorter.

"He's one of the strangest players that I've played with in this league," said Dirk Nowitzki, who joins Marion as the only players remaining on the Mavs' roster from the 2011 title run. "He can do a lot of things out there. On defense, I've been saying for the last five years with him, he's our best perimeter defender. I've seen him guard [point guards to centers] in my five years with him, so on that end, you can always rely on him. On offense, he's just so great on the move. He posts up a little bit, he's just so great when he cuts and moves, and when he makes the 3 ball, he's great.

"We're going to need him. He was great tonight."

Marion was great in Game 2, and that wasn't even the best part of the Matrix's night.

Carlisle has upper hand on Pop so far

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
SAN ANTONIO -- Gregg Popovich, who tends to receive praise with all the grace of a one-man fast break featuring 270-pound DeJuan Blair, refused to believe Rick Carlisle was sincere with his Wednesday morning declaration that the San Antonio Spurs' sideline wizard deserves to be considered "Coach of the Century."

"Rick's a wise ass," Popovich grumbled about two hours before a blink-and-you-missed-it pregame ceremony to present him the Red Auerbach Trophy, commemorating his third NBA Coach of the Year award.

[+] EnlargeRick Carlisle
AP Photo/Eric GayRick Carlisle, above, is sincere in his praise of Gregg Popovich, but the Mavs' coach surely relishes the chance to go up against a coaching legend.
There's nothing sarcastic about Carlisle's Pop praise, but the Dallas Mavericks' coach is an awfully smart man himself. That has been apparent for ages, but it's especially obvious now that this Nos. 8 vs. 1 Western Conference matchup seems as if it's going to be a real series.

With all due respect to Phil Jackson, Carlisle is adamant that Popovich is indeed the Coach of the Century. That's a worthy subject for bar-stool and sports-talk discussions, but there's no doubt who deserves to be considered Coach of the Series so far.

It's Carlisle, and it isn't close.

The ingenious defensive plan concocted by Carlisle and his coaching staff is the primary reason Dallas rolled to a stunning 113-92 rout in Game 2 at the AT&T Center, earning the Mavs their first postseason victory since they clinched the 2011 championship with a radically different roster and, more important, evening this series.

The Mavs seemed to have no hope of slowing down the Spurs, a phenomenally efficient offensive team that had won nine straight games entering the series against Dallas. San Antonio lit it up for an average of 112.3 points while sweeping the recently completed regular-season series between the Interstate 35 rivals, raining in 42 3-pointers in the four games.

In this series, the Mavs made preventing open perimeter looks by Spurs role players such as Danny Green and Patty Mills their top defensive priority. It has worked wonders, as San Antonio shooters not named Manu Ginobili are just 5-of-25 from long range.

By switching on the majority of pick-and-rolls, the Mavs have gummed up the Spurs' typically splendid ball movement, holding San Antonio to an average of 91 points in the series and forcing an astounding 24 turnovers in Game 2, with Dallas converting those opportunities into 33 points.

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SAN ANTONIO -- Sometimes, for a superstar such as Dirk Nowitzki, it's not about the points you score. Or the rebounds you grab. Or the passes you make.

Sometimes, it's just about the will to win, which is as intense as it has ever been.

That's why 35-year-old Dirk, playing in his 130th playoff game during his 16th NBA season dived for a loose ball during the third quarter Wednesday night at AT&T Center.

He corralled the ball near midcourt and fired a pass Monta Ellis for a driving layup against the Spurs.

It's that type of competitive spirit the Mavs displayed all night against San Antonio as they won their first playoff game since beating Miami for the title in June 2011.

It's why they kicked the Spurs' butt in Game 2 of this Western Conference quarterfinal.

Dallas 113, San Antonio 92.

"Sometimes, we get in trouble when we don't get those loose balls, those 50-50 balls," Dirk said. "Sometimes, if you want to win on the road you gotta give that little extra, play a little harder and compete like we did tonight. We deserved to win."

And when the extra effort comes from a dude who's the face of the franchise and the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history it motivates everyone else. See, Dirk owns a championship ring and a NBA Finals MVP and every other individual accolade you would ever want, but his desire to win has never waned.

