With game one vs. the Mavericks just hours away, let’s take a closer look at the series.
Point Guard: Tony Parker vs. Jason Kidd
Parker and Kidd have some history going back to the summer of 2003, when the Spurs almost lured Kidd over to San Antonio. Since then, Parker has made a point to make San Antonio forgot all about Kidd. In last year’s playoff series, Parker torched Kidd. But I’ll give credit where it’s deserved. Kidd has played very well for Dallas lately, but will his 37-year-old body be able to stand up to a much quicker Parker, even if he isn’t back to 100 percent after his injury. Kidd’s production has suffered a drop off in the playoffs the last two years. His minutes have also been up this season, so if Parker is having his way against the Mavs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carlisle throw out Barea or Beaubois if Kidd struggles early. Edge: Spurs.
Shooting Guard: Manu Ginobili vs. Caron Butler
Can anyone really stop Manu? Manu has been phenomenal for more than a month and he’s causing a lot of critics to give the Spurs a second look. Butler doesn’t have much of a chance defending Manu, so we’ll likely see a lot of Shawn Marion matched up on him and possibly even some spot minutes for DeShawn Stevenson, but that’s not likely to change much of anything, especially considering Ron Artest had his hands full when the Spurs went through Los Angeles earlier this month and Manu put up 32 on him. Now Caron Butler is not chopped liver. He’s averaged 15 points and five boards since coming to Dallas, but if the Spurs force him out of his comfort zone, they can make him pretty ineffective. Butler makes his living about 18 feet away from the basket, where he shoots at about a 45 to 50 percent clip constantly. If the Spurs can keep him on the outside, he makes only about 29 percent of his shots. Butler also seems to know that this is his weakness, which is the reason he’s only put up 11 three-point attempts in the last six games. Edge: Spurs.
Small Forward: Richard Jefferson vs. Shawn Marion
If you put both players side-by-side, stats-wise, Marion and Jefferson look to be pretty even. But Marion’s defense is the difference-maker. He’s still got the speed to defend smaller players on the perimeter and he’s got the length to be a nuisance on the inside. If Marion stays on Jefferson, I can see him giving Jefferson his space while he sags off to double on Tim Duncan or try to swipe at the ball. If he does, Jefferson’s got to make him pay, either by hitting open jumpers or by faking to draw Marion back in so he can then drive past him for a layup or dunk. The trouble is, Jefferson hasn’t played as aggressive as he should be all season long. Jefferson hasn’t used his athleticism to his advantage all season long. By now, Spurs fans are used to thinking about anything Jefferson does as a bonus, but it’s not expected. His production varies from game to game, whereas Marion is usually a consistent contributor in scoring, boards and defense. Edge: Mavericks.
Power Forward: Tim Duncan vs. Dirk Nowitzki
Can you ask for a better matchup in a first round series than pitting two of the best power forwards in the game against each other? Tim Duncan has quietly had a noter great season when many expected that this would be the year Parker would take the reins. Dirk is Dirk. As a Spurs fan it’s frustrating to see him seemingly knock down every shot, even when very well defended. Fpr the past couple of years though, it seems like the Mavs have been successful running one play for Dirk that the Spurs can’t seem to solve, the high screen. This usually leaves Dirk with a shorter player on him that he can either back down or shoot over. When Duncan is at his best down low, there’s no player that can stop him, so the Mavs will likely throw a bunch of different players at him and try to frustrate him early by having players swipe at the ball and try to force it out of his hands. Luckily for the Spurs, Duncan is one of the better passing big men in the post and when his wings are hitting, the Mavs won’t no where to turn. Edge: Even.
Center: Antonio McDyess vs. Erick Dampier
It would be very beneficial to the Spurs if Dampier stays on Dyess. Dyess has range up to about 16-18. Bringing Dampier out to leave Duncan room to work would take Dallas’ best shot blockers out of the post. This also spaces the floor for the Spurs, but McDyess has to be able to hit his shot in order to keep Dampier from doubling. Edge: Even.
The Spurs have had the luxury of having on of the deepest benches they’ve ever had, but coming into Dallas, they may have some competition. When George Hill enters the game and Parker goes to the bench, there’s almost no drop off. Hill likes to shoot the corner three, but he’s just as comfortable driving to the basket or pulling up for a mid-range jumper. He’s also excelled on defense and uses his long arms to deflect or alter shots. DeJuan Blair showed last week that he may play a bigger part in this series than originally thought. He put on a clinic against the Mavericks and the Spurs will hope he’ll be able to make the Mavs bigs look just as bad throughout this series. Matt Bonner and Roger Mason are hired guns and when they’re hitting, the Spurs are rolling. Also look for Keith Bogans to provide some defensive e relief on Nowitzki. And just when you thought the bench was done comes Garrett Temple, who averaged over 11 points per game starting for the Spurs in Hill’s absence. For the Mavs, it all starts with the sharp-shooting Jason Terry. But beyond that they also have Barea, Brendan Haywood, Beaubois and DeShawn Stevenson. If Blair is the Blair of Wednesday’s game, then it’s edge Spurs, but I’m not expecting to see a repeat performance. Edge: Even.
Marion Photo Courtesy CH/ProjectSpurs.com