1) San Antonio Spurs vs. 8) Dallas Mavericks
It would've been so much better if Dallas had beaten Memphis to capture the seventh seed and a date with Oklahoma City. So symmetric. The circle of life and all that jazz.
Back in 2007, the Mavs were Oklahoma City, a squad that ran roughshod over the league on the way toward a 67-15 record, including three wins in four tries against the Spurs (with the final one being the infamous "Duncan Ejected For Laughing at Joey Crawford Game").
Coupled with the Mavs second-round win over the Spurs in the previous playoffs, during which they pulled out an overtime Game 7 on the road --now only the second-worst playoff loss in Spurs history-- and it sure seemed as if Dallas had the Spurs' number. Most pundits figured a rematch would produce more of the same.
A funny thing happened in that reunion though. The Mavs forgot to RSVP their invitations and were instead unceremoniously dumped in the first round in six games by the eighth-seeded "We Believe" Warriors of Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and... wait for it... Monta Ellis. They obliterated the Mavs behind a hail of threes, and Dirk Nowitzki in particular struggled against the defense of Jackson and Matt Barnes.
(He wasn't quite the lovable, awesome, endearing Dirk we think of today, one of our favorite non-Spurs in the league. Believe it or not but Dirk was quite the heel for Spurs fans from 2006-2010.)
The Mavs were a few seconds away from a Game 82 win at Memphis and by extension a trip to Oklahoma City, where they would've had a chance to play spoilers against a squad that seems to own their match-up with the Spurs. They could've been the ones shooting the lights out with Nowitzki, Ellis, Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.
Remember, Dallas beat OKC in two of three meetings this season, scoring 109 in one and 128 in overtime in another. Their offense flummoxes those guys and it would've been a great opportunity to see a top tactician like Rick Carlisle intimidate and outmaneuver an in-over-his-head counterpart in Scotty Brooks, shades of Don Nelson clowning Avery Johnson back in 2007.
Alas, it wasn't to be, and for that the Mavericks must pay.
I may have come around on Nowitzki, but there is still much hate within me for Mark Cuban, for Marion's shooting form where he literally looks like he's vomiting the ball toward the rim, for Vinsanity's second-life as Chuck Person, basically (the most appropriately named human ever, by the way) and for Ellis, who I most certainly DO NOT think have it all. I don't hate DeJuan Blair, but I shake my head at his wasted potential. Ditto with Devin Harris and Brandon Wright. They should've been so much better than they are.
Okay, it's really hard to hate the Mavericks, except for Cuban. There's always Cuban.
Still, to paraphrase noted philosopher Marilyn Manson, "There's no time to discriminate/Hate every Mother Hubbard that's in your way."
The Spurs are going to need Tony Parker to be at his best to navigate four playoff rounds and he hasn't really been able to play two consecutive good games for a good long while now. The Mavericks, with that matador tandem of Calderon and Ellis, are the perfect foils for him to rev up his engines against, before the real games begin. I'm usually something of a pragmatist, but even I'm skeptical that Samuel Dalembert --imagine Jeff Ayres' hands, but on a starting center of a playoff team-- will offer much resistance at the rim and we know all about Blair's issues in his own end. Wright presents more of an obstacle, but he's the sort to jump whenever the ball-handler raises an eyebrow in his general direction.
It's a massive undertaking for the defensively-challenged Mavericks to marshal their efforts to slow down even one guy, so for the Spurs to be able to employ a mad scientist like Manu Ginobili as a secondary creator alongside Parker borders on the cruel. It's not a question of if guys like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills will get their fill of open three-point looks but rather whether they'll be able to keep the goofy grins off their faces.
At times you'll openly wonder, "Hey wait, are the Spurs on a power play? Do they have those in basketball now?" No, no... that's just how Dallas plays defense.
On the other end I'm not quite buying the notion of Leonard guarding Ellis, as some people are suggesting. As good as he is, I think he might be a bit too big for that kind of lateral quickness. I'd have to think Green gets the first crack at it, with Leonard getting the nod here and there as a change-up. Mostly I see Leonard as a chaos engine, just roaming, looking to break the game in unexpected --but at the same time all-too-expected-- ways. Tim Duncan too will have the freedom to search and destroy, liberated from having to guard anyone of note.
The Nowitzki assignment, of course, will be split between a sparkly unicorn and a land walrus, both of whom get their jollies by impersonating amphibians. Nowitzki will get his, which is fine. It's gonna be a treat to watch one of the Grandmasters in person for the first time ever.
Dallas will score because they have plenty of weapons, but the Spurs have even more, plus the defensive spine to at least take away the paint. That's going to make this a quick series. I'll give the Mavs a game because I'm the sporting kind. Heck, a loss to open things up would make things interesting, but would be a great omen for the Spurs too, as long as you ignore everything that happened since 2007.
Regardless of what happens, things get real beginning tomorrow. The Spurs are healthy, rested, and have put themselves in the best possible position to win. Gregg Popovich likes to poo-poo the importance of home court, but he sure coached like he wanted it the way he played guys in April. His players, who've been trained to never reveal their true selves to the press readily admitted they wanted it too. They're not stupid, these Spurs. The talking heads and know-nothing mediots might make poorly-researched declarations like "the Spurs have the best record... again... but they haven't been number one overall since 2003, so it's not like this kind of thing comes around as often as folks believe.
Also, they won it that year.
On second thought not only should Dallas have played the Thunder but the Spurs should've played the Suns. The Basketball Gods are sleeping on the job, man.
Fun Fact: The San Antonio Spurs are a professional basketball team that is a part of the National Basketball Association. They are frequently described as a "well-oiled machine," which is incorrect as robots have not required oil to function for many years.
Prediction: Spurs in five.