"Him diving on the floor, having been in the league 17 years and at his age that don't do nothing but motivate us as a team to do the same thing and hit the floor as well," Ellis said of Dirk.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle will deny it, but it will be hard for the Mavs to play much better than they did Game 2.

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Jose Calderon answers call in second half

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
SAN ANTONIO -- It was a new day, a new game and a new Jose Calderon for the Dallas Mavericks. Maybe it wasn't a brand-new Calderon, but it was the one the team had come to expect over the course of the season.

As the San Antonio Spurs ended the first half on a 10-point run and pulled to within five points, it was clear the game and, potentially, the series was on the line for Dallas. Out of all of Dallas' explosive options on offense, Calderon was the one who delivered the counterpunch.

[+] Enlarge Jose Calderon
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesWhen the Mavs needed a boost after the Spurs rallied in the first half, Jose Calderon scored all 12 of his points in the third quarter.
After going scoreless in the first half, Calderon scored all 12 of his points in the third quarter and finished the game 5-of-10 from the field in the victory. The Spurs continued to try to run him off the 3-point shot, but he was able to operate off the dribble. He was able to figure things out and ultimately got hot.

"It felt great when I saw those shots go in," Calderon said. "It always gives you a little bit more confidence, for sure."

After he scored only seven points in Game 1, many wondered if Calderon's minutes were going to be cut again in favor of Devin Harris, who played 32 minutes to Calderone’s 16 in that loss. While Harris delivered another strong game with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in 24 minutes, Calderon kept his poise by being aggressive and staying the course over 28 minutes Wednesday night.

"Listen, Calderon has been great for us all year," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We need him. ... He’s played in a lot of big games. He’s played in a lot of hostile environments. You know, in Europe, those venues are wild. There’s people throwing stuff. There’s all sorts of stuff going on there, so he’s used to that environment.

"He knows what this is all about. My message to him has been, ‘Hey, you stay aggressive and keep doing what you do. That’s what we need you to do.’"

Calderon's response from Game 1 to Game 2 shows that he got the message. As things appeared to be coming apart at the seams, Calderon and the team regrouped and got back on track.

"Sometime when it's low, everybody gets so crazy too quickly," Calderon said. "I've had some bad games or could have done better, but we're 15 guys. Coach makes the decision. It doesn't [matter] who plays more minutes. Whoever is in there is going to try to do the best for our team to win.

"That's what everyone has to understand. It's not about who got more points on our team. It's about who got more points as a team. That's what basketball is about."

Even though this is his first playoff appearance since the 2007-08 season, Calderon is a veteran and knew that Game 1 was just one game and he would have a chance to show he could bring value to the team.

"I wasn't worrying about it," Calderon explained. "I was just trying to go out there and do my job. I was lucky today that my shots were going in. I feel comfortable. My guys have confidence in me. It's been like that for 82 games and two playoff games. It's not going to change after one game."

While Calderon will be the consummate teammate and gladly step to aside for a teammate if he's not delivering, he's still a proud guy who wants to have a positive impact on his team. He was able to rise to the occasion and display some shooter's amnesia as his third-quarter performance was instrumental in Dallas' ability to steal the home-court advantage.

"I always try to go out there and play the best basketball I can and make every shot possible, but there's nights you're shooting and the ball isn't going to fall. I'll keep being aggressive and hopefully they can keep falling."

It might have taken an extra game, but Calderon answered the challenge.

Turnovers Hurt Spurs

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23


Following a 113-92 loss to the Mavs, Gregg Popovich said turnovers were the Spurs' biggest problem.

SAN ANTONIO -- Monta Ellis scored 21 points and the Dallas Mavericks rolled to a 113-92 victory over San Antonio on Wednesday night, snapping a 10-game skid against the Spurs and evening their first-round series at a game apiece.

Shawn Marion scored 20 points, Dirk Nowitzki added 16, Devin Harris had 18 and Jose Calderon 12 for Dallas, which never trailed after the opening minutes of the second quarter.

Manu Ginobili had 27 points, Tony Parker added 12 and Tim Duncan 11 for the Spurs.

