I started this season with the highest of high hopes. Slowly, over the course of the first 61 games, those hopes were ground down into dried bits of poo. Fragments of compost ready to be spread across my lawn. Mediocrity and inconsistency abounded. Over the last 21 games, hope sprang out of the poo like a field of poppies. We went from looking uninspired and discombobulated to looking like the class of the league.
Now, after 82 games, we enter the playoffs and I have no idea at all what to expect. We enter as a ridiculously low seven seed. But, we finished the year only 5 games behind the two seed. Only 3 games back if we didn't tank the last one. Really, I just have no clue at this point. No result would surprise me. Lose in 5 games to the Mavs. Ok. Push the Lakers to 7 in the conference finals. Fine. Absolutely blow up and make a run to the championship. Awesome. Surprised? No.
I'm doing two series previews in one post. One is a glass half empty. The other is a glass half full.
Glass Half Empty
Tony is still rusty and suffering from plantar fascitis. George is on a bad wheel and will be slowed on the defensive end where his defense on Terry will be critical. Tim's knee has slowed him to a crawl and he will get pushed around by Haywood and Dampier.
Dirk and Matchups
We still don't have anybody who can make Dirk work for a shot. When it comes to money time, he will continue to eat our lunch with his mid-range game. We have a matchup problem when they play Dirk at the 4. It gets worse when they play him at the 5. When the Mavs go small, who will Tim cover? A lineup of Dirk, Butler, Marion, Terry, and Kidd will create a LOT of problems for the Spurs.
Lack of Role Player Production
Manu's brilliance won't be able to carry us through a tough playoff series where we will rely heavily on our 3-point shooting which wasn't all that good in the first place. Who, from the role players, is going to step up and make the big shots? We have no proven clutch performers on our bench. Nobody who can play the big fourth quarter that you need from a random non-superstar in the playoffs. Call it the Horry role. Who's going to be the random player that drains two 3's and hits a couple free throws in a big fourth quarter run? It's not going to be one of the young guys. Temple, Blair, and Hairston? I don't think so. Bonner and Mason? Not if last year's playoffs are an indicator. McDyess and Bogans. Um, a possibility I guess. Rage? I don't think he has taken over a regular season fourth quarter yet. Much less a playoff game fourth quarter.
Physical Playoff Basketball
The Mavericks really pushed us around in the paint and on the glass last year. This year, they are bigger and stronger and longer. They are an older, more physical, more veteran team that also has a lot of athleticism. I don't think we will be able to match them physically when the games get rougher and fouls are harder to come by.
Prediction: Mavs in 5
Glass Half Full
Tony is back. He looked full speed and healthy against the T'Wolves. He's getting his rhythm and he proved last year that he can score at will against the Mavs. George is fine. A little set back. And with the game one on Sunday, and game two on Wednesday, he will have plenty of time to get healthy. Same for Tim. He didn't play against the Mavs Wednesday and will be spry on Sunday. This team is in great shape health-wise.
Manu and Matchups
They don't have anybody capable of shutting down Manu. I don't even think they have somebody that can slow him down. His brilliance in the pick-and-roll will draw the Mavs bigs away from the basket and leave Dirk as the free safety. Good luck with that Dirk. Dampier will have limited success guarding Tim, as has always been the case, but Tim almost always dominates him and gets him into foul trouble. Haywood? I don't think so. He's never been good and he's not going to be good against playoff Timmy. AND, the Mavs still don't have anybody to guard Tony.
Tony IS the Role Player Tony will be the anchor of the second unit coming off the bench. He will provide the scoring punch when Manu is resting and never give the Mavs any chance to relax or put us in a long scoring drought. With Tony penetrating, our role players will only have to make their open shots. Additionally, I think Rage will actually step his game up for the playoffs from his regular season performance. I think he and Bogans will actually have a really good series. They are both rough veterans who will perform better in the more physical playoffs.
Head Case Playoff Basketball The Mavs have head cases. Haywood and Terry, in particular, have proven to have issues. Marion has never been a playoff performer. I'm not sure Butler has ever been in a tight series. Stevenson? Hahahahaha!!!
Prediction: Spurs in 4