Friday, April 18, 2008

Mavericks vs Hornets - Game One Preview

Call this the Rodney Dangerfield series.

Is there anything either of these teams could do in this series to earn some respect across the league?  

I don't think so.

Despite earning the number two seed in the West and Chris Paul earning legit MVP talk... Nobody believes this team can win the Western Conference.  All of the experts are pointing to their lack of playoff experience as the fatal flaw that prevents expectations from rising too high.

Is it just me, or does this team remind you a little bit of that first Sacramento team when Chris Webber lead them to the playoffs and several years contender status?  Or maybe they remind me of that first Mavericks team to crack the first round of the playoffs with Dirk, Nash and Finley guiding the way?

Nobody really thought much of either team until they had made some noise in the playoffs.  Then, they spent several seasons in the limelight, knocking on the door.

Is that what we have in this New Orleans team?  Is this the first of many trips deep into the playoffs for CP3, West and Chandler?  Or are they going to be back in the 7th, 8th, 9th seed battle with recent almost contenders like the Nuggets, Clippers, and Rockets?

Notice what I just did?  I tried to talk them up and ended up dismissing this season's chances and started judging the team by what they might do next year instead of what they might do in this playoff run.

So, yeah, I'm with most of the rest of the critics.  I just don't think the Hornets can win the West.  Actually, I don't even think they can make it to the Western Conference Finals.

IF the Hornets knock out the vulnerable Mavericks they will run smack into the winner of the Suns-Spurs series.  Nash-Shaq-Amare or Duncan-Parker-Ginobli.  CP3 is really good.  But this team isn't going to the Western Conference Finals.

What about the Mavericks?  What are we to make of this team?

Dirk is playing with fire, even on a bum leg.  Jason Kidd.  Yeah, all of these years later and you can still call him "ason Kidd" because he doesn't have a J (jumpshot).  But seriously, what does a guy have to do to earn your respect?  He's lead a team to the finals twice already.  He has inspired Dirk, which is worth a large chunk of his contract by itself and he has made Dampier into a legit center.

Seriously.  Go watch the tape.  Dampier hasn't played like this in any season with the Mavericks.  Dampier has a legitimate chance to hang with any center in the West this year (since Yao is out).  Yes, even Shaq.  Have you SEEN Shaq play this year?  I didn't say he could beat Shaq.  He can hang with Shaq.

This Mavericks team really is quite talented.

But, Avery has looked like his is in over his head since Game One of LAST years playoff series.  He hasn't made much sense all season and has made lots of wacky moves during the games and said lots of wacky stuff between games.

Dallas should have the talent to win this series.  I just don't know if their coach can get them there now.  He could two years ago.  But, he seems lost and panicky.

Chris Paul appears to be on a mission.  But he also seems doomed to failure.  If Steve Nash couldn't will the Suns to the Finals how is CP3 going to do it?

This probably is a cop out, but I think the winner of Game One will win this series.  If the Mavericks come out and get the job done, their confidence may soar and the Hornets may face an impossible task.

On the other hand, if the Hornets get the job done at home and find a way derail Dirk then I suspect Avery will overreact and send his team into a tailspin.

Jazz vs Rockets - Game One Preview

If the Rockets were going into the playoffs fresh off of their 20+ game winning streak, or with Yao in the line up... this might be an interesting series.

Instead... Yao is out with an injury (again).  Alston is out for several games with an injury.  The winning streak is history.  McGrady is shooting a lot but not making much of anything.  And Mutumbo is still getting calls from AARP about his pending membership status.

Meanwhile, the Jazz won their division and added an outside shooter at the trade deadline to finally balance out their offense a little bit.  Oh, and Jerry Sloan may be the best coach left in the NBA right now.

This series should not be that interesting.  The Rockets have home court advantage but the Jazz overcame that last year even with Yao in the line up.

The Jazz will most likely punish the Rockets early and often for their weakness at the point guard spot and at center.  This could be the least interesting first round series in the West.  I would love to be proven wrong by the Rockets.  But they just don't look all that good going into this series.  The Jazz should win game one handily in Alston's absence.

Suns vs. Spurs - Game One Preview

Easily the most anticipated match up of the first round.  The defending champion Spurs in a rematch with the team they bounced last season in a controversy filled series.

And, a man called Shaq.

The Spurs managed to stay under the radar most of the season, again.  Yet, they uncharacteristically let the division championship fall into the hands of the Hornets.  How long has it been since the Spurs failed to win their division two years in a row?  It feels like a long time.