Dallas didn't relent in Game 2 after blowing a 10-point lead in the final eight minutes of the series opener. San Antonio's ineptness had as much to do with tying the series, however. The Spurs averaged 14.4 turnovers during the regular season, but had 15 with 3 minutes left in the first half. They finished with 22 turnovers, which resulted in 33 points for the Mavericks.

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Rapid Reaction: Mavericks 113, Spurs 92

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23

SAN ANTONIO -- The Dallas Mavericks stunned the San Antonio Spurs and evened the first-round series with a 113-92 win in Game 2.

How it happened: Believe it or not, Dallas won with suffocating defense.

That's certainly a surprise, considering the Mavs struggled defensively all season and the top-seeded Spurs rank among the NBA's most efficient offensive teams. But it's true, as the Mavs forced an astounding 24 turnovers.

The Spurs did shoot 50 percent from the field, led by sixth man Manu Ginobili scoring 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but that wasn't nearly enough to overcome San Antonio's uncharacteristic sloppiness with the ball.

Dallas' offense was fueled by its defense, converting all of those San Antonio turnovers into 33 points. Six Mavs scored in double figures, led by 21 points from Monta Ellis and 20 from defensive stopper Shawn Marion.

The Mavs routed the Spurs despite the second straight off-game by superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki. He missed his first six shots and finished with 16 points on 7-of-19 shooting.

The Spurs closed the first half with a 10-0 run featuring eight points by Ginobili, cutting the deficit to five despite committing 15 turnovers before halftime. However, the Mavs took that punch and came out swinging in the third quarter, building their lead back up to 16.

After a scoreless first half, Mavs point guard Jose Calderon took over in the third quarter. He had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and dished out four assists in the frame, drilling jumpers on three straight possessions at one point, the final one despite a foul.

San Antonio, which rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final seven-plus minutes to win Game 1, never made a run in the fourth quarter.

What it means: This might actually be an entertaining series. The teams head to Dallas tied 1-1 after the Mavs snapped a 10-game overall losing streak to the Spurs with their first playoff victory since clinching the 2011 championship. Teams that split the first two games on the road in best-of-seven series are 93-105 in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It would have pretty much just been a matter of when the Mavs' offseason fishing trip would start if they didn't get this win. Teams that lose the first two games on the road in best-of-seven series are 13-207, a puny winning percentage of .059.

Play of the game: DeJuan Blair stripped Ginobili and took off on a one-man, relatively fast break, spinning in the lane and finishing with a layup. That bucket by the 6-foot-7, 270-pound former Spur stretched the Mavs' lead to 16 with 1:03 left in the third quarter.

Stat of the night: The Spurs, who averaged 14.4 turnovers in the regular season, had 15 in the first half. According to data from ESPN Stats & Information, that's the most turnovers the Spurs committed in the first half of a game in the past five seasons, including playoffs.

Rick Carlisle praises Gregg Popovich

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23

SAN ANTONIO -- As far as Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is concerned, NBA Coach of the Year isn't enough of an honor for San Antonio Spurs counterpart Gregg Popovich.

"Why don't we just give him Coach of the Century?" Carlisle said after Wednesday's shootaround at AT&T Center, before Game 2 of the teams' first-round series. "I mean, he's the greatest. Obviously, [Coach of the Year is] very well deserved. They were almost a wire-to-wire top seed in the league, and he's the best. He's the best."

Popovich, whose Spurs recovered from a devastating Finals loss last season to roll to a league-best 62-20 record despite dealing with nagging injuries to several key players, received the honor Tuesday for the second time in three seasons. He joined Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only three-time winners of the award.

Carlisle, the award's winner in 2001-02 while with Detroit, has consistently raved about the remarkable job Popovich has done guiding the Spurs to four championships and 15 consecutive seasons with at least 50 wins.

During a visit to San Antonio last season, Carlisle said with a straight face that Popovich is "the smartest man in the history of the world." When the Spurs were in Dallas earlier this month, Carlisle called Popovich "the best coach in any sport ever, in my opinion."

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Calderon: 'No problem' with limited PT

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
SAN ANTONIO – You’ll probably never hear Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon complain about minutes.

If Devin Harris continues get the majority of playing time in this first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, that’s cool with Calderon.

[+] EnlargeCalderon and  Harris
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJose Calderon's inability to guard Spurs All-Star point guard Tony Parker causes major matchup problems for the Mavs, who have been giving Devin Harris major minutes.
“I just want to win games and try to help my teammates,” said Calderon, who played only 16 minutes in the Mavs’ Game 1 loss, the fewest of any game in which he wasn’t injured all season. “Whatever is better for the team, I’ve got no problem with that at all. …

“If I’m not good out there, I’m the first one to want to be on the bench because someone is doing better. With that, I’ve got no problem. We are 15 guys for a reason. Coach has got to decide. It is what it is, but we cannot be changing everything after one loss or one game.”

If the Mavs make a lineup change for Game 2, it will be a surprise. Dirk Nowitzki declared Monday that the Mavs would stick with Calderon as the starter, which coach Rick Carlisle confirmed the next day.

That makes sense given the chemistry of the Mavs’ bench, especially considering that Harris did the majority of his damage during his 19-point, five-assist performance when matched up with Spurs backup point guard Patty Mills.

Calderon had a horrible first quarter, when he was 0-of-4 from the floor as the Mavs fell behind by 12 points. He was much better to start the second half, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting in a seven-minute stint in the third quarter.

“I liked the way he approached both situations,” Carlisle said. “It’s just the third quarter, the shots were going down. That’s the only difference.

“We need him to just be aggressive. For 80 or 82 games or whatever he played this year, he was a key guy for us. He was key for us because he was aggressive looking to score, he was a set-up man on offense and he was a guy who could scramble on defense. We need him to do those things.”

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3 Points: More concern over Monta or Dirk?

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
Monta Ellis and Dirk NowitzkiRocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Mavericks need more from Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki in Game 2. columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor and editor-in-chief Bryan Gutierrez will join me each week to run a three-man weave on a few questions on the minds of Mavs fans.

Is the 11-point, 4-of-14 performance in Game 1 by Dirk Nowitzki or Monta Ellis more concerning?

Gutierrez: It has to be Ellis. Nowitzki has seen everything in terms of defensive schemes, especially from the Spurs. He got looks from his favorite spots. Sunday's opening tilt just provided a game where the ball didn't go in the basket. The Spurs attempted to make Ellis settle for the dreaded long two-point shots rather than getting to the rim. The Mavericks will have to continue to find ways to get him to the rim. A byproduct of him getting to the rim is manufacturing more trips to the free throw line. Dallas only had 13 more free throw attempts. Easy points come at a premium and Ellis can help in that department. If opportunities aren't created for that to happen, the concern will continue to grow.

Taylor: Ellis' poor game is definitely more disturbing because he has no real playoff track record. We know what Dirk can do and we've seen it 10,000 times. He's played in 129 playoff games and won an NBA Finals MVP; Ellis has played in 16 playoff games and only started 11. Ellis had a really nice regular season, but we all know playoff basketball is different. We can assume he'll bounce back and play well, but there's no guarantee.

MacMahon: Ellis has never had it all during the playoffs. It’s not much of a track record -- and most of it is from his second NBA season, when he was the fourth or fifth option on the “We Believe” Warriors -- but it’s butt ugly. His averages from 16 career playoff games: 9.8 points, 39.7 field goal percentage, 2.1 assists, 2.0 turnovers. Nowitzki, on the other hand, has a Finals MVP and is one of four players in NBA history with career playoff averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds. We know Dirk delivers during the playoffs much more often than not. Ellis has to prove he can perform in the postseason.

Should Rick Carlisle change the starting lineup for Game 2?


Who should start for the Mavs in Game 2?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,233)

Gutierrez: MacMahon noted on Twitter that Dallas' starting five is minus-40 in 33 minutes of action against San Antonio this season. The only logical move I see making is inserting Devin Harris as the starting point guard for Jose Calderon. I don't think it is the wisest decision, though. There are no assurances that Harris would bring a better start to the games. What we do know is that he's a vital cog in the dynamic bench Dallas has. Even if he still is on the floor with some of them, moving him to the starting lineup disrupts the cohesion that has been established with the bench. The more reasonable option is shifting the workload of minutes in favor of Harris.