History says the Spurs never win titles back-to-back.  So, this is the year for the upstarts to capitalize on their apparent weakness.  But, how many times have we all counted the Spurs out only to end up watching yet another parade down the River-walk when all is said and done?

Meanwhile, the vultures circled around the Suns this season after the Marion-Shaq trade.  Yet, they've appeared to find their groove and Shaq has reportedly revitalized their locker room.  And given that Amare has apparently run off Joe Johnson and now Shawn Marion, saving that locker room could be Shaq greatest challenge and greatest accomplishment yet.

It feels like the Spurs have been playing coy all season.  Parker hasn't been in the headlines as much (sports or celebrity headlines).  Ginobili has been their been their offensive spark but has missed a notable amount of games and spent most of the season coming off the bench.  Duncan has been solid, but unspectacular.  Or, else we've just become bored with his consistency.

But when the playoff lights are on, you expect to find this team's intensity at 11 and their coach making all of the right moves.

The Suns have been all over the map this season.  They paid Seattle to take their best defender away (Kurt Thomas) and watched Thomas join the rival Spurs.  Then they made the trade for Shaq to address their long lasting weakness in the middle at the risk of destroying their strength of spreading the floor and shooting from every position.

Okay, so enough history.  What is going to happen in game one?

I admit, this is one of the two Western Conference first round series that has me pretty stumped.

Here is what I think I know...
  • The winner of this series will ultimately make it to the Western Conference Finals.
  • You can't convince me that this series will be settled in less than six games.
  • San Antonio looks vulnerable.  This is the Suns series to win.
  • Shaq's ability to stay on the court and play 7 games should be the key to the series.
So, I guess I'm picking the Suns in six.  If that is going to happen, I must believe that the Suns are going to win game one.

Thanks Portland and Seattle

Last week, I was preparing to write one of those "we believe" kind of articles that was going to link the 1994-1995 Houston Rockets with the late season acquisition of Clyde Drexler to the current edition of the Dallas Mavericks.

I was prepared to talk about the Rockets of 1995 entering the playoffs as the sixth seed, but improving game-by-game in the playoffs until they reached their potential and became "unbeatable." And how the Rockets carved their way through 3 teams with 60 wins or more to win the championship, despite a shaky transition period while integrating Clyde.

I was ready to go out on a limb and say these Dallas Mavericks were ready to follow that same path. That they were finally coming together as a team and to actually be better in the playoffs than they were at any point in the regular season.

Then, thankfully, the Portland and Seattle games happened. Two lottery bound teams between match ups of playoff contenders. Two good warm up matches that the Mavericks could use to tune up and begin flexing their muscles.

TWO Loses! ? Que?

Thank you.

Thank you for bringing me back down to reality. Yes, this is a very capable and talented team that can, I still believe, beat anybody. But, they are still lacking that confidence and chemistry. They still can't get the job done night after night. Even against less than capable competition.

Thank you.

Now, I can safely enter the 2008 NBA playoffs with few expectations for the Mavericks. Lots of hope. But few expectations. Unlike the last 2, or 4, editions of the Mavericks, there is nothing this team could do in the playoffs that would disappoint me.

0-4 sweep by the Hornets. Fine.
7 game nail-biter against the Hornets. Fine.
Getting blasted in the second round. Fine.
Getting blasted in the Western Conference Finals. Fine.

This team has already disappointed me.

The 2008 Dallas Mavericks are Cousin Eddy. They might make you proud. They might really mess up. They might show some promise and THEN really mess up. But, you've lived with Cousin Eddy in your life for so long you are immune to the disappointment.

Obviously, the implication is that by being Cousin Eddy you don't ever really expect the ultimate success. And that is very true of this Mavericks team. The only thing they could do to shock me would be to win the whole darn championship.

This team has the talent and the superstar to win each and every series set before them. Yes, I believe they can win any of those series. But I just can't convince myself that this is a team ready to make a championship run of destiny.

On the other hand, I pretty much felt the same way about the Rockets back in 1995. Though, I was probably not quite as harshly disappointed in that team. I just couldn't find the fire in the team that had pushed them through the previous season's championship.  And so I really didn't expect them to make the run they had.

So, once again. Thank you Portland and Seattle for busting my bubble before the playoffs began. I'll be able to enjoy the whole thing a lot better from this perspective.