Taylor: No. No. No. A thousand times no. This team won 49 games and pretty much achieved as much as it could with this roster of players who struggle to defend and rebound. Changing the lineup now would be a panic move. The Mavs have spent the season creating roles for players, so that guys are comfortable with what they're supposed to and when they should expect to get into the game. Changing the lineup for a streaky guy like Harris makes no sense. If he's hot, he'll play more. If not, he'll get his usual minutes.

MacMahon: I remember a couple of “panic moves” that worked out pretty well for the Mavs -- starting Harris for Game 2 against the Spurs in the 2006 West semis and starting J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the 2011 Finals. I just don’t think the Mavs benefit from this potential lineup switch, because it’d break up the best thing they have going, which is the chemistry of the bench. Plus, Harris did the vast majority of his damage when matched up with backup point guard Patty Mills in Game 1. The Mavs want that matchup again.

Did the Mavs pick the right poison by deciding that defending the Spurs’ 3-point threats was a bigger priority than stopping Tim Duncan and Tony Parker?

Gutierrez: Nowitzki is one of the best basketball players to ever play the game. In his spare time, he also doubles as a mathematician. He stated that they got killed on 3-point shots in the regular season against the Spurs, so the better prospect was to give up twos instead of threes by switching on most of the screens. It's likely that the Mavericks will continue to sacrifice twos for threes, maybe just with tweaks along the way. There's danger looming with Kawhi Leonard being another big benefactor of the switching. There were multiple times where he had a smaller guard switched onto him. An adjustment the Spurs can make is taking advantage of those mismatches. While it just presents another problem, Dallas will trade twos for threes every day.

Taylor: Absolutely. They held the Spurs to 90 points and stopped the crowd from getting really engaged by making the Spurs' litany of catch-and-shoot players essentially non-factors. You can't stop everything. Let Duncan get his and contain everyone else is a sound strategy. The problem wasn't on the defensive end, it was Nowitzki and Ellis making only 8 of 28 shots.

MacMahon: The Spurs averaged 112.5 points in their four regular-season meetings against the Mavs. They scored 90 Sunday. I’d say Dallas’ defensive strategy was pretty darn smart. San Antonio torched the Mavs from the perimeter during the regular season, going 42-of-97 from 3-point range. The Spurs were 3-of-17 from long distance in Game 1. Great adjustment by Carlisle. The concern now: Will the Spurs exploit the mismatch of Leonard posting up Ellis, assuming Shawn Marion opens up on Parker again?
DALLAS -- Completely focused on trying to even the series he's playing in now, Mavericks forward Shawn Marion was in no mood to reminisce about a couple of playoff games that happened eight years ago.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzi has averaged 27.1 points in the next game of a playoff series after he has scored fewer than 15 in the previous game.
Maybe that has something to do with the fact that it's a pretty painful memory for Marion, although Mavs fans will fondly remember when "Matrix" and the rest of the Phoenix Suns couldn't do anything to slow down Dirk Nowitzki while the big German went off for a franchise-playoff-record 50 points in Game 5 of the 2006 West finals.

"Right now, I'm on a team with him, so I can't go back to guarding him," Marion said after Tuesday's practice at the American Airlines Center before the Mavs returned to San Antonio for Game 2 with the Spurs. "It's like basically irrelevant now."

Here's why it's at least somewhat relevant right now: Nowitzki was coming off a horrendous performance in the previous game, scoring only 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting in a series-tying loss. His 50-point explosion a couple of nights later is an extreme example of Nowitzki's tendency to have big bounce-back games after off nights in the playoffs.

Sunday's Game 1 loss to the Spurs marked the ninth time out of Nowitzki's 129 career playoff games that he scored fewer than 15 points and shot worse than 30 percent from the field. One of those was when the Golden State Warriors eliminated the top-seeded Mavs in Game 6 of the 2007 first round.

After the other seven Dirk duds, he delivered an average of 27.1 points on 48.8 percent shooting in the next game of the series. That's the kind of performance the Mavs need from the 2011 Finals MVP to steal Game 2 on the Spurs' home floor and even this first-round series.

Some of Nowitzki's most memorable playoff performances have come immediately after poor outings. A few examples: a 33-point, 10-rebound night against the Utah Jazz in the first playoff win of his career; a 31-point, 11-rebound gem in Game 7 against the Portland Trail Blazers in 2003; and his 50/12 against Phoenix in 2006.

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Does Ellis on Leonard have a side effect?

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
DALLAS -- As smart as three-time Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich is, it’s stunning that the San Antonio Spurs didn’t exploit their biggest mismatch against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1.

Dallas got away with using undersized shooting guard Monta Ellis to defend muscular small forward Kawhi Leonard for long stretches.

That apparently won’t happen again.

“Because of the way they play defense, Kawhi has got one of the best matchups,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker told reporters. “If they’re going to keep Monta on him and have Shawn Marion on me, we should take advantage.”

The 6-foot-7, 230-pound Leonard, who is four inches taller and 45 pounds heavier than Ellis, had only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting in Game 1.

Leonard averaged 12.8 points on 52.2 percent shooting this season. He’s a phenomenal finisher and the second-most efficient post-up scorer in the league according to Synergy Sports data, averaging 1.16 points per possession. Yet Leonard only attempted five shots in the paint Sunday despite the mismatch with Ellis.

(Read full post)

Mavs' plan: Keep Parker out of paint

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
Tony Parker, Devin HarrisAP Photo/Eric GayThe Mavericks hope to make Tony Parker earn his points from the perimeter the rest of the series.
DALLAS -- Round 1 went to Tony Parker, who had 21 points and six assists in the San Antonio Spurs’ series-opening victory over the Dallas Mavericks. The tag team primarily responsible for battling the All-Star point guard can’t wait to get back in the ring.

All signs point to small forward Shawn Marion, the Mavs’ 35-year-old defensive Swiss Army Knife, opening Game 2 on Parker again. Backup point guard Devin Harris, who will probably play significantly more minutes than starter Jose Calderon in this series, will get plenty of time on Parker.

Marion has guarded everyone from point guards to power forwards for years, but he admits to a certain level of uncomfortableness chasing around the Spurs’ blur, but it’s a challenge the man known as “Matrix” embraces for the good of the Mavs.

For Harris, this feels like the good ol’ days during his first stint with Dallas.

“It’s fun,” said Harris, who played a key role as a second-year guard when the Mavs beat the Spurs in seven games during the 2006 West semifinals. “When I was here before, he was happy to see me go. I’m looking forward to matching up with him again.

“He got the better of us in Game 1. We have to try to return the favor.”

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Mailbag: Preferred 2nd-round opponent?!?!

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
DALLAS – I’ll readily admit that a certain sort of cynicism flows through my veins.

For example, it’s hard for me to look at the San Antonio Spurs' recent dominance of their old Interstate 35 rivals and envision anything other than the West’s top seed advancing to the second round. With the Spurs winning 10 straight over the Mavs, it’s tough to forecast Dallas winning four of the next six games.

It’s not my job to pump sunshine when black-and-silver clouds fill the sky. But I am here to serve the fans, and I must commend some of you MFFLs on your blind faith and enthusiasm.

Case in point: The first question of this week’s playoff-edition mailbag.


What will be the result of the Mavs-Spurs series?


Discuss (Total votes: 13,887)

Tim, who would the Mavs rather see in the second round? Blazers or Rockets? – Jake (Philadelphia)

Jake, I must admit that I hadn’t given this subject a second of thought before reading your question. The easy answer is the Mavs would be absolutely ecstatic to have the chance to play either one of them.

The Mavs actually fared pretty well against both Portland and Houston this season. They went 2-1 against the Trail Blazers, winning in Portland on Monta Ellis' buzzer-beater and in Dallas despite blowing a 30-point lead. They split four games against the Rockets, including a classic Mavs comeback win at home.

I’d say flip a coin. Both potential opponents present major defensive challenges for the Mavs, featuring two stars (LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard for the Blazers and James Harden and Dwight Howard for the Rockets) with talented supporting casts.

But if you pin me down and make me pick one, I’d take Houston. They don’t have an answer for defending Dirk, who averaged 31.5 points in the four games against the Rockets this season.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDirk Nowitzki's numbers in the clutch may not be quite as impressive as in the past, but he's still getting the job done and setting up others.
What are the stats of Dirk Nowitzki in crunch time and OT? He seems to be wearing down late in games. -- @JonathanBlick on Twitter

There’s no doubt that the fight against Father Time is especially tough late in tight games, especially if the 35-year-old star’s minutes were extended that night.

According to’s clutch stats (score within five points in the final five minutes), Nowitzki is averaging a still extremely respectable 37.2 points per 48 minutes in those situations, plus 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. However, his percentages plummet: 39.2 from the floor, 20.7 from 3-point range. Yet his plus-minus (plus-25.6 per 48 minutes) is phenomenal, a testament to Dirk’s value as a decoy and Ellis’ ability to take advantage.

By comparison, Nowitzki averaged 41.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 5.6 assists per 48 clutch minutes in 2010-11, shooting 46.5 percent from the floor but only 12.5 percent from 3-point range. His per-48 plus-minus was 38.3.

During the 2011 playoffs, when Nowitzki went on one of the great closing runs in NBA history to key the Mavs’ title run, those numbers were absolutely ridiculous. In 49 clutch minutes that postseason, Nowitzki put up 66 points, 11 rebounds and three assists while shooting 53.6 from the floor and 60 percent from 3-point range. The Mavs outscored their opponents by 73 points in those 49 minutes. SEVENTY-THREE POINTS!!!

Nowitzki’s OT numbers this season are actually pretty darn good: 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-7 from 3-point range), six rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.

Do you think that our flaws exposed by playing the Spurs will affect what kind of player we target in free agency? For example, going after a more athletic/offensive center versus a SF. – Micah (Stephenville, Texas)

No, because it’s not like the Spurs will expose flaws the Mavs didn’t know about. They’ll be in the market for an all-around small forward and an upgrade at starting center regardless of what happens in this series. It’d be nice to get a center with scoring ability, but the Mavs’ priority this summer will be drastically improving the defense.

This is an elite offensive team and a below-average defensive team. The result is a 49-win season and an extreme long shot to win a playoff series in the West.

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DALLAS -- After a Game 1 loss in San Antonio, Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson made a genius adjustment, inserting speedy guard Devin Harris into the starting lineup to match up with San Antonio Spurs blur Tony Parker.

[+] EnlargeDevin Harris
Chris Covatta/Getty ImagesDevin Harris averaged only 20.4 minutes per game in the regular season, but played 32 against the Spurs in Game 1. Any more than that would probably yield diminished returns.
That move paid major dividends with Harris averaging 20.7 points while the Mavs reeled off three straight victories in a classic 2006 Western Conference semifinals series that Dallas won in seven games.

Given the circumstances, why shouldn’t Rick Carlisle give history a chance to repeat itself?

You won’t get Carlisle to say much on the subject -- much less confirm that he’s sticking with Jose Calderon as the starter, although Dirk Nowitzki did it for the Mavs' coach -- but his reasoning might be that he doesn’t want to mess with one of the team’s biggest strengths.

Sure, Dallas’ normal starting lineup has been a disaster against the Spurs, getting outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes this season. Calderon’s inability to defend Parker, prompting Carlisle to put 35-year-old small forward Shawn Marion on the Spurs’ All-Star point guard to start the series, is a big part of the problem. If Calderon isn’t an impact offensive player, it’s a pretty safe bet that Carlisle will have a quick hook for him again.

But the Mavs still had a golden opportunity to win Game 1, primarily because a bench led by Harris (19 points, five assists) played so well. Is it worth potentially killing the chemistry of the Mavs’ second unit to get Harris in the starting lineup?

“It’s been one of our strengths, so there’s a lot of value in it,” Carlisle said of the Mavs’ bench. “[Harris has] been one of the keys to our team since he came back. NBA games are long. There is a lot going on out there.”

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Dirk Nowitzki
21.7 2.7 0.9 32.9
ReboundsS. Dalembert 6.8
AssistsM. Ellis 5.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.7
BlocksS. Dalembert 1